Friday, October 13, 2017

October S-Cubed Sight Singing Giveaway!

Time to Give Away S-Cubed!  
$249 Value!  FREE!

You can enter starting Sunday, October 15th at 2 PM.  The giveaway remains open until Thursday, October 19 at 11:59 PM Eastern.

Just follow the directions on the Rafflecopter!  The most important piece of the puzzle is to share the giveaway on Facebook!  You can do it on your personal page or on group pages where music teachers will be.

The winner will be announced Friday morning, October 20th and will be notified immediately.  I will also send an email to everyone who enters with a special heavily discounted offer on various bundles in my store!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Are you ever going to grow up?

Are you ever going to grow up? 

Suggestions for the Middle School Teacher

I was on the phone with one of my dearest friends from my college days at
UNC-Greensboro recently.  I don’t recall what we were talking about, but all of the sudden, she said to me while laughing, “Are you every going to grow up?”

Gosh, I hope not.

I’m 53 years old, and I suppose that technically, by now, I am a grown up.  J

….But I have never wanted to act like a grown up…especially while I am teaching my middle school children.

Growing up has always sounded so awful.

As a child, after vacation time was over, I remember hearing the dreaded words, “Back to reality.”

And I often heard “Wait until you get into the ‘real world’”. 

Sounds like a horrible place.

I was never really interested in that.

I’ve taught for 26 years, and I’ve heard many things yelled at children by teachers who should probably not be teaching this age group:

“Why do you ask stupid questions like that?”
“What is wrong with you?”
“Shut your mouth.”
“Was I talking to you?”
“Why can’t you act like a decent human being?”

What makes anyone think that saying things like this to a child who is 11-14 years old is a good approach?  Does anyone really think that it is going to make them want to work hard for us? 

Should we hold our students accountable?  Absolutely.  100%.

Should we have moments of seriousness with them when we are making significant and important points about responsibility?  Yes!

…But we have to remember, we get more bees with honey than vinegar. 

Middle school children will make our lives hell on earth if we are unnecessarily mean to them. 

They must know that we care about them.

We absolutely have to laugh with our children every single day.  We mustn’t be afraid of silly humor.  They love it!

When we get too serious with students in this age group, they turn off, and they don’t want to sing.

So, I continue to act silly and laugh as often as I can with my students.  It keeps me excited about teaching them and keeps us all giggling while we are learning. 

It’s better that way.  It makes the journey a happy one. 

Keep reminding yourself what it was like when you were age 11-14.  We liked to move.  We liked to be silly.  We had crushes.  We didn’t understand what was happening to our bodies.  We were awkward.  Most of us didn’t know what we wanted, and for those of us who did, we didn’t know how to work toward it.  Some of us didn’t feel worthy.  Some of us were handed everything and didn’t know how to work for something of our own. 

The list goes on.

Have I grown up?  Absolutely!

But, I want to stay in touch with what it was like to be a child for the rest of my life, and I think that any person who chooses to be a teacher must stay in touch with that feeling and NOT allow ourselves to ever become so “grown up” that we do things and say things that squelch the little spirits who are longing to find the ways to work toward their dreams. 

When we are kind to our students….when we laugh with them….when they know we care about them, they know it.   And besides...people who grow up don't want to get into the pool anymore because it's too cold or too hot or they are worried about how they look or whatever...

I think we have to keep getting wet.  

Give it a try.  I dare you!

It will change the dynamic in your middle school classroom.

And watch this video.  It's one of my favorite songs from the musical Matilda called "When I grow up".

Check out my blog!

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Facebook "LIVE" this week with Mr D!

This Wednesday night, September 27th at 6:30 PM Eastern, I will host a Facebook “LIVE” session during which I will discuss some of the ways that I work to get my newest middle school singers to become invested in the work we do in our choral music classroom.  Let’s face it.   They don’t care about anything you’ve accomplished with your former students.   It’s all about them now. 
I’ll share everything I can think of that has worked for me.

And, of course, I will save time for you to ask questions about anything and everything on the subject or off of it!  Let’s learn from each other!  If it relates to teaching middle school chorus, let’s share/chat/ask questions about it. 

During the session, I will announce some limited time special large discounts on S-Cubed products from my TPT store that will last for 24 hours, so it’ll be a great time to get a deal. 

Hope to meet many of you there!

Sunday, July 2, 2017

How should I teach literature? Moving away from "rote" teaching...

I often get questions like the ones listed below from teachers who are using S-Cubed, the program I created to help teachers learn to teach sight singing to their beginners:

*When do you start teaching literature to your students?  
*When do you actually "make them read"?   
*How do you introduce a song?  
*What do you do with your students in terms of teaching literature until their sight singing skills match their abilities to learn songs? Do you just teach them from rote?

I've written and spoken about it before and that is why I included the links to the videos above (just click them!), but I realized that I haven't actually written about it yet!  So, here we go!

