Distance Learning Tips: Memes to Help, Part One

Distance learning tips for music during COVID

       I am going to be honest: I have felt pretty helpless as my former colleagues are planning, worrying, buying, and collaborating to prepare for.....well, "How long will we be in the building?" "How long will we be virtual?" "How do I keep kids at a distance?"

       It's not much, but I decided to provide a tip Meme of the Day on my Facebook page, Instagram, and Twitter. However, I started realizing that having all those memes in one place might be nice, so this post will house the memes and the thinking behind them.

Distance learning tip.Teaching music from a distance: Use SeeSaw to sing your morning song to students
Use SeeSaw or another video platform to sing your morning song to your kids.
As teachers, we know how crucial routine is to our students. One of the biggest debates on school versus virtual is getting students back on a regular schedule. There is good and not so good on both sides. But, if you are going virtual, there is no reason why you cannot continue a morning song or teach a new one. SeeSaw has video capabilities to allow you to reach your kiddos with a cyberhug. (See more on my SeeSaw basics post.) 

Distance learning tip for music: create found sound packets for each student.
Using Found Sound.
An easy and relatively inexpensive way for your kids to experience rhythm either at home or at school is with their own found sound kit. I know of teachers who have been asking for oatmeal boxes, sticks...whatever they can so each child can have their own personalized kit with few concerns about cross-contamination.

Remote learning in music: Use body percussion to teach rhythm in distance learningIncorporate Body Percussion Videos to Assess Rhythm Understanding
Orff focused teachers understand this: elemental music begins with play, and we have seen children create their own hand jives. Utilizing body percussion for an at-home activity is fun, can be recorded, AND can involve family members!

Using Zoom break-out rooms for teaching from home in music
Zoom Breakout Rooms
One of my favorite activities while teaching was utilizing group activities. Yes, I liked them! I love the creative flow. Even if you are in your classroom, though, the kids can't be close enough to collaborate. Enter Zoom. Divide your kids into breakout groups, and they can do body percussion creations, found sound, lyric writing.....Then, ask them to journal into SeeSaw. The kids can then perform with the whole group Zoom.

Focus on non-locomotor skills in distance teaching in musicFocus on Non-locomotor Skills
I'm thinking that one concern you might have teaching elementary during this time of necessary distancing is the fact that............kids move! They can't help it. So, take advantage of this to help them solidify non-locomotor moves. Utilize yoga (check out  this Amazon search!) Another wonderful resource that can tie into the social-emotional aspect of teaching is Brain Dance, which is based on normal developmental patterns experienced during the first year of life. Several of the activities are similar to those utilized by trauma specialists, such as tapping. Non-locomotor movement songs are super as well.Use non-locomotor moves as an assessment in a listening example (dynamics, contour, etc.) Make a Power Point with action words that utilize the 8 efforts from Laban. I've done this for all ages, and animated the words so the kids had to change their movement the minute the new word popped up. I have this Power Point attached with a link to Spotify. Give it a try! Let me know if you have any problems. 

Take students outside to sing during distance learning in music
Teach Outside
The reason I suggest having another adult with you is because of safety and management, but you know your kids. You can also take drums outside, keeping in mind safety issues.

Last one for today.................

Take care of yourself as a music teacher during COVID

To be continued..............stay tuned.......................

In the meantime, you might want to check out #5daysoftptgiveaways at Instagram. On through August 14!

SeeSaw in the Music Classroom: The Basics

Using SeeSaw for music class during COVID distance learning.
(Disclaimer: I am a SeeSaw Ambassador, but I am not employed by the company. I just love it!)
Educators are having a difficult time planning for distance learning. If they start at school, they have to worry about distancing and the possibility of having to suddenly teach from home again. And, obviously, music is performance-based. How do you assess singing and possibly playing? It can't take the place of consistent musicking together, but SeeSaw online portfolio can make it a little easier. The platform makes it easy to go from school teaching to home teaching. Students can still sit apart and work collaboratively with peer assessments. Teachers can keep up with students with computer or phone. And parents can be involved while their child is at school by being able to check their portfolio.

