Monday, April 25, 2016

It's Derby Time!

Ah, Ms. Benson you have been MIA for about 10 years now.

Why, yes, I have.  Just one year, really, but MIA is true.  Why, you ask?

I had a child!

Well, first there was the nausea and all the loveliness of pregnancy, then my handsome little boy was born in May of 2015.

Today, I am excited to share a new resource with you!  It's a song I wrote for my students called "The Derby Hat."  It describes someone's experience at the Kentucky Derby when he/she comes in contact with a hat so big that it covers the entire park!

The product that I now have available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store includes the sheet music with Orff orchestration, lyrics-only pages, eight Kentucky Derby rhythm cards, Create-Your-Own Derby Hat pages, and a booklet for students to re-write lyrics of my song.  I've mostly used the song with second and third grades.

I hope you enjoy it as much as my students and I have!  Let me know how it works out for you.

Happy Kentucky Derby season!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Red Heads, Books, and a Chicken

What management strategies work for you and your students?

Copy claps?  Reward systems?  Behavior Bucks? 

I have used a point system from Day One and have found it to work really well with my personal teaching style and with my students.  This year, I found new "happy" and "sad" faces to post on the board for keeping track of happy and sad points a class earns while they're in music class.

I can't take credit for finding or creating these.  Another teacher in our building found these, and they're made by Melonheadz.
What activities have you used in your classroom so far that you and your students have liked?  I read a couple books to my primary students earlier this year.  You can't pass up a good bear hunt, and Song of Middle C is a great way to talk about welcoming and learning from failure, because we all sure do it a lot. 

With my intermediate classes, I taught "Chicken on a Fence Post."  If you're unfamiliar with the song and game, students sing while walking in opposite-moving circles.  A chicken--or in this case a TY cockatiel--is placed in the middle of the two circles.  Two pairs of hands are chosen to serve as "gates" which open (by raising hands in air) at the end of the song.  Two "foxes" race to the chicken when the gates open.
You know what they say: the early fox gets the bird.


The game was pretty much a hit.  They still ask to play it.  And isn't that what it's all about?  Making a lasting impression through music and fun.  I think it's really easy, especially in the midst of PGES, Program Reviews, and an infinite number of other unidentified acronyms, to get lost in the shuffle.  I don't know about you, but I often feel discouraged.  I feel forgotten and undervalued.  What makes teaching worth it to me is seeing kids smile, laugh, and enjoy time in music class. 
What makes teaching worth it to you?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Classroom Set-Up with a "Rest Area"

There's just something about stapling freshly laundered and ironed fabric onto a blank canvas of cork board.  I enjoy setting up my classroom because it symbolizes a fresh start, as mentioned in my last post.  Here are a few pictures of the music room so far.

The white sides read "What do you want to learn in music class this year?"  I want students to write responses on the boards (made of white paper) as a way for me to hear and respond to student voices, interests, and goals.  

 My favorite part of my room so far is the "Rest Area."  I've always had this chair and desk where students come when they need to get away, but it's never been a very therapeutic or helpful area, rather than being away from the class.  I added stuffed animals, a calming jar (tons of these are on Pinterest), a feelings chart, and--not pictured--some stress balls made of balloons and flour.

I plan to tell students to visit the rest area when they feel that they need to calm down or simply get away from the group.  I also added a board game timer to the table, so students can start the timer, write, draw, or respond to their emotions in other acceptable ways at the table, then rejoin the class when the timer's up.

I also added some foam squares where students can sit if they prefer.  I hope to add pillows eventually.  I'm thinking that I might spend some time in the Rest Area!  :)

Monday, August 4, 2014

A Fresh Start

When I was Drum Major in high school, one of my directors told me on the first day of band camp, "Learn everybody's name."  I have since carried that advice with me into my teaching career.  And, boy, do I have a lot of names to learn.  About 730 of them.

But I know them.

I don't know this year's incoming kindergarteners, of course--I haven't met them--but by the end of the year, I plan to know them all.

There are a lot of things that go into having a smooth, organized start to the school year.  For me, one of the most important things that I have is seating charts.  This is how I learn the names by which the young people in my classes are called.  I care about them and I want them to know it.  So for many weeks, as kids leave my classroom, I say each child's name as a way for me to practice identifying students by their name.  Each child has a unique identity, and I hope that by remembering their names, they know that I value their identity.

So, if you'd like to grab an editable version of my seating chart (and grading sheet, all in one) to start practicing your students' names too, visit my Teachers Pay Teachers store here.

Here's to a fresh start of caring for and educating children this year.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Recorder Karate!