Let's start by answering the questions right up front and then I'll do some explaining.  The answers are in blue:

When do you start teaching literature to your students?  
My students begin holding folders in their hands sometime during the first two weeks of school.  When I give them the music for the first time, I use my Smartboard to project the music they are holding, and I teach them about staffs, systems and measure numbers so they can properly follow along.  I also teach them how to follow "part 1" and "part 2" because beginners struggle with this. If they get lost while holding the music, mass hysteria can break out!  So, we must take time to help them unravel the mystery of staffs/systems/measures so we can cross over and begin to teach literature.  

How do I introduce a song? 
During the first two weeks of school, I teach rounds from rote as a part of their daily lessons.  This gives me the chance to focus on proper vowel production, breath support, tall mouth position, and singing posture, and it also helps them learn how to watch me.

I use solfege when I introduce the melodies to their first songs.  It helps reinforce the use of the hand signs and it gives them the outline to the main melody of the song they are learning.

I use "form" to teach songs later on as well.  I have shared some creative ways to do that in this link.

I combine these techniques and many more as time passes so I get to vary my daily approaches as they begin to assemble the tools they need for their toolbox in order to learn songs more quickly and more independently.  

Until their sight singing skills catch up to their ability to sing difficult songs, do I just teach them by rote?   When do you actually "make them read"?

This is where we all have to really be careful.  If we push too fast with how we teach repertoire, our beginners will get frustrated and disengage.  

We must remember that becoming musically literate is a process that takes years and years just like learning language.  During my first years of teaching, I was completely insensitive to this important fact.  I took piano lessons at age five.  I sang in boys choir at age 10.  I would get so frustrated with my beginners.  Why wasn't it innate for my students to be able to follow the music and successfully interpret the hundreds of various dots, curves, and symbols in a single song?!

Over time, I learned!

With 8 months of work on S-Cubed, my students are able to sight sing an 8 measure two-part melody with skips as wide as an octave and rhythms that include dotted quarter eighth note combos a capella within in five minutes.  

...But I don't expect that sort of work in an actual 10 page piece of literature until much later.  First, I have to build the skill sets required for them to do so and that takes time, tenacity and patience.

I think of it like this: When we were first able to speak a full sentence, we had no idea what a noun and verb were. 

We just did it. 

In S-Cubed, I purposefully don't introduce many of the details of music theory until Level TWO because it would be like trying to teach a 6 year old how to diagram a sentence.  Teaching noun/verb/predicate is the easy part because by the time they are ready to learn it, they are experienced enough to really understand it. 

So, here are some thoughts to consider:

When teaching literature, you apply what you can from the sight singing technique of your choice...whatever that is.  When your teaching of that method intersects with the literature you are teaching that day, use it. 

Do some rote teaching for sure...especially in the early days of the teaching the program.   Don't beat yourself up over it or feel guilty about it!  As I mentioned above, when teaching by rote, you are also teaching some valuable skills: Listening, connection between conductor/student and much more.  ...Just don't plan to teach by rote forever!  Doing so would be the same as reading a book to an 8th grader rather than teaching him to read it himself over time from K-7th!

Until the sight singing skills catch up to their ability to sing songs, we must constantly brainstorm about ways to teach literature that are engaging including:

*Using solfege to teach melodies
*Teach them to listen for FORM...melodic/rhythmic/thematic. I let them draw pictures of the form of the song when they are working to learn a new song. ABA can look like "duck/dog/duck". It doesn't matter what they draw as long as they are listening and hearing differences in patterns both rhythmic and melodic. 

We have to meet them where they are. If we get too focused on connecting the dots directly from our sight singing method of choice to the literature, we limit ourselves and we frustrate the students who simply don't have the tools yet in their toolbox.

Final thought:  

If you move to France for one year, you may become quite well spoken in French by the time you return to your native country, but if we are totally honest, most of us wouldn't be able to call ourselves completely fluent. Fluency takes years and years of work and requires speaking, reading, writing and comprehension on a very high level.

Daddy-Candy pwease
Daddy-May I candy pwease
Daddy, may I have candy please?

And to have them write it brings an entirely different set of challenges:  

Learning to read music follows the same process. The idea is to make the process of the learning of the literature valuable and enjoyable for the students who are "early and mid-process" and that is what I strived to create with S-Cubed.  We want to keep them engaged and excited to come back to sing the next day!

That's what middle school chorus should be all about!

If you have ideas to share about ways that you introduce a song, "connect the dots" between S-Cubed and teaching literature or anything else related to helping your students on their journey toward becoming competent, fluent readers of music, please comment below!  Let's help each other!

Check out my blog!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

How and when does one begin to incorporate sheet music to the methodology?

I received this question from an S-Cubed user:

How and when does one begin to incorporate sheet music to the methodology?


I start S-Cubed on day one of the school year.