When I was teaching,  I absolutely loved to use SeeSaw. I'd set up "recording studios" with ceiling canopies or gym mats so pairs of students could help each other with recorder. Groups who were improvising or composing could make notes without losing them, show job assignments, reflect, and record their accomplishments. I set them up for substitutes as well. I even made videos at conferences that would show up in the class journal letting them know that I knew who was working and who wasn't! Parents who connected would leave little notes for their kids, encouraging them. It was nice.

One of the greatest thing about SeeSaw is this:
A SeeSaw account setup for teaching remotely during COVID for music
 In the community section, teachers share activities they created (after a SeeSaw panel approves it). All you have to do is click "Share". This makes planning a little easier, because you can edit to suit your needs.

SeeSaw has 3 plans. Start out with the free plan. As you become comfortable with the platform, you might want to expand or convince your district to sign up for the school plan:
Another wonderful feature of SeeSaw is the option to have a family connect with their child's account. They will ONLY see their child's account, and can leave comments. You can also send messages through this platform.

SeeSaw's privacy policy is very reassuring for both parents and teachers. The world can't see student submissions. In fact, students can't see what's going on in other classes.  There is an option for a class blog, which is public, but there are still privacy issues in place.
Some examples of how I utilized SeeSaw in my classroom:
Students work on Christmas compositions using SeeSaw in music classg
Students created holiday compositions with icons, coverted them to pitches on the staff, and recorded themselves playing their pieces on recorder.

Creating rhythm patterns with SeeSaw in music class that can be used for at home learning.
Students worked in groups to create and record ostinati patterns.

If you need a video tutorial about how to get started, plus the basics, watch my tutorial.

Since I made this tutorial, I have found out that teachers can upload videos! Things are always changing. Here is a video from SeeSaw on updated features. 

Here are a variety of other sources for ideas:
I mentioned in the YouTube tutorial I was going to offer the completed activity I used as an example in creating one. Here is the link. Just find the three little dots and click "Share".

I know many of you have used SeeSaw and have great ideas. Please leave a comment to share your ideas. I know they will be greatly appreciated by other teachers!

Next blog: "App smashing" Boomcards and Google Classroom with SeeSaw. 
More freebies! Sign up for my newletter, where you get more ideas, update on my Teachers Pay Teachers products, and free products. 

Until next blog: Take care, be safe, and know you ARE special in the lives of children. 

Determining Racist Roots of Popular Folk Songs: Sources for Uncomfortable but Necessary Introspection

As owner of Dr. Stafford's Musical Cures , I support Black Lives Matter and stands in solidarity with Black friends, colleagues, students and loved ones. The treatment of Black people in relation to white people is a travesty. I am is dedicated to providing resources and information on racism and recognizing the white privilege with which I live. Additionally, I pledge to help fight against any police brutality, support officers who are making a positive difference. As a member of AOSA , OAKE, and NAfME, I also stand by their pledges to support their Black members. And I will continue to provide resources and information on teaching music, a way to help the world heal.

A Little Bit about White Privilege and Teaching

In the midst of a pandemic, learning online teaching, figuring out where to get masks, whether not we listen to the advice of the CDC, WHO, or our friends' memes..........amid all that confusion......... A man was killed. Maybe he passed a counterfeit bill. Maybe he didn't. But in the ensuing arrest attempt......he was murdered. I won't go into the details. Many of us have those details seared into our brains. We saw the video. As horrid as it was, if not for the video, four officers would not be charged with second degree murder. It would be another case of a Black man's word against four police officers. And guess who would win.........HOWEVER, stereotypes don't help. Not all police officers are rogue. In fact, the majority of them honestly want to serve their community. And, for the looting and riots: things are not always as they seem. They are usually not Black people. And like Forrest Gump says, "That's all I have to say about that."

