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 MakingMusicFun.net.  Fourth and fifth grade classes are now starting to play recorders.  

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Hello, Mr. Grieg!

This month, Mr. Grieg is our composer of the month.  Kindergarten and first grade classes explored the "tempo" (the speed of the beat; fast/slow) of Mr. Grieg's piece of music called "In the Hall of the Mountain King."

We have decided that Mr. Grieg and Mr. Albert Einstein had the same hair stylist. 

Here are some fun links to learn more about Mr. Grieg:

Read this biography about Mr. Grieg, and then find keywords from the biography in this word search!

Mr. Saint-Saens was our composer of the month for September.  We listened to pieces from his work "Carnival of the Animals."  I really like the illustrations and narrations in this version:
Product Details

Friday, September 13, 2013

Differentiation-Inspired Performances

I am currently taking a classed called "Instruction for Diverse Learners."  It addresses the importance of and practical ways to modify instruction to benefit all students.

My readings for this course inspired a lesson I used for 3-5 grades this week.  These classes have been doing a patriotic music unit.  Using performance ideas from an arts academy I attended a few summers ago, students chose an "artful patriotic performance."  Students had the following options:

1. "Symbols and Movement": Choose patriotic symbols to portray through movement (example: waving like a flag, posing like the statue of liberty, etc.)

2. "Photo Tableaux": Choose a photo that has at least one character (animal or person).  Create a story or poem about the character in first person.  Begin the performance in tableaux (posed like the photo) and read or recite the story or poem about the character(s).
These are the books students were able to choose from for the Photo Tableaux project.
3. "Old and New Songs": Choose a patriotic song we have learned in class.  Using the same melody, write new lyrics for the song.

4. "Choreopoems": Use the Japanese haiku poem form (5/7/5 syllables) to create a poem about America or an American symbol.  Add movements to be performed before, during, or after the reading of the poem.

5. "Hand Games": Create a hand game with new lyrics that celebrate America.

Students worked in groups of four (sometimes 3-5) and chose one project.  Some groups combined elements of two project options.  For example, some groups created a hand game with the melody of a patriotic song but with new lyrics.  These options gave students to do things they were comfortable with but they were also able to add more challenging aspects if they desired.

As you can see from the photos, the Hand Games option was very popular.  We have creative students, that's for sure!  It was a fun week, to say the least.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A New Year Begins!

It's almost time for kiddos to re-enter the music room!  I'm looking forward to meeting new and familiar faces.  This will be an incredible year.

Here are some classroom photos.  The room isn't perfect yet (will it ever be?), but it's ready for lots of music and joy.

Thank you for all the green, Ms. Allen!

Thank you for creating this board, Ms. Gagel!

Risers are tucked away for now.

Pictures of musicians and dancers from different cultures

I look forward to seeing everyone!

Another Bundle of Lessons!

I've compiled more lessons for an entire school year!  These lessons are for second and third grades.  This packet of lessons is on sale through Saturday.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

A Year of Lessons!

I've created a bundle of kindergarten and first grade lessons into PDF formats and made these available in my TeachersPayTeachers store. 

Here are some sample pages:


This bundle of 30 lessons will be on sale through Tuesday, so don't miss out!

Visit my TpT store here. 


Friday, August 2, 2013

Chorus Announcements!

The 2013-2014 school year is quickly approaching!  Chorus auditions will be held on the fourth--that's right, the fourth--day of school.  The school play for which we will perform will be on Tuesday, October 1.  Thus, chorus will start early this year.  (That just means more music-making!)

Below are links with information about the chorus and auditions.  Click the captions below the photos to see the documents.

I look forward to hearing third, fourth, and fifth grade students at auditions on Thursday, August 23.


Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Fifth Grade Harlem Shake Video!

This class also voted to make a "Harlem Shake" video as a reward for filling their sticker chart.  Here it is!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Composer of the Month

Each month, we focus on one famous composer.  Students learn that a composer is someone who writes music.

This month, we have been listening to music composed by Mr. John Williams.  Students are enjoying making connections to music they already know as we listen to music from Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Home Alone, E.T. and more!

Here is one video we've watched to listen to John Williams:

Coming up, we'll watch a short recording session with John Williams.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Thank You!

Thank you to all our wonderful parents, families, and students!  You made me feel very appreciated during teacher appreciation week.  Thank you for your kind words, gifts, and continued support.  You are truly the best.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Music Teacher Appreciation

I have some wonderful students.  Lots of them, actually.  I am so blessed to be able to work with incredible children and teach a subject that I truly enjoy. 

However, if it weren't for the music teachers I've had throughout my life, I wouldn't be where I am today. 

National Teacher Appreciation Week is next week, May 6-10.  To honor music teachers that have helped shape me over the years, my students helped me create this "Thank You, Music Teachers!" video that gives thanks to my own music teachers. 

Teachers, keep teaching!  And truly, thank you for all you've done and are doing.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Harlem Shake!

