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Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Planner Tour: flip-through and setup

Time for a little more planner action! ;)


I finally got a chance to take out my old pages from the 2016-2017 school year and put in the fresh, new pages for the 2017-2018 school year and I'm so excited! I decided to film the process this year, so if you're interested in seeing: 1) what my planner looks like after it's been used for a full year and get a quick look at all my weekly and monthly spreads, or 2) see how the disc binding system works in terms of taking pages in and out, then you'll enjoy this video!

Also, you'll see the fun new cover design that I customized with an inspirational quote for this year in the video. If you want a copy for yourself, be sure you're subscribed to my newsletter- I'll be sending it exclusively to my newsletter subscribers at the end of June!


If you're curious about how I set up my planner, here is my post on how I digitally customize my printables before printing my planner, and here is my post on all the supplies I use, printing tips, etc for setting up the planner once it's printed.

Here is the link to my planner, and here is a post with all the different planner formats I have available, in case you're interested :) If you're looking into planner options yourself, or hoping to up your lesson planning/ curriculum writing game, don't miss my new email series! Click here to learn more:


Monday, June 19, 2017

DIY Visual Calendar for Kindergartners

Summer is the time for home projects! I've been itching to update my daughters' visual calendar now that they've graduated preschool and are headed to kindergarten in the fall. If you have any children who thrive on predictability and routine like mine, this project is really quite simple and has been a really helpful tool for several years now in our house!


I've been using a visual calendar at home with my daughters since they were 2, mostly because of one of my daughters who was (and is) very resistant to change and likes to anticipate what is coming next. When I first started using it, I had a weekly calendar at the top and a chore chart just underneath. Over the years I've gradually changed the board to reflect the information that the girls needed for their ages, and I've made a few more changes to get ready for elementary school! First, here's what the whole board looks like:


The main weekly calendar at the top of the magnet board (aka car drip pan) is staying pretty much the same. I first started using a visual calendar when the girls started daycare, primarily to help them see when they would be with the daycare provider, when they would be with their dad, and when they would be with me, so I basically had meals, nap and bedtimes, and when they switched caregivers on the schedule. When they started preschool, I took pictures of their school teachers to indicate when they had school and also added a monthly calendar.

With kindergarten on the horizon, I started thinking about which items the girls would want to see on their schedule. I made a few new magnets to use in the fall:


I made some magnets for field trips, their various specials, and the rotation day for their school schedule, and I got rid of the napping magnets (so sad!) and the preschool teacher magnets. I've decided that for elementary school, I'll just put up the letter day of the rotation rather than a picture of the teachers.

The section just below the weekly calendar is brand new- I made a couple of simple to-do checklists with each girl's name at the top (names are blocked out in the photos). I figure it will be a good way for us to keep track of homework assignments and other to-do's each of them needs to do throughout the week. After printing the checklists, I stuck them onto the board and covered them with a single-sided laminating sheet right on top to make it dry erase.


Just below that, I've moved the monthly calendar (which I added when they started preschool) to the side to make room for another magnetic clip. I am planning to keep any papers from school etc that we need to keep track of there, whether it's information about an upcoming field trip, homework assignment, or lunch calendar. Now that the girls can write, they do the majority of the monthly calendar themselves- read more about how we use that for memory keeping and planning ahead in this post.


Having a visual calendar has been really helpful, especially with my daughters' schedule between two houses, and it has been fun to see the girls gradually take on more responsibility in putting together their calendars and have more of a sense of ownership through the process. If you want to see how the calendar board has evolved over time, from toddler to preschool to now, or if you want more details on how I made the original board (very cheap and easy!), check out my previous posts below:



If you're wondering where the chore chart went, I now have a family chore chart in the kitchen instead- read about that in this post. I guess we're actually getting ready for elementary school now! If you have any ideas for how to help elementary age students anticipate their schedule and keep their assignments and to-do's organized, please leave a comment below- I'd love to hear them!

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Fostering Relationships with Students as a Specialist Teacher

I'm pretty sure most of us got into teaching because we love and care about kids. But when we teach hundreds (or even thousands) of students and you only see each one for 30 minutes every week (or two weeks.... or three....), it can be pretty hard to foster real relationships with our students! And let's not even get started on the fact that for those brief minutes that we see them, we're trying to cover so much content that there is very little, if any, time left to get to know the students. Today I want to try to unpack some of the factors that I believe have allowed me to better connect with my students despite those challenges.


Now, I'll start off by saying that I am in a better position than many music teachers to make real relationships happen. I see my students 60 minutes total every 5 days (some once a week, some in 2 30-minute classes per week), and I teach just under 400 students in just one building. As I mentioned before, I know many music teachers (and other specialists) see each student far less than I! Still, I think these principles can be applied to any situation to, at the very least, improve relationships with students.