I'm going to say little about my white privilege because that's not the focus. But, by the same token, I am learning to face it. It's not always pretty. That's why I want to mention it.The way I wanted to go in to city schools and teach after retirement because I wanted to make a difference? I marched in with my box full of Black musicians and those books about little children with "special" names. I wanted to make MY perception of difference, not theirs. I pronounced that I couldn't be racist because I drove 50 miles one way and took the job after retirement. I wanted to discipline them my way, consistently sending kids to ISS on the advice of others. But.........I rarely took the time to listen. Maybe that's why a teacher and a student claimed I was racist. I was shocked and taken aback. And I let it affect my health. I resigned 10 weeks in, doctor note in hand. In all fairness to me, there were other situations going on that made it less than ideal. But I certainly didn't help matters. I was operating on white privilege. 

Folk Songs and Racism
Folk songs have been a music teaching staple for centuries. As we know, folk music was passed down from generation to generation, often not written down. Kodály levels students are taught how to trace the roots of folk songs back to as primary of sources as possible. Sometimes, however, we don't go back far enough.Take the popular favorite for sixteenth notes "Chicken on a Fencepost (Dance Josey)". My students in the school before I retired LOVED it. Thank goodness I never got to it in my city school. There are subsequent verses that include the "n" word. There is a host of songs with minstrel histories and derogatory terms for Black people and indigenous peoples. Also, quite a few of the songs we might have taught have questionable authenticity regarding the culture attributed to them. 

Why Does This Matter?

Practical Reasons
  • Parents. Many parents are more savvy than we give them credit for. So, you better have good reasons to back yourself up if you have a parent calling and saying, "So, you're teaching 'Dinah'. My child came home singing it. I looked it up and found it has racist roots. Why are you teaching our children this?" which can lead to ..... 
  • Administration. Whether it's that parental phone call that skips you and goes right to your principal (or in smaller districts, even the superintendent), is it really worth getting called on the carpet to sing a song where you can play a game to chase a rubber chicken? (OK. According to Aileen Miracle, a prominent Kodaly instructor, the racist version of Dance Josey was included after the song had been around for a while, but she still chooses not to include it). That's your judgement call. Which leads to.... 
  • Your community. Some songs in a "gray" area might be fine in certain communities. When in doubt, discuss with your administration if you trust them. 
 Emotional Reasons 
  • Pride of Heritage. Why drag a race or culture down? For instance, for the sake of argument; some of us remember a time when people of German ancestry were called "Kraut" (a derogatory term for German soldiers in World Wars I and II). If you were teaching songs from those wars, would you really include one that included the word "Kraut"? Probably not, because Germany is an ally AND because you probably have students with that heritage. Why, then, would we want to include songs that ridicule Black people? They are our citizens: probably a majority who had ancestors with choice about coming here.
  • Bogging Down with the Negative. Why do that? Black people have had a tremendous history of contribution during and after slavery. Despite odds of not having the advantages of whites merely because of white privilege, numerous people of color have overcome obstacles. Pulling on songs from a minstrel history or songs with racist overtones recalls times of oppression. Why go there? 
What Do We, As Music Educators/Directors Do?
  • Research pronunciations. Do you have a singing soloist sing a German art song without getting a grasp of German? It's the same with dialect. Check out Black composers. Note that all the big names in choral or band arranging may sacrifice dialect for mass production. Jester Hairston is an example of an arranger considered to be true and authentic to Black dialect. (even though his music was around when I was in high school!) If it uses the derivative "chillun" for "children", think again. At this time, when one thinks about gospel or spiritual arrangements, one thinks Moses Hogan, but there are many others. (See list in references)
  • Bring on the jazz. Why was jazz so ignored in earlier music series except for some token units? It's the art form developed in the United States. It was developed from songs of oppression, yet perseverance through work songs and spirituals. Think of the musicianship that goes into improvisation. Use (with common sense!) the lives of jazz musicians as life lessons. Billie Holliday's life was horrible, You MAY not want to touch on her history of prostitution. You can, however, touch on the abuse. If your kids are doing DARE or other types of substance abuse education, you can touch on her drug use and how it killed a rising, brilliant star. Bring on the songs of civil rights. "We Shall Overcome." Bob Dylan. Peter, Paul, and Mary. Help your students to understand that music was important in the fight for social changes throughout the centuries of our country.
  • Face the Uncomfortable with Your Kids WITH DISCRETION. You and your principal need to decide IF you can use certain folk songs and delve into the ugly history. You know your kids. You know your families. When it doubt, leave it out. If you are using songs in conjunction with civil rights, it might be beneficial.
  •  Check your defensiveness/denial. I say that in all love, because I am terribly defensive. Until now, I have avoided books on white privilege/supremacy. Denial and defensiveness. Honestly, I was scared to see what I would find. It's uncomfortable. But it's necessary in order to be a fully empathetic educator. The world is diverse. We need to embrace that diversity. I feel if I had read those books, I might have not had as many issues in the city schools. Who knows?
  • Read, read, read! Learn from others. Check out the list of resources below.