For students who are interested in continuing to earn Recorder Karate belts, visit this website for belt requirement music.  Happy playing!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Tips for Differentiating Instruction in the General Music Classroom

Don’t fret!  It’s not just “something else to do.”  Implementing strategies and activities for differentiated instruction in your music classroom can be easy, practical, and beneficial for students.  A classroom that uses differentiated instruction simply works to meet the needs of its students.  Differentiating instruction might look like centers or independent projects or small group work.  It might involve taking student surveys to find out what they are interested in.  The bottom line is that differentiated instruction in any classroom is simply meeting the needs of individual students.

For a general music teacher this can sound over-bearing.  We often have hundreds of students that we see once a week.  How can we possibly meet the needs of all students through differentiated instruction when we know so little about them? 

I certainly won’t claim to have all the answers, but I do have some simple tips for implementing strategies for differentiated instruction in the general music classroom. 

1. Differentiate one aspect of the lesson in your beginning stages of differentiated instruction.

Think about the three main parts of your lesson: content, processes, and products.  Give students at all levels opportunities to experience the content, processes, and products in ways and at a pace that works well for them.  For instance, an advanced student might be ready to begin composing in 6/8 time while struggling students are still working on 4/4 time.  Implementing readiness-level (below-level, on-target and advanced) small groups would be an easy way for students to explore rhythm content at a pace that meets their needs. 

You might differentiate the processes in which students learn the content.  For example, I use a lot of small group work, but there are always some students who drift away on their own.  I used to require them to work together in a group, while, sadly, forgetting that many students are great independent workers.  Now I give students the option to work alone or with others when it’s appropriate.  This gives students more choices and thus helps management, student engagement, and learning. 

Differentiating the products within a lesson generally allows students choice opportunities in order to show or demonstrate what they have learned.  For example, in the rhythm lesson mentioned before, advanced students might choose to compose and perform four measures of 6/8 time while the struggling students might choose to perform only.  I believe it is important to involve authentic music skills in each lesson, but at times a variety of written assignments or projects might also be appropriate.  For example, my third grade classes are working on a West African program.  I will probably allow them to choose a writing project towards the end of the unit that allows them to demonstrate what they have learned in the form of a letter, speech, short story, or another writing activity.  But this will come at the end of a unit filled with authentic musicking (David Elliott) and dancing.    

2. Think about your students learning styles, interests, and readiness levels.
Because we general music teachers might not be able to differentiate instruction according to the needs of every student individually, we can at least provide a variety of activities that reach multiple learning styles, interests, and readiness levels.

When I teach rondo during a form unit, for example, I really enjoy allowing students to create their own B, C, D, etc. sections with things that they are interested in.  You can even create simple ostinati using words or phrases related to student interests. 

Be sure to include the use of multiple intelligences in your lessons (Howard Gardner).  Visual students will need to see examples of form and rhythm, aural students will benefit from hearing an example, while kinesthetic learners will benefit from a simple ABA dance.  Don’t be afraid to integrate math (for the logical/mathematical learner), self-reflections (intrapersonal), group work (interpersonal), language or lyrics (linguistic), and the humanities and connections that the arts have to our society and world (existential/naturalistic).  This leads me to my next point:

3.  Get out of your box!
You might already feel like you do that a lot (hopefully I’m not alone), but differentiating instruction really is all about the kids and their long-term learning.  Add one strategy at a time and be flexible with it.  Applying differentiated instruction strategies certainly won’t work perfectly at first (will it ever?), but it does make the classroom a more welcoming and safe environment as students are allowed to experience failure and success at their own pace. 

Differentiating your instruction should be a natural process that leads to authentic learning experiences and products.  Don’t try to force things that don’t work, and keep your composure when the music room gets a little louder than you prefer (or is that just me, too?).  A couple of great resources about differentiating instruction are How to Differentiate Instruction in Mixed-Ability Classrooms (2nd Edition) by Carol Ann Tomlinson and Making Differentiation a Habit by Diane Heacox.

Hats off to you as you try differentiation in your music classroom! 

And hats off to me for my longest blog post ever. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Most classes have been working on grade-appropriate rhythm concepts and skills.  Kindergarten and first grade classes are learning about ta (quarter note), ti-ti (two eighth notes) and "shh" (quarter rest).  We first played ta, ti-ti and "shh" to the rhyme "Wiggly, Jiggly, Loose Tooth."  Then we used Halloween candy on the SMART board.  Students chose either a single or double piece of candy.  They then had to decide if the candy represented ta or ti-ti.

Other classes composed rhythms in 4/4 and 3/4 time.  They also used Music Theory worksheets from  Fourth and fifth grade classes are now starting to play recorders.