Sunday, April 26, 2009

Weekly Review #12

Well, it's over. I really can't believe I'm at this point. There were times this day seemed so far away and at times unachievable. In terms of this week, I felt good about it overall. There was one day, Wednesday, that I was a little frustrated with the way the 7th grade music class went, but even then I can't expect perfect days all the time. Having the OAT going on made things interesting and much slower, but after 11 weeks that were very hectic for me, having a slower, more mellow week wasn't too bad. The main downside was that the choirs had less practices this week because of the testing schedule, so going into the Spaghetti Dinner Concert, I think all of us felt a little less prepared than we would've like to have been.

I felt very confident in the general music classes, though having each class alternate with Mr. Suzelis helped a lot. Seeing his teaching style again gave me some more pointers. While I had my fair share of observation hours leading up to this, now that I have actual experience teaching, there are a lot more things I actually take note of when seeing another teacher teach. What I noticed more this time was how he organized information in the general music classes and what he emphasized in a particular lesson. Seeing this again with the perspective I now have helped me to streamline my own lessons so they fit in with his better and kept the material going. My biggest challenge was 7th grade general music because while I enjoyed the students' different personalities, it was actually a pretty volatile class with the potential to spiral out of control in a hurry. There were times I felt like I was almost at that point with them, so keeping things moving without going too fast and losing some of the students was always something I was trying to balance.

I have learned a lot from student teaching overall, and have taken a lot of good ideas away from Mr. Suzelis. Did I agree with everything he did? Of course not, but that's not the issue really. He brings a large amount of experience and expertise and perspective that I cannot compete with or things that without the experience I could not possibly understand or know. I had to learn to sit back and just try things a different way sometimes along with just trial by error. I think Mr. Suzelis tried to let me learn by experience to a degree, but certainly not all the time.

And I really did enjoy all of my students...what a great group of students!

Week 12 Lesson Review

This week I followed a similar schedule with the classes and Mr. Suzelis and I kind of traded off classes each day. It seemed to get the students back into the regular flow of things and make my exit much less noticeable. This week I will focus on my 6th grade lesson on Thursday. This was a lesson that just flowed very well for me; I was incredibly confident teaching it and I felt like I was able to keep the students engaged and under control even with lots of movement. We talked about the C major scale and I actually had them play the first three notes on the piano. For many of them it was their first time ever playing a piano at all. While I certainly recognize how fortunate I was to get such a well-behaved and mostly self-motivated class, that's not to say they were complete angels all the time or were free from disruptions. Even with playing on the piano, the biggest problem was making sure they understood the piano isn't a toy or something to play around with. Most of them were fine with that, but a few felt the need to do their own "improvisation" as they walked to their seats. I definitely should've been more clear about how to treat the piano before having them play as I did so after the first offense (as did Mr. Suzelis).

The rest of the lesson went fairly well. They were all able to at least get the first three notes of the C major scale and seemed to understand the concept of what a scale is. I also reviewed letter names of notes on the Treble clef and reviewed the purpose of the clef symbols themselves. Even I was pleasantly surprised how many remembered their purpose and what letter names go with at least the Treble clef (we haven't covered the Bass clef yet).

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Weekly Review #11

Despite even more outside pressures and stresses that emerged during Spring Break, I felt like this week went pretty well. To make for a smooth transition back to Mr. Suzelis, I had him take each class at least twice this week and he did the warm-ups in the 7th and 8th grade choirs twice as well since we have different vocal warm-ups. Next week we'll follow a similar schedule in the general music classes, but I will do warm-ups for all the choirs every day and on Friday, my last day of teaching, I will have all the classes.

The lessons mostly went according to plan in general music other than the one I mentioned in my previous post today. Friday was an interesting day as I was informed about 10 minutes before class that the school was having all students who didn't get a D or an F on their report cards last 9 weeks go outside for a reward. Music class is during the "intervention" class (study hall), so the principal said it was mine (and really, Mr. Suzelis's) decision, but he did hope we let those that were able to go outside do so. What it ended up doing was cutting each music class in half, so most of what we did in class on Friday will simply have to be repeated on Monday and will be review for the students who didn't get to go outside. I guess I got another taste of the unexpected surprises a school day can bring. It wasn't the first and for the most part it worked pretty well, though I didn't want the students who didn't go outside to feel like they were being "punished" by having class.

