Archive for the ‘group work’ Category


Student Self-Assessment

January 29, 2014

Wow! This poor blog. So neglected. I do have a good reason. ¬†ūüôā ¬†After getting married this past summer, the school year kicked off with a bang. I discovered the first week of school that I am pregnant!!! Needless to say, I have been a bit consumed with that, on top of all the normal school year craziness.

I’ve been busy in the classroom implementing new ideas and utilizing all sorts of manipulatives. I thought I would mark my return to this blog by sharing one of these new ideas. I can’t take full credit for this. It is really a combination of ideas that I found on Pintrest. (Oh, Pintrest, how I love thee!)

Student self-assessment; so incredibly important, yet even more neglected than this blog. It is a facet of of student learning that I tend to push of for “next time.” Of course, “next time” rarely comes along. I am making a concerted effort to make the time since returning from winter break. So far I have tried two different approaches that I feel have been quite successful.

1) Self-assessment at the conclusion of a group project. The students had just created and performed a composition in Rondo form. They had worked in groups of four students. Each group had been given an identical set of hand percussion on which to perform. Using iPads, I video recorded each group’s performance. The groups then watched their own performance on the iPad. (I am lucky that we have an entire class set of the devices, se each performance was recorded on a different iPad.) Upon viewing their performance, the students completed a reflection worksheet. This form is adapted from two different ones I had found online. I like that there is a quick rating system for overall assessment, but I was also able to include a constructive written reflection. It is worded in such a way that the students can celebrate success, but also set a higher goal for themselves in the future. This activity gives the students an opportunity to watch their own performance (which rarely happens) and asks them to reflect on their process.

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2) Knowledge Acquisition Check-In.  My 3rd graders have been working on learning the absolute letter names of the notes on the music staff. We have been doing all sorts of activities (poems, flash cards, spelling words on the staff, memory games, iPad games, etc.) to reinforce this learning. As part of their music centers this past week, the student completed a letter naming worksheet. When they completed the assignment they turned in their paper at the Self-Assessment Board.

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Each folder corresponds to a level of understanding that is outlined on a poster that hangs next to the folders. This is such a simple way to check in with the students regarding how comfortable they are with a given element presented in class. I have seen teachers use this as a place to turn in Exit Ticket activities, as well. As you can see, a few of my students were very honest about how they felt. It confirmed my suspicions regarding how well they understood the material. Better yet, it takes no more time than handing the paper in to the teacher or placing in a completed work bin.

Have you implemented self-assessment strategies in your classroom? If so, what have you done that has proven successful?


GarageBand in the classroom

June 13, 2013

Wow. Concert season, moving up ceremonies, and all the end of year details really monopolized my attention this past month. I apologize for the lack of posts. Hopefully I can make up for it in the coming weeks.

Yesterday was the last day of school for my students. It is a bit liberating to have reached the end of the school year, but also a bit sad. This has been the best year I have had in quite a while. I am not sad to have time to relax, but I still have so many ideas I want to implement! Therein lies the beauty of teaching elementary school music, I can do it next year with the same kids! We can pick up where we left off.

One of the activities that I love to squeeze in at the end of the school year is a final composition. This can give the students the opportunity to synthesize key learning. Perhaps you want them to demonstrate their understanding of the staff place of the pitches in F-do pentatonic. Maybe you want to assess if the students understand how to use dotted half notes in a 2-meter song. You might want to make sure they get that final chance to reinforce how to combine their known rhythms and pitches on the staff. There are an infinite number of permutations for such an objective.

I assigned two composition projects this year, one in 2nd grade and another in 5th grade. For both projects I decided to try something new-to-me. I put on my Tech cap, crossed my fingers, and introduced the GarageBand iPad app. I am incredibly lucky in that my school has an abundance of technology. I know from first hand, recent experience that is not the case in many schools. If you do have iPads at your school, this app is worth bribing your Teach department to purchase. The interface is user-friendly, and very intuitive. I talked the students through how to change the Tempo and length of their piece, and showed them how to add and move around the sound loops. From there they were able to drag and drop and figure the rest out themselves. Remember, we are technology immigrants, they are technology natives.

