Jan. 23-27, 2012: The Week in a Nutshell, Intermediate

Well, I’m another week closer to retirement.  I can hardly believe I only have 4 1/2 months left in my teaching career.  Most of the time I’m ok with that.  Most of the time.

We started the week with a memo reminder that we are all supposed to be having the kids self-assess their work.  I have  4 large, colored  dots on my desk, numbered 1, 2, 3 and 4.  3 is proficient, 4 exceeds the standard.  (The kids call them bowling balls).  As the students leave they touch the dot that corresponds to how well they feel they understood whatever the learning targets for the day are.

Self Assessment Colors

BUT….I was feeling like that wasn’t really enough, so I went to Artie Almeida’s “Recorder Classroom” and took out her “Critic’s Corner” rubric, and copied it double sided. The kids will get two uses from it that way. I had them write at the top on one side, their name, the date, and the learning target. (e.g. 6/8 or BAG.) I explained that these rubrics are for their use, to help them get a handle on how they’re doing with the learning targets, and will be kept in their folders. I asked them to be honest when assessing themselves. When they touch a dot now, it should correspond to whatever they circled on their rubric. (The rubric uses stars: **** *** ** *) then I had them put them away until later in the class period.

I subscribe to the Music K-8 mailing list.  Over 1000 music teachers  in the U.S. and Canada, and even a few from other countries share ideas  and resources on a daily basis.  One teacher, Elissa Reichstein-Saperstein , wrote about having her students practice “arm recorder”.  It sounded like a great idea, so I gave it a try this week.  Her directions were to have the kids rest their right elbow on their knee and put their chin on their hand.  That’s the recorder.  Then, with their left hand, they practiced the fingerings  for B, A and G.  Worked like a charm!  Our recorders haven’t come in yet, so it was a great way to get a head start on fingerings.


We put away our arm recorders for a while to work on the “floor staff”.  I made several of these using shower curtain liners  and permanent marker.  I seated the kids on the floor around  the 2 staves, and gave each child a sticky note with a letter on it….B, A or G.  I put the first 3 down to give them a little extra help.  After reviewing the positions of the 3 notes and how to find them, I had the students each take a turn placing their sticky note in the correct position.  It went pretty quickly, because we were using 2 staves and could go twice as fast, and because they all had the letter ahead of time and had plenty of time to think about it.  Their biggest problem was positioning the notes left to right.  For some reason it’s an issue for a few students every year.  Once all of the notes were in the correct place we used our arm recorders to “play” each one.  I’ll pull the floor staff out again once the kids actually have their recorders in hand.

I did one other activity with one of my 3rd grades, but not all, so I think I’ll save it until next week and tell you about it then.  Suffice it to say that I have these really neat laminated  music staff cards that the kids can write on and erase just like a whiteboard.

Floor Staff

Floor Staff with Sticky Notes

In 4th and 5th grades we continued working on 6/8.  For 5th grade this is review, but for the 4th graders it is new material.  For starters, during warm ups I taught or reviewed “Oh Dear, What Can the Matter Be”, then moved on.

I use the flash cards that come with the “Conversational Solfege” curriculum  a lot.

Conversational Solfege 6/8 Flash Card

I began last week by just having them echo dotted quarters and groups of 3 eighth notes as I showed them each card.  Then I went back through the cards and had them read the rhythms to me.  (In conversational solfege the dotted quarter is still doo.  The groups of 3 eighth notes are doo-dah-dee.)  Finally, I had them read the card all at once while I counted “1, 2, 3, ready, set , go.”  On “go” I put the card down so that they had to tell me what they remembered seeing.  For some reason, I get greater accuracy this way.

This week we reviewed this procedure, and then I had them get out their whiteboards and markers.  The first thing I had them do was copy one of the flash cards, complete with time signature and bar lines.  I explained that we are now putting  6 eighth notes in each grouping, (called a measure), or combinations of dotted quarters and groups of 3 eighth notes.  We have not yet dealt with the quarter + eighth note pattern.  Keepin’ it simple for starters.

6/8 dictation

Once they’ve copied a card, all quarters dotted, bar lines and time signatures in the correct place, I have them erase and ask them to write “doo  doo  doo-dah-dee doo” in musical notation, with the bar lines in the correct place, without showing them what it looks like.  They don’t have much trouble with this, and we quickly move on to taking down the rhythm of “Oh, Dear, what can the matter be?”  (We learned this simple song at the end of our warmups, so it is familiar to them.)  After each dictation they hold up their board so I can assess, make corrections or ok.

We did some other things in all grades, but this is the point in the lesson that I want them to self-assess.  (In 3rd grade it was names and positions of B,A and G on the staff.)  So, we get out the rubric and turn to the side that is dated for this week.

“If you think you understand what we’ve done today well enough to help someone else with it, circle 4 stars.  If you made a few mistakes, but you know that you understand, circle 3 stars.  If you made some mistakes, but think you will get this with practice, circle 2 stars.  If you need me to start over at the beginning and try some other way to help you understand, give yourself 1 star, and make sure you let me know that you need help.  Please touch the colored dot that corresponds to your rubric on your way out, so that I can know what you’re thinking about all this.”

Before I sign off here I just want to mention again Mike Wilson’s song “I Shoulda Known Better” in the new Music K-8 issue.   It has opened up a world of discussions, not just about smoking, but about a lot of choices that  the older students are going to have to make in the next 6  or so years, and how to make them.  I’d started using it in 4th grade, which was successful, and then decided it would be even more appropriate for 5th.  They wanted to share with me everything they know about cigarettes, nicotine, “weed”, addiction, second-hand smoke, lung cancer and all the stuff they’ve heard goes on at the middle school.  Hmmmmm.  Amazing what they tell you when you start a relevant conversation. Also amazing what they know, that you thought they wouldn’t know.  And the song is such a great rock and roll piece that they enjoy singing it, too.

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