As teachers, we are taught to utilize introspection to continually evaluate ourselves and our teaching. A huge part of our teaching is respect for all of our students. The following graphic was found on Jean Pierre's Facebook page, posted on June 10, 2020. You may wish to look a it and evaluate yourself: where do you fall? When we are able to determine this, we can go forward with the evaluation of our pedagogy, our Kodály binders, our resources, and our outlooks.

Probably the most current definitive organization resource dedicated to research into musical equity is Decolonizing the Music Room by Brandi Waller-Pace Executive Director and Lorelei Batislaong, Co-Editor and Deputy Director. A nonprofit organization, the mission of DTMR is focused on helping music educators develop critical practices and utilize the knowledge and experience of Black, Brown, and Indigenous People in order to challenge the dominance of Western European and white American music, while making more prominent non-dominant races and cultures in music education to make the field more equitable for all.

Resources on songs with questionable pasts

Classical-style music written by Black composers.

Choral Arrangers with a Specialty in Authenticity of Spirituals
  • Jester Hairston
  • Moses Hogan
  • Rollo Dillworth
  • Andaya Hart
  • Rosephanye Powell
  • Andre Thomas
  • William Grant Still
Books on Spirituals and White Fragility
Children's Books about Black Musicians and Music from Black Tradition
Spotify/Smithsonian Folkways

If you have any contributions to these lists, please leave a comment. It would be wonderful to have this list grow as a handy resource.
Next time: Using Boom Cards™ with SeeSaw.

Until then...stay safe, stay healthy, keep musicking.......

The Boom Learning℠ Boom, Part One: Boom Card™ Basics

Using BoomCards in the music classroom for distance learning

For many of you, the "school year" (as it was) is winding down. However, you aren't sure what the fall will bring. Will you be in the classroom? Will you be teaching remotely again? Will you be doing a combination of both? It makes it difficult to plan. One possible strategy is utilizing as many online sources as possible that can be introduced fairly simply in the classroom, makes great class assignments, can be utilized as independent learning tools, and be ready at a notice to be utilized for home learning. Enter Boom Learning℠, which is utilized with Boom Cards™.

Boom Cards™ are literally decks of interactive cards that can be assigned either through student IDs or through a process called Fast Play. With Fast Play, students can work in groups or you can use an interactive board. You do not need a paid account to access Fast Play. However, you cannot collect student data. With one of the paid programs on Boom Learning℠, you can collect student data, assign cards to a whole class, or assign cards to an individual. The most expensive program is $35 a year, so it is not prohibitively expensive. With the increased call for digital learning, it is very possible your district will pay for it.

Teachers can create their own cards, or they can purchase cards through the store, using points, which are about a penny apiece. Cards are also sold on Teachers Pay Teachers.  The activities vary. There are regular select the correct answer, click and drag, and fill in the blank. Sound clips can be embedded, and cards can link to other cards in the deck for games such as escape rooms. There are quite a few free decks you can use to test them out.

I know, when you are introduced to a new digital concept, it can be a little nerve-wracking. I made a short, check-it-out basics tutorial to help you visualize how the cards work a little better.