1. Watch students' faces

I truly believe the biggest factor in deepening my relationships with my students has been my morning duty! I'm assigned to monitor the front entrance of the school as all of the students are arriving. This gives me the perfect opportunity to do something very important: make eye contact with as many students as possible. I try to say hello and make eye contact with as many students as I can each morning (and throughout the rest of the day), and I pay close attention to any students whose faces show some kind of emotion, whether it's good or bad. Sometimes a student is excited because it's their birthday or they lost a tooth last night. When I notice a student looking particularly happy or excited and I ask them how they're doing, they will often share what's on their mind. 

Sometimes though, a student is upset. Sometimes it's obvious, but I've noticed that this year, since I started being more conscious about making eye contact, I'm picking up on more students who are trying to act normal but, on closer inspection, show signs of being tired, stressed, sad, or even angry. When I can pick up on those changes in expression, I pull them aside to ask them what's going on. Sometimes they're sick, sometimes they miss their mom, but other times it's a much more serious issue. In any case, doing this consistently has been the biggest factor in deepening my relationships with my students. 

2. Talk to other teachers and staff

I have often learned really valuable information about a student's life outside of my classroom by going to other teachers and staff to talk about a student. I usually go find another teacher to talk to when a student does something out of character in class, but other times it's because I look back and realize there has been a pattern of gradual change over the last few weeks/ months, or because I noticed something was bothering a student but I either didn't have time to speak with them or when I asked, the student wasn't willing to talk. Not every student in the school is going to be comfortable sharing their deepest thoughts and feelings with me, but often their homeroom teacher, other specialists, psychologist, nurse, or even the school secretary will have noticed the same things I am, and can either tell me what the reason is, assure me that it's being dealt with, or they'll be more focused on the issue themselves because I brought it up. Usually I just stop by the teacher's room for a 5-minute conversation. That's all it takes, but it often makes a difference in being able to understand the bigger picture of what is going on in my students' lives!

3. Give it time

Although as specialists we have the disadvantage of seeing students for less time each week, we do have the advantage, in most cases, of seeing the same students for multiple years in a row. Now that I'm finishing my 4th year in my current school, I am finally starting to see the fruits of the little interactions I have been having with my students over the course of several years. As specialists, the reality is we have to be more patient than other teachers as we foster relationships with our students. It may take longer, but we'll often be able to connect with students who may not find a connection with any other adult in the building!

With these 3 components in place, I have seen exponential growth in my connection to my students this year. With one more week left of school and emotions running the gamut, I have students dropping into my room randomly throughout the day, just wanting to talk and hang out. It really does work, and I really do think that fostering those relationships is truly worthy of all the time and energy we have to give. 

These may seem like obvious, basic points, but how much thought and energy have you put into truly being conscious of each one? I hope you'll keep these thoughts in mind as you reflect on your previous school year and prepare for the next.

Want to read more of my thoughts on "behavior management"?



How have you found ways to connect with your hundreds of students? Share your ideas in the comments below!


Monday, June 12, 2017

Travel Tips with Kids: DIY Sticker Activity Sheets

I'm back with another tip for traveling with kids, and today is all about providing some easy, cheap, and engaging entertainment (that doesn't involve a screen)! We all know stickers are pure magic, but I wanted something a little more exciting than just stickers on plain paper, and I honestly haven't been that happy with the "sticker activity books" I've purchased in the past. This easy DIY is my solution!


It's not the most complex idea but it allows plenty of room for creativity and imagination! Here are the supplies I used:


Because I'm taking the girls to Disneyland this summer, I went against my normal avoidance of character merchandise and got a bunch of sticker books with different Disney characters. Everything else I already had: dry erase markers, laminating pouches, and a few pictures of different background scenes I printed from the internet.

The idea is to give kids the tools to do some creative storytelling by giving them lots of different stickers with different objects and characters, and background scenes with a variety of locations (I have a jungle, underwater scene, village square, ice palace, ballroom, and an outdoor picnic area). Of course you could change this up to match whatever your kids are interested in- get some animal stickers and print a zoo, farm, or pet store scene; use car stickers with a city scene.... you get the idea.


I used the laminating pouches to laminate the background scenes so that we could reuse them. Hopefully this will help us avoid any arguments over who gets to use which ones!

Tip: if you stick the stickers on the back of your hand before using it, you'll remove some of the adhesive and make it easier to take off without ripping the sticker!