In music class, students earn points to fill their sticker chart.  When a class fills their sticker chart, they vote on a special music day.
This class chose to make a "Harlem Shake" video.  Here it is!

Monday, April 29, 2013

Appalachian Music!

With our new Appalachian instruments, thanks to donors from Donors Choose.org, we are learning about Appalachian music, instruments, and experiencing unique Appalachian instruments first-hand.

To introduce Appalachian music, we used a Prezi presentation I created last year.

Next, we played the Appalachain instruments as we sang "Sourwood Mountain":

Chicken crowin' on Sourwood Mountian
Hey de-ing dang diddle-alley day
So many pretty girls I can't count them
Hey de-ing dang diddle-alley day

My true love she lives in Letcher
Hey de-ing dang diddle-alley day
She won't come and I won't fetch her
Hey de-ing dang diddle-alley day

Here you see (from left to right) an autoharp, washboard, dulcimer, and musical spoons.
Appalachian music is quite a hit so far, and we've only begun!  

Friday, April 19, 2013

Two More Donors Choose Projects Funded!

Donors Choose and the local Whitney Foundation are incredible!  Through the Donors Choose website, two more music projects have been funded for our classroom.

The first project was called "Experiencing Appalachian Music."  I requested a dulcimer, autoharp, washboard, and musical spoons.  All of these materials were funded quickly and have arrived in our music room!

We will be using these instruments soon as we start an Appalachian music unit.

Also, we had a project funded called "Technology in the Music Classroom."  Can you see what we received?

Yes, that's an iPad!  Clearly, we are all very excited about it!  Along with the iPad, I also requested Sibelius 7 Music Notation Software.  Both of these items are already in use!

I downloaded an app that connects the iPad with my laptop which is connected to the projector.
Ta-da!  What's done on the iPad can project onto the SMART Board!  This allows me to walk around the room and give directions while also using the SMART board.
Students used the iPad to review B, A, and G before working on their own compositions for the recorder.

We also used the Sibelius software to compose.

Needless to say, there are lots of exciting things continuing to happen in the music room!  Thank you for your continued support.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Listening Response Sheet

A few weeks ago, second and third grade students listened to a song and responded by drawing and writing.  Check out the second/third grade page for samples of student work.

This document was created using the "Penmanship Print" font from dafont.com.  

The PDF for this listening sheet can be found here.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

New Seating Chart and Unit

For the sake of organization, I created a new seating chart that I implemented in January.  This one allows me to organize grades much more effectively than I was doing before.

Music teachers: how do you organize your assessment data?  A seating/role chart?  I hope to use an iPad or some kind of technology soon for this.

Also, fourth and fifth grades started a recorder unit.  Students are doing very well so far!  Here is the pre-test students completed before the unit began:
Click here for the Recorder Pre-Test.

Click here for the seating chart.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Hello, Ms. Gagel!

I have a dear friend, Ms. Gagel, who recently finished a year of teaching English in South Korea.  I said a phrase today that, I have to admit, I stole from her.  The kids thought it was funny, so I gave them all a big opportunity to say it.

Welcome home, Ms. Gagel!

New "Composer of the Month" Board

The newest addition to the music room is the Composer of the Month board!  (Thank you to my wonderful and creative mentor teacher for helping create it.)  Kindergartners in our school celebrated the wedding of Q and U (a really adorable event), and we learned that Mr. Mendelssohn composed the "Wedding March".  We moved to the music and even pretended to walk "down the aisle."  :)  Next, we'll listen and move to the "Italian Symphony".    

More composers to come! 

Saturday, January 26, 2013

West African Music, Stories and More Instruments!

In several classes this week, we read Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People's Ears, a story from West Africa. 

This Pinterest/Orff-inspired lesson allows students to create sounds and drama for the story.  For younger classes, we read the story and created sounds first with our bodies.  For older students, we jumped right in and began making sounds on instruments to represent the characters and various parts of the story. 

Below is a video of a second grade class creating sounds to the story using their bodies.  Their creative idea for the line "wake the sun so that the day could come" was too cute to not post. 

Because I am rather soft-spoken, you may not be able to hear my voice.  What I'm reading is as follows:

"King Lion said to the council,
'So, it was the mosquito
who annoyed the iguana
who frightened the python
who scared the rabbit
who startled the crow
who alarmed the monkey
who killed the owlet--
and now Mother Owl
won't wake the sun
so that the day can come.' "

Next week, we will continue by acting out the story with the sounds we created on instruments.  More to come!

Also--big news!  Our African Drumming project with Donors Choose has been fully funded!  This means our music room will acquire four new wonderful African drums.  I am very excited to use these in class when they come in!  Thank you to those who donated and supported our project!

Monday, January 14, 2013

African Drumming Project Progress!

We had another donor give to our African Drumming project!  Thank you, again, to our current supporters, and thank you in advance to those of you who will help!

Click here to view and donate to our project.