If you would like to try out a free set of Boom Cards™ for yourself, you can try this set: treble clef pitches on the staff. Here is a preview

I will admit: I am growing my Boom Cards™ "inventory" in my store and in the Boom Learning℠ store. I am very addicted, however. I wish I had investigated these before I retired! You can go to Teachers Pay Teachers, look up Boom Cards™, and click on "Music" to discover what is out there.
The link to my store is https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Dr-Staffords-Musical-Cures, where you can find cards related to pitches on the staff..Coming within a week: Instruments of the Orchestra Escape Room, Forbidden Rhythm, and activities to go with various folk songs. Keep your eyes open to my Facebook page, Instagram, or Twitter for product updates.

Part 2 of my Boom blogging will pertain to how you can utilize Boom Cards™ with Google Classroom™ or SeeSaw. Using these platforms with your cards can enhance your students' interest and learning.


I have some things to give away! You can have a chance to win a free deck of the Orchestra Escape Room, a $20 Amazon gift certificate, or if you are really lucky..................both!!

I am going to send out the link to the deck for the Orchestra Escape Room in my newsletter. In order to receive this, of course, you have to sign up! Anyone on my newsletter list automatically receives this to add to your digital teaching repertoire. 

Amazon gift certificate, you say? Well, teachers are looking for ideas for distance learning or setting up their classrooms. So, submit your ideas! You can send me an email, or post it on my Facebook page. On June 1, I am going to take the names of all the people who contributed ideas and do a drawing on Facebook live, with an online name selector. The person whose name comes up with receive a gift certificate by email! 

Until the next blog post: Stay safe. Relax. Treat yourself well. Learn a new instrument. And remember not to stress. You'll be fine.   

Music Class in the Era of Covid-19: Concerns and Strategies

This has been a rough, rough 2-3 months for the world. And, in the United States, citizens had to adapt in a myriad of ways in order to protect themselves and their loved ones from the coronovirus Covid-19. As you know, teachers have had to immediately learn how to provide instruction remotely, adapting on the fly, while they and their students stayed at home during the social/physical distancing requirements. For music teachers in particular, the challenge was augmented because of the performance aspect of the discipline. It was not easy for students to "musick" over Zoom or other platforms. And, according to the CDC guidlines, re-entry into the school building does not mean that life is "back to normal". I want to share some thoughts that, although maybe a little jumbled, reflect what I would be thinking if I was still teaching. I definitely think these in my new position as a church music director.

One item of particular concern is that of singing. In a recent webinar, presented in conjunction with various professional vocal organizations, it was noted that singing was a point of concern in regards to aerosolization, or the way saliva is emitted in the air. (More information can be found here.) 
On the Podcast Choralosophy, Chris Munce invited Dr. Amesh Adalja of Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security to discuss the risk assessment for group activities. Additionally, Dr. Heather Nelson conducted informal research on vocal physiology and the differences between aerosol particles and droplets, a a major means of viral transmission. At the end of her blog post, Dr. Nelson admits, as a church choral director, she does not take this lightly. And as someone who knows her personally, she means it. It is an emotional situation for many music teachers, one which brought her to tears, has brought me to tears, and as I'm sure, has brought you to tears as well. 

The National Association for Music Education has provided information and guidelines for music teachers as well. Many of these resources regard online teaching, travel, instrument safety, and mass gatherings, along with a community forum where teachers can share their concerns. And these are huge concerns. How do you work with a band, with all the particles in the air, on the floor, on the surfaces? How do you deal with distancing? Marching? What will ensembles look like this school year?

Based on discussions on the NAfME forum and various Facebook groups, music teachers are at a loss as to what music teaching might look like come August/September. How will ensembles look? How can you teach typical folk dances? How do you constantly clean Boomwhackers and mallets? Should you even try recorder? What about school ukuleles? How can students play mouth instruments or sing with masks? Do percussionists wear gloves? 

Not to mention, there are differing viewpoints on how to handle music teaching. One website from a German university cited in the NAfME community provides some guidelines in instrumental music teaching: one student to room, protective shield walls, and ventilation every 10 minutes. It also suggests no vocal music. Instrumentalists are not to blow through the instrument for cleaning purposes, and cleaning is not to occur in university rooms. Face masks must be worn during the ventilation process. However, another website mentioned in the forums cites a study provided by the Bamberger Symphony , where it was speculated that certain instruments, based on the direction of the air flow, may not pose as much of a problem. Who do you believe?