I left the back of the paper blank so that the girls could color with the dry erase markers and make their own backgrounds (or just draw whatever they feel like):


Depending on your children's ages, you could also put some pre-made activities on the back side, like letters for them to trace, crossword puzzles, tic-tac-toe boards, hangman board, mazes, and more.... the options are endless! If I have more time before our trip I'll probably print some ;)

What are you taking with you on your trip to keep the troops entertained? If you're planning a trip with young children this summer, here are some other posts I've written on traveling with kids:



Safe and happy travels, everyone! :)

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

General Music Lesson Planning: the tiered approach

I have been waiting a long time to write this post. I've been super excited about the changes I made to my lesson planning strategy this school year, but I wanted to try it for an entire school year before I shouted it from the rooftops: I have found the missing piece to my lesson planning system. No more reinventing the wheel, no more looking through papers and files and computer folders to try to remember that one awesome lesson I did on half notes last year, no more weekends eaten up by the tetris game I used to call weekly lesson planning. Today I want to walk you through my tiered approach to lesson planning that has made everything so much clearer, allowed me to develop a truly sequenced, thoughtful scope and sequence, and set me up to be able to refine, rather than reinvent, my plans each year and minimal time lesson planning during the school year.


The basic structure of my lesson planning system works in 4 tiers: the multi-grade sequence of concepts and skills, the year-long plans for each grade, the lesson bank for each month, and the weekly planning fun. Today I'm want to briefly walk you through each of these tiers (or else this post will go on forever!), but if you're interested in a more in-depth look at the process, as well as free templates and resources to help you replicate the same lesson planning approach for your own teaching, be sure to sign up for my Lesson Planning Made Awesome email series! It's completely free and jam-packed with all of my best tips on every aspect of lesson planning and curriculum design. You can start any time! Learn more here (can you tell I'm pretty excited about this??):


Tier 1: Scope and Sequence

The first step in general music lesson planning has to be deciding which skills and concepts your students need to learn in each grade or class you teach. If you're lucky, you'll already have at least a starting point for this from your district, state, or even just a textbook series you have in your classroom. But even if you have a scope and sequence to use, you'll want to think through which skills and concepts are most fundamental and important, and you'll also want to reflect on things that you want to add / adapt / edit to fit the needs of your own specific classroom.

If you're adapting your scope and sequence to the United States' 2014 National Core Arts Standards, these templates are the ones I used to create my scope and sequence. But no matter what set of standards you're using, the process of creating your scope and sequence will be the same: figure out where you're starting and where you need to end up (your youngest grade and your oldest grade) for the basic elements of music (rhythm, pitch, singing/instrumental/other techniques, expressive elements, etc) and map out a gradual progression to get from your beginning to your end. If you teach K-5, you'll probably start with the assumption that your students know nothing, and end up with whatever skills and concepts the middle school music teachers need their students to have to be successful in their programs, for example.

Tier 2: Year-Long Plans

Once you have mapped out the progression of skills across grade levels to figure out what students need to learn in each grade, the next step is to develop an outline of how to teach students the skills and concepts they need to know in the time you have with them. I see all of my students from the end of August until the beginning of June, so I map out when I will teach (and re-teach) each skill/concept on a monthly calendar. When I'm deciding what to teach when, I start by focusing on the most fundamental concepts (usually rhythm and pitch) at the beginning, middle, and end of the year, and then thinking about what seasonal lessons, activities, or units I will be working around in each grade. I wrote in a lot more detail about this process in this blog post on long-range planning, so you can read more about my thought process (and how I write it all down so I can make sense of everything) there.

Tier 3: Monthly Lesson Bank

This was the missing piece that made all the difference for me this year! With my year mapped out for each grade, I spent a good chunk of time before the start of each month typing up all of the lessons I wanted to teach to address the skills and concepts I had assigned to that month. I also created all of the slides, visuals, worksheets, and other materials I needed and gathered all of the supplies I would need, so that everything was ready to go for the month. To make sure that I had the right amount of material, I outlined a basic sequence of how I might plan out my daily lessons for the month to fit in the different activities I had planned for the month. Depending on the grade level (I see my younger grades twice a week for 30 min and my older grades once a week for 60 min), I planned out 4 or 8 lessons for each month with just a basic list of which activities I would do in each lesson. You can see an example of how I laid out my monthly plans and materials in this free download of my September plans for 5th grade.

I set aside one weekend towards the end of each month to create these monthly plans, and they were definitely time consuming. There were several times I wanted to poke my eyes out, I was so frustrated by how long it took me. BUT the benefits to my day-to-day planning were incredible. I can't anticipate those off days when we have a fire drill or major behavior issue that throw off my plan, so I can't plan out an entire month's worth of lessons down to the day. But having everything ready, and taking the time to look at the month as a whole, allowed me to stay focused on the most important skills and concepts I wanted to cover and know that I was on track, while taking away the burden of writing lesson plans week to week.