I see my students daily for 50 minutes, and my students begin using sheet music at the end of week 2. 

When I begin teaching rep to the kids, I take time to teach them how to follow the system.  I usually teach staffs, systems, measures, and how to find the soprano line and alto line.  Expecting 6th graders to follow systems without our guidance is like expecting English speakers to understand something that is written in Japanese or Arabic.   I know because I learned the hard way!  

Here is a video I made a while ago that explains a bit more about what I do with repertoire while they are becoming proficient.    

I hope that helps you!

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Announcing the S-Cubed Sight Singing School District Pilot Program

I began sharing the S-Cubed Sight Singing Program for Beginners with teachers on TPT four years ago.

When I began sharing it, I was nervous.  I didn't know whether it would translate for other teachers, but I knew I had to try anyway because I had seen too many teachers and their beginning singers walk out of the sight singing room at adjudications completely disillusioned.  

Fast forward to the present...

It's been reviewed and tested by thousands of teachers all over the world, and I am so grateful that it has helped teachers who so desperately want the type of guidance offered in the program.

From the beginning, I wanted S-Cubed to be unique.  That's why I offer the specific lesson plans one expects to receive when purchasing a curriculum, but I also took it several steps further by showing teachers how I've taught it to my 340 non-auditioned middle school singers for over 10 years in the Title 1 school where I teach in Atlanta, GA.  I've heard from countless teachers that seeing the teaching examples and watching the teaching tips before they teach the lessons for the first time has made the difference for them.  

Text books can't offer that. 

And S-Cubed is more than just another sight singing program.  It has helped teachers with program growth, classroom management, vowel production, tone, pitch matching, and so much more.

I have always felt strongly that S-Cubed offers a great opportunity to school districts.  Because of how I have packaged S-Cubed, school districts can help all of the teachers in their districts to more closely align how they teach music literacy to their beginning singers.  And the best part?  The S-Cubed approach focuses on engaging interaction between the teacher and students as they learn the skills in the program.  

So, for the 2017-2018 school year, I am going to choose some school districts and give the program to each teacher in that district. This includes middle school, high school, elementary schools and even the general music, band, and orchestra teachers if they want it!  
How do you make it happen?

1)  Pick a liaison for your district who will fill out the application.
2)  Complete the application by midnight, July 14.  

Here is the link!  

The application itself will only take about 10 minutes to complete, but there will be a little organization for you to do ahead of time, so go ahead and read it now so you can begin gathering the information you need.  

I will review the applications during the week of July 17, and I will contact the districts that are chosen to be a part of the pilot program sometime that week.  

Thank you so much for your interest in being a part of the pilot program for the S-Cubed Sight Singing Program...It's the 21st Century way to learn how to teach sight singing better to your beginners!

Check out my blog!

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Wrapping the arms of structure around your Middle School Singers

Wrapping the Arms of Structure Around Your Middle School Singers

 I’m not sure whether it’s a good thing or not, but I have been asked many times after a concert with my 300+ middle school choral music students, “What do you SAY to the students that keeps them so disciplined?”

When I hear that, I chuckle inside because it isn’t just one thing.  I wish it were.  It would be so much easier!

Middle school students thrive on structure.  How many times have your students walked into your class and said, “What are we doing today?” 

I usually make up a funny thing like “We are going to dissect cockroaches and sing songs about it” and then point them to the promethean board where the first activity of the day is ready for them.

From the first day of school, I make sure that when they walk into my room, they know that my classroom is a place where we have a plan.

Is it ok to let up on that structure once in a while?  Sure.  But only after you have established strong scaffolding and the daily routines are set in stone.

When I first started teaching public school middle school chorus, I didn’t understand how important structure is for them.  My verbal instructions were not clear.  I hadn’t thought through the sequencing with the brain of a sixth grader…which is different than the brain of an 8th grader…which I didn’t realize in those early years…and which caused me so much grief.  The kids wanted to do the right thing, but I was clueless about how to convey the information in an effective manner that yielded results.

We can’t just talk when we give directions. 

We have to demonstrate, and they must experience what we are teaching…not just hear it. 

We have to bring the learning objectives to life.

It all goes back to the three types of learners:  visual, auditory, kinesthetic.  In my experience, we have to hit all three when we are teaching this age group…whether we are teaching music or a process/procedure, and it helps if we can do it with humor.  Everyone likes to laugh. 

I created this video for my students, and we worked to make it as silly as possible.  I show it to my students at the beginning of the year, and they absolutely love it. 

 So, back to the question I get asked…”What do you say to the students that keeps them so disciplined”?

I have no idea.

…but I do know that I’ve learned to anticipate what they need.  I take time to teach processes.   I give them structure.  And we laugh. 

I think that all of those things combined encourage respect that is mutual and circular.   

Hope you are enjoying your summer rest!  I know that I am!

Check out my blog!

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