In an informal survey, I asked music educators what their greatest concerns were regarding online teaching and returning to the classroom, if at all possible. 100% of them had to do some form of remote teaching, but they got less than 20% response from students, which had to be discouraging. Most of them used some sort of Google app for assignments, followed by paper/pencil or online portfolio performance submissions. Most of them had been thinking about how they would practice distancing in their classroom, but they still had fears, such as the following:

  • Music wouldn't be taught at all.
  • What would folk dancing and small group work look like?
  • They would be asked to continue to teach virtually, which would lead to a loss of skills.
  • Logistics: singing, playing instruments, wearing masks while performing, sanitation of instruments. Most will probably not use recorder at all.
  • Keeping student interest
  • The loss of performances, which might set a precedent for the future.
  • Distancing and the logistics of singing.
  • Being proactive
  • The gradual loss of music education.
Do any of these concerns sound familiar? What do you do? Don't despair, because there are colleagues who formulating ideas.

This thread on the NAfME community site contains ideas posted by an orchestra teacher who wanted to keep his students engaged. A few of these suggestions included: 
  • Technique tips
  • Asking students for warm-up ideas.
  • Scavenger hunts.
Another teacher created digital music production activity where students researched various styles of digital music and created their own. 

Because of the situation of intellectual ownership, please refer to the thread. The ideas are terrific! (If you do not belong to NAfME, please send me an email.)

What about virtual rehearsals? The sound delay can make things very frustrating. However, can you use that to your benefit? Let your students hear it. Ask them why they think it happened. Ask them for suggestions on improving. Use this as a movement for higher level thinking. Another suggestion for small groups: with parental permission, you might set the students up on A Capella . This would be a terrific way for younger students to learn to play in ensemble. You or another experienced musician can be the first to record, so your ensemble members can learn to play along with others. 

Great digital platforms to investigate for variety in theory and appreciation instruction: Boom Cards, SeeSaw, Flipgrid, and of course, Google Classroom. These will definitely not take the place of real musicking, but will provide variety for your students and an incentive to participate in online music activities. Plus, these are activities that can also involve the parent. Teachers Pay Teachers has some wonderful music instructors who have posted digital products for these platforms. You can look by subject (music), or an objective. I have products on there myself.

Speaking of parents; do the parents of your students have a family song that means quite a bit to them? You can also involve parents by doing an activity based on the book The Family Folk Song Project  by Cathy Ward. Your students ask family members about songs that are traditional in their families. The students can do research, record the family singing the song, or even create their own song! By putting this personal spin on the assignment, your students might gain an appreciation for folk art and what it means.

How are you going to treat yourself during all this? Your students obviously need much more TLC during this time than usual, especially your students who have experienced trauma. But what about you? How to plan for this without going crazy or being caught by surprise?
  • Be proactive. This might be an excuse for some districts to drop arts or it might not. However, if you come in with a Plan B, C, or D should the school environment look different, you will show you are indispensable. Remember to check the NAfME community boards. Join various Facebook groups. Keep up on the websites I've posted. Think outside the box. Teachers cannot afford to hold on to the familiar right now and succeed. There is familiar for no one right now.
  • Remember to advocate for the arts and let administrators know that the students need them more than ever.
  • Give yourself grace. This is new to everyone. Use common sense, but don't beat yourself up if you don't have 100% participation or if an idea falls through. And don't be afraid to try new ideas. Share what you did with colleagues or in Facebook groups. It might spark an adjustment to your idea from someone else and benefit everyone.
  • Take care of yourself. In this blog post, I shared thoughts on the emotions of teaching. The personal care ideas are relevant now, maybe more than ever. 
  • You can also take care of yourself by rediscovering your own inner musicianship.
And take heart in these words from Dale Duncan:
"We are all processing.