Because I typed them up and saved them on the computer, I now also have the lessons where I can easily find them next year, so no more searching through piles of paper or trying to remember which computer folder I saved it under!

Tier 4: Weekly Planning: the fun part!

With my monthly lesson plan banks in place, my weekly lesson planning was so much easier. All I had to do was see where we were after the previous week, account for any special events etc that would affect our learning time, and plug in the lessons from my monthly plans. Done!

Here's where I think having a paper planner is more effective than using an online or digital system. Physically writing down information helps me remember things better, and being able to visually organize not just my lesson plans but special events, meetings, and other important information with colors, icons, and other eye-catching techniques made it that much easier for me to remember what I was doing in each class and quickly find what I needed when I opened my planner. If you want to see how I set up my planner and decorate my pages from week to week, here is a video from my YouTube channel that will give you a good idea of what I do.

Ready to kick your lesson planning up a notch?

There is just SO MUCH to say about all of the different aspects of lesson planning for general music teachers, there is no way I can fit everything into one post. That's why I'm super excited to announce the new Lesson Planning Made Awesome email series! Once you sign up, you'll get one email sent straight to your inbox each week for 5 weeks. Each email will go into a lot more detail of one aspect of lesson planning, and will also include a free resource (exclusive to the series) to help you get started with that aspect of lesson planning. We'll cover everything from creating a scope and sequence to figuring out what to teach when, finding lessons to teach the concepts you want to cover, setting up a lesson planning system to effectively record your lessons so you can find them again next year, using functional decorations in your planner, and so much more!

Click below to learn more about what's included and sign up for the Lesson Planning Made Awesome email series!

Monday, June 5, 2017

Travel Tips with Kids: Rainbow Snacks!

As we gear up for summer travel, I wanted to share a fun tip to help pass the time on long trips with kids (whether you're on the road or in the air). It helped make my road trip with two 4-year-olds much more enjoyable last year and I plan to use it again when we fly across the country in a few weeks!


I came up with this idea because 1) I love focusing on the color of foods- it has made my daughters much better eaters and it makes everything more fun (and usually healthier too), 2) I know that on long trips it helps to have things to look forward to throughout the trip, and 3) when it comes to travel you can never have too many snacks.

The basic idea of Rainbow Snacks is to pick 1 food item to go with each color of the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, and pink (you could add white as the "clouds" if you need another one) and pull them out one at a time in rainbow order for everyone to eat, spaced out over your trip.

Step One: Set Your Schedule
The first thing to do is figure out how many colors you'll need (depending on the length of your trip). If you have a 3-hour trip, you could do 6 items (one every 30 minutes) by ending with purple, for example. For preschool age, the 30-minute time worked really well. For older kids you could space them out more, even one each hour, for longer trips. The main thing is to try to have a predetermined time for each one so that everyone can anticipate when the next one is coming!

Step Two: Choose Your Foods
The second step is to choose one food for each color. I tried to have a mix of fruits and vegetables, protein and/or savory, and 1 or 2 sweet treats, but making sure I only included things that everyone would *actually* be excited about (my kids are great eaters and they'll usually eat asparagus for dinner without complaint, but I don't think they would get that excited if I pulled it out as a "special surprise" on a road trip!). Here's a list I came up with, but obviously there are any number of options! Remember to think about package colors and not just the color of the food itself.


Step Three: Prepare Your Foods
You'll need to have each food packaged in its own container so you can pull each color out separately. I put everyone's food for each color in one container for everyone to share, but you could obviously package every person's food individually if it's hard to share on the trip. I have a collection of reusable snack bags (like these) that I used for this because a) I can package each food in a bag of the same color so I know which is which and b) nobody can see the food inside. As long as you can keep track of which is which though, the packaging is obviously not too important.

Step Four: Have Fun!
One thing that made the snacks even more fun was having everyone guess what each item was going to be before we opened it! It just built up even more anticipation. If you have packaging that isn't see-through, you can pass the package around for people to shake and feel too ;)

Of course there are a few extra considerations you'll need to be aware of if you're flying- basically you'll want to make sure everything is contained and that you don't have any liquids. Here's a little more detail on that if you're flying in the United States. All of the foods I've mentioned here should be safe to bring through airport security.

How do you make long trips with young children more bearable? Leave your tips in the comments below! I can always use more ideas and I'm sure other readers would appreciate your tips too! If you want packing tips for traveling with children, here's my post on that. Happy trails everyone!