The choirs are all preparing for the spaghetti dinner concert next Friday, so I have mostly taken the role of helper in each choir. I still get things started in all but 6th grade choir and Mr. Suzelis and I sort of co-teach 5th grade choir since they are doing two-part songs. He, however, mostly takes the lead there since we really aren't learning any new songs but just reviewing and polishing the ones they have. If we have time each day I will lead sight-singing in 5th grade. This coming week will be interesting in choir as the OAT will be going on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at the middle school and Tuesday and Thursday at the intermediate school. The choir practices will be impacted, but it doesn't look like it will be too much.

Week 11 Lesson Review

This week's featured lesson will be my 7th grade general music class from Thursday. Pretty much the entire class was taken up with the students trying to learn how to play a few simple melodies on the piano. In the end, I think all of us got frustrated as the second melody proved somewhat difficult to teach and to pick up for first-time piano players. It was definitely one of those, "how will I do this differently tomorrow?!?" kind of lessons. Mr. Suzelis offered some suggestions and then helped the next day in teaching, though the real teller of how well my adjustments go will be Monday at my next evaluation as half the class was out for an activity.

The main issue during the lesson wasn't so much the rhythm as it was the melody and the fingering as they have to use their left index finger and then switch to their right hand. What Mr. Suzelis told me after class was that he usually does the second section last since it is the most difficult, though he also said he tried to suggest it during the class when it became evident that all involved were becoming frustrated; I just didn't hear him! I was trying to make adjustments and challenge the students to not give up and to problem solve, particularly in reading music. A student asked me how "it ended" and so I asked him the same question back after pointing him to the melody on the correct page "how does it end?" My reasoning was helping them to help themselves rather than just giving them the answer. I mean, if they leave music class and have no concept of how to read music, what have I really accomplished other than putting a bunch of facts into their heads they're likely to forget fairly soon?

Another adjustment I tried to make, which I should've done from the beginning, was simply breaking it down to even smaller phrases. When we worked on the next phrase during Friday's class, I did that and we had some better success along with help from Mr. Suzelis in teaching the end of phrase two.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Weekly Review #10

My previous post detailed the main event of the week involving 6th grade choir. It was definitely disappointing to not be able to try any of the strategies suggested after the formal observation on Monday, but in the end I know what happened was for the best and overall benefit of the choir. Of all the classes I teach, 6th grade choir is the only one I ever got the sense from that they truly looked on me as a temporary fixture and knew I'd be leaving eventually. That said, I still want them to be successful and I know the talent is there!

This week was the last week before the school's Spring Break (I am writing this from Laurel, Maryland where I am currently on Spring Break!) so there was a feeling of optimism, but also that kind of worn-out feeling as everyone pushed towards Friday. I felt really good about how classes went as we also began transitioning all of the classes back to Mr. Suzelis. I had him take one day from each of the general music classes and he did warm-ups for both the 7th and 8th grade choirs on a certain day. In 5th grade choir, we essentially team-taught part of the class. I really worked on memorizing names while he taught the music classes and so the rest of the week did much better calling on students and keeping the flow of the lesson going, particularly in 6th grade general music. I was evaluated on Friday by Mr. Suzelis in 6th garde general music and got a generally good evaluation, particularly in classroom management, which I was happy about.

In 5th grade choir I've slowly been working in greatly simplified accompaniments into the songs, not only for my own confidence, but also to help the 5th graders stay excited about their songs. It really helped on Wednesday or Thursday when Mr. Suzelis had to run back to the middle school for something, so he left me with the class and I couldn't ask him to play the accompaniments for me. The other thing this week was solo & ensemble contest on Saturday, so we were working towards that in 7th and 8th grade choirs; also preparing for large group event in May. Mr. Suzelis has largely taken over 7th and 8th grade choirs, though I still do warm-ups and sight singing (once we start that again after break). Most of class was taken up by having the soloists and ensembles perform in class to get experience and practice. I did my best to offer feedback and help to the students. For the most part, they all did well at solo & ensemble yesterday and I was particularly happy that no one gave up on their solo, even some that Mr. Suzelis was almost certain would. All in all a great week heading into the break!