For 2nd grade I focused on how Tempo, Dynamics, and instrument choices work to create a mood. We had conducted Music Experiments earlier in the year (I will post about that soon!) where the students polled listeners to see which mood a given piece of music elicited. We listened to songs and discussed what mood was being expressed, and (most importantly) what they heard in the music that created that mood. We brainstormed a list of moods, pulled them at random from a hat, and the iPads were distributed. The kids worked in pairs choosing sound loops, layering them together and creating their mood. You can check out the finished projects here if you are interested. If you are low tech, no problem! I have done this same activity with classroom instruments. The kids love performing their “mood masterpiece” for their class.

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For the 5th graders, I wanted to have a project that synthesized a few major elements since this would be the last project they would ever do for my class. Off thy go t Middle School! We focused on Form, Texture, and Tempo. The students worked in pairs, first choosing the form of their piece. It had to have four sections, but could be any configuration of their choice (i.e. ABAC, AABC, ABCD, etc.) The pairs chose the Tempo for their composition: Largo, Moderato, or Allegro. Finally, to help make the different section of the form truly sound different, they were encouraged to change up the texture. Perhaps have a solo section or a duet. The finished projects turned out even better than I had anticipated, and they were 100% engaged up until the last minute of their last class. When does that happen??!!?! You can check out their songs, and silly titles, here.

photo-6I will admit that I was not terribly scientific in my assessment of the compositions. That is something I will remedy when I do this project again next year. I will likely create a rubric with clear objectives. For this year, though, I mostly want the students to show me what they had learned in a way that was meaningful to them. I would say that the enthusiasm and willingness to miss recess to hear al the songs is a good indication that my goal was met.

Query: Have you use GarageBand (iPad app or computer program) with your students? If so, in what way have you utilized it?


Folk Song Arranging (and my first TPT upload)

April 8, 2013

When you look at the cognitive domain of the revised Bloom’s Taxonomy the most complex level of critical thinking involves the creation of something new, utilizing the recently acquired ¬†knowledge. In Music, the learning activities that best allow students to engage in this mode of thinking are those that involve improvisation, composition and arranging. ¬†Improvisation is often overlooked as too difficult or set to the side in the interest of time. (There are already so many concepts and performances to squeeze into the curriculum!) It is vitally important that we give our students opportunities to improvise…but that is for another post.

Composition activities are more often completed in class. They can be as simple as writing a four beat rhythm pattern to play on a hand drum, or as complex as writing a song in Rondo form in la pentatonic on the music staff with lyrics based on the current Social Studies unit.

Song arranging falls through the cracks so often that, when I mention doing an arranging project at my school, many music educators look at me with surprise. Why is this? ¬†Arranging a know song or songs into a unique performance is a wonderful way to get your students’ creative juices flowing and gives you a chance to see how well they are synthesizing the elements you have recently worked into the curriculum. ¬†An arranging project can highlight and enable you to assess a multitude of musical elements:

  • form
  • texture
  • the use of the singing voice
  • the ability to sing and play simultaneously
  • effective use of dynamics
  • the ability to write and perform a specific rhythm through the creation of ostinati
  • steady beat (while performing the arrangement)
  • ensemble skills
  • part singing…

The list could continue on and on.

Recently in my own classroom I have had my 3rd graders working on a group project arranging three known folk songs into a new performance. They will be performing the three songs (Rocky Mountain, Dinah, and Great Big House in New Orleans) in the Spring Concert. What better way for the kids to become deeply acquainted with the songs? Each group consists of three or four students. Their goal is to create and perform the three folk songs in a new and different way.  They must have a bordun and an ostinato in their performance, and all group members must sing. They can sing in unison or layer the songs to create harmony. The beauty of using do-pentatonic folk songs is that when sung simultaneously they create a lovely sound. To help the students to achieve their musical goals as smoothly and successfully as possible, I created a packet.  Each group would receive these materials at the beginning of the project when I explain what they need to accomplish. Each step is laid out for the students so that they know exactly what to do and in which order.  I have created manipulatives to assist the students in developing the form of their piece.  There is a graphic organizer to use in the planning phase, and which will act as a map of their arrangement.


I have led students through projects like this in the past, but this year is the first time I am using these materials. The students have a much clearer understanding of what they need to do in class and I am freed up to assist more with the creation process.  While I am using those three particular folk songs, the forms I created do not specify the repertoire, leaving it open for use with different grade levels and selections of repertoire.

If you are interested in downloading these materials, please visit my new TeachersPayTeachers store. Since this is my first item posted on the site it is FREE! Check it out and please let me know what you think.


The manipulatives were made using graphics from My Journey to 5th Grade.

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