The finish to this school year is not what any of us expected or wanted our choral music experiences to be when we started teaching our students back in the fall of 2019.

Everyone needs and deserves rope right now.  Everyone is emotional and stressed.

People are saying a lot of things about the future of choral music.

What we cannot and must not do, is say that choral music is over.

Because it isn't.

So, we have to stop saying it.

Everyone needs to stop saying that."

It's a beautiful blog post. Please find the rest on Dale's blog.

New normals don't have to be frightening. They don't have to be terrible. They don't even have to be permanent. We are musicians. We improvise. That's what we do. We can get through this together.

If you have thoughts or comments, please email me, leave a comment here, or post to my Facebook page.  Share your thoughts, fears, and ideas.


When you are frustrated and need some uplifting music, try this YouTube video.

Take care. Be safe. And keep improvising.

Remembering Your Inner Musician

     As I write this, the United States is going through the Covid-19 uproar. Schools are closed, and teachers are delivering instruction remotely. Many businesses and social venues are closed. People are nervous about their health and the health of their loved ones. Honestly, it's a scary time. As a music teacher, you are probably scrambling to find relevant online sources to provide your students with the best opportunities to "music", or experience music as a verb. It's not easy. But, we know as musicians, our art is a human necessity for emotional outlets during stress. But go back to your life "before" corona. It was probably made up of ensemble or program rehearsals, faculty meetings, making lesson plans, attending professional development, and tending to your own family.
     Now think back to the first time you just knew you were going into music somehow. For me, it was eighth grade. Band was my jam. I loved that it gave me someone that was "mine". It didn't care if I was in the "cool" group or not. There was something about playing that gave me goosebumps. This continued into college, where I'd spend 4 hours in a practice room in the Utt building of Central Missouri State University (now the University of Central Missouri. Go, Mules!) honing my craft. Or I'd be on the marching field in the fall. Or I'd be in the ensemble rehearsal room for concert band or orchestra. It consumed my life and, like the phrase goes "gave me life". Graduation happened. I went on to get my Masters and still lived in the rehearsal hall. 
     Then real life happened. I got married and started teaching. For a while, I kept up. I'd join summer band and kept up on lessons. I got out of teaching for a while, and it was all pretty good. Then we moved. I was expecting and teaching again. All of a sudden, about 10 years later, I realized my flute embouchure was shot. I had not practiced. But I was playing! I played solos and ensembles in church or in summer band. Once I took Orff levels and later, Kodály levels, I was back to feeding that inner musician at a higher level, with the challenges of composing, improvising, arranging, and ear training. I was determined to improve my singing skills.  I stepped out of a comfort level and began challenging myself with recorder solos in church and found a renewed joy in this, as well as playing impromptu duets with my daughter on flute. Additionally, I took on a new challenge in community band by playing clarinet. (It's not Benny Goodman level, but I can make it over the break!)
      In the book , A Philosophy of Music Education: Advancing the Vision (3rd Edition)(Reimer), the author theorizes on whether the aim of music should be performance or music for music's sake. (He was famous in the music education world for his debates on the topic with his former student David Elliott). In his view, every teacher of music, "even" those who teach general music, must be a good musician. This does not necessarily mean being a good performer. The 2014 national standards for music were developed not merely to teach Every Good Boy Does Fine, but to help students think and consider music in their lives and how it affects their lives. As teachers, we need to do this as well, and set an example. To get an idea of what music teachers thought instead of throwing my own thoughts and theories out there, I asked 8 music teachers what their thoughts were:

1. Teacher from Ohio: One teacher is a private instructor on piano, voice, and organ. They believe that continuing to practice good musicianship is vital to becoming a better teacher. This person performs out in the "world" as a paid church musician. In order to facilitate personal music development, they suggest picking something you enjoy and schedule 30 minutes to yourself, once a week. 
2. Tim, from Massachusetts, is a 9-12 director of jazz studies. His primary instrument is bass; however, he also plays guitar, piano, percussion, and trumpet. In his opinion, it is important for music educators to have real-life experience in ensembles and performances provides knowledge they can then share with their students. To this end, Tim plays in various jazz gigs, including weddings, pit orchestras, and doing his own personal recordings. In order to facilitate this, Tim suggests finding time, even if it just 20 minutes. There is no way a teacher can realistically rehearse 8+ hours, but even a few minutes will keep the skills up and provide an example for students. 
3. Heather, from Kansas, is a K-6 general music teacher and a 5-6 beginning band director whose primary instrument is voice. She feels strongly that musicking is necessarily for one's soul; "a love, a hobby, an outlet.". It helps a music teacher keep skills sharp so they can demonstrate to their students, as well as providing emotional balance. To that end, Heather is involved with her church's worship team and plays piano at home for pleasure. Sometimes, she will become involved with summer choir. Even though she is busy herself, Heather tries to find some "me" practice time. She suggests finding timer to "jam" with a friend if possible and to understand that "life has seasons". Do what you can in those times and give yourself grace.
4. Kristin, who is also from Kansas, teaches K-12 general music and choir, directs her church choir, and community chamber choir. Her primary instrument is voice and piano, but she said she still likes to play around with oboe at times. Kristin believes music teachers need to "practice what they preach"; that is, set a practice and work ethic example for students. Personally, Kristin said she needs her own music for her own mental and musical health. She loves and finds she needs her own musicality. To that end, she performs with local choirs, opera companies, and collaborates with other musicians to feed her musical endeavors. Her advice: please try to make time for yourself. She believes the soul craves it. She has also discovered students respond to their music teachers' performing efforts. 
5. Cindy is from Colorado. She teaches K-6 music, and her main instrument is violin. She believes retaining your musicianship is vital for personal satisfaction, as well as to help us remember what it is like on the other side of the podium. This, in turn, can help students relate to you better and shows a different side of you. It is also beneficial to just have something to do outside of school. Cindy plays with a community orchestra and small ensembles, and occasionally plays gigs. Despite what we might think, Cindy believes we are not too busy and that we are better teachers if we set boundaries and have other things in our lives besides teaching. 
6. Lydia, from Iowa, teaches K-5 general music and was a voice major. She also plays piano, ukulele, and low brass, as well as tenor recorder! She believes that practicing not only keeps our skills sharp, but by learning a new instrument or new repertoire, we have greater empathy for our students who struggle. She notes that, after nine years of teaching, she has finally made tie to play music for herself during the school year outside in bonfire jam sessions. She admits she didn't realize how much she enjoyed playing with a group as opposed to directing a group. By by refueling her own personal musicianship, she feels she has grown significantly as a musician, "refueling and rekindling [her] fire to mold musical human beings". 
7. Rosemary is from Wisconsin and teaches elementary, along with 6th grade band. A flautist, she believes music teachers need to set an example for their students by keeping up on their own musical skills. By joining other adults in music, a music educator can find inspiration that helps them identify with their students, as well as discovering new styles of music and literature. Rosemary participated in a part-time orchestra for 10 years, as well as performing in recitals, community band, and community orchestra. Her advice for music teachers? Find something you can do, even if it's not your main instrument. Make it a priority and slow down on other things. As she asks, " If you can't make it a priority, then how do you expect your students to practice on their own time?" 
8. Melissa, from Missouri, teaches PreK-4, a 4-6 Honor Choir, and high school choir. Although piano is her main instrument, she sings and plays some guitar, ukulele, recorder, and dulcimer. For her, retaining her own personal musicianship models a practice ethic for her students and is healthy for personal and leisure needs. Melissa sings in community choir and assists with parts. In addition, she accompanies vocal and instrumental soloists. She admits that at one point, she did not keep up on her playing, and as a result, her skills suffered. So she tells music teachers, "Get off that TV and practice!"
     As for me, I am now inspired to pick up my clarinet and get that embouchure back into shape. I can't go very many places right now and I'm tired of the gloom and doom of the news, so why not? Netflix will always be there.
Next week's topic will be using Google products for Google classroom: suggestions, resources, and tutorials.
Just a reminder: Many of my products in my Teachers Pay Teachers store