Week 10 Lesson Review

After the observation on Monday I had every intention of taping 6th grade choir this week and talking about implementation of some of the things you suggested. However, neither of those things happened. I will discuss what occurred on Tuesday. The class started out normal enough with warmups and sight singing. I was trying the use of percentages that you had suggested as the choir was far less responsive and involved than they had been the day before, even on simple tasks like singing up the scale in solfege. I was getting a little frustrated, but moreso disappointed as we went through the exercise. It was a somewhat dificult exercise and I anticipated some problems, but not that level of indifference. I tried my best to be excited and encouraging, but also demanding with expectations. Even with that, little response, so we didn't even get through it before Mr. Suzelis stepped in and had a long talk with the choir about attitude. We didn't finsih the exercise, nor did we even sing that day as they got a long lecture on attitude and then had them all answer 5 basic questions about what was affecting them personally and the choir as a whole. One student gave him a slight attitude during the class and by then he was pretty upset, so he yelled at her and she got written up. It certainly got their attention, though he admitted after class he may have "blown his top" a little too much there.

We discussed things after class and decided that it would be best for him to take the choir back over, rather than the gradual transition we had originally planned. The next day had been planned for him to do warm-ups anyway, but now he has taken back over the full-time role as director and I am halping as needed singing with the students and doing anything to help get bthings going. We also discussed ways to get the students "on board" so with the song Siyahamba, we are using the drums left over from 8th grade general music and having the students play the suggested parts on them. It has helped a little. Mr. Suzelis also did a sight singing exercise that was hardly sight reading, but more singing with the piano. He explained his reasoning in building confidence there rather than actually sight reading.

I could feel like a failure, but I don't. When he said it may be better for him to take it back over immediately to get rid of the bad attitude, I told him it was his choir and he needed to do what he felt necessary and that I would help where needed. I was worried he was possibly blaming me for some of the attitude, but the only thing he said was that he felt they needed to get things going at a "quicker pace." The 3 other choirs I have been working with (I am still primarily working with 5th grade choir) are thankfully not suffering from the same attitude problems and this experience has given me a lot of ideas on how to deal with such an occurrence.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Weekly Review #9

Every week it seems like it really isn't possible we are this far along, but here is is: Week 9 is history. This was the first week of a new grading period, so I got three new general music classes. I felt like we have gotten off to a good start for the most part. Are there things I could still improve on? Absolutely, but since this was my first time ever starting a new class (as opposed to coming into an existing class) I thought it went well enough. Those three classes did not meet on Friday due to the school's Character Education assemblies, which happen about every 2-3 weeks. Because music class is held during each grade's respective intervention (study hall) period, the assemblies always affect class schedule. My new 6th grade class is almost too good to be real. They are respectful, quiet, and seem to participate fairly well. My challenge there seems to be making sure I talk less and engage more and that I call on all of the students more. I have been making an effort to try and call on everyone at least once, but I admit some times are easier than others. When I ask students to read, that is one I hesitate the most to simply call on someone who doesn't volunteer since I know there are many people who are just uncomfortable reading out loud for others. The rest of the questions I ask, however, are open to anyone and I just need to do better in making sure I don't let some students monopolize giving answers. And not just in 6th grade music, but in all of my classes!

The choirs are going OK. My piano playing continues to be a frustration for me and it seems for Mr. Suzelis as well. I have been trying to practice more at home so I can at least play all the parts, but even then my practicing doesn't always translate into smooth playing in the classroom, in particular in the 7th and 8th grade choirs where the music is more difficult with three parts. This week marked the end of the period where I have the teacher's entire schedule, so I will be turning the 7th and 8th grade back over to Mr. Suzelis, though I will continue to do warm-ups and sight-singing. The 7th and 8th graders have solo & ensemble contest at the end of this coming week, so much of the class time is spent giving students who are performing a chance to perform in front of an audience. Mr. Suzelis has required all solists and ensembles to perform at least once both this past week and next week. 5th and 6th grade choirs are going OK, though 6th grade choir continues to be a challenge for me. I guess you will see that yourself on Monday! It's not that they're bad (though we have a few behavior issues that continue to come up regardless of whether I or Mr. Suzelis is in front of the group), but more getting better sound out of them. So often I feel like I'm giving so much just to get an average sound out of them. It was nice a few days ago when I did get a great sound out of them after quite an effort on my part, though it's hardly consistent. I'm trying to do better at being consistent in my expectations and giving better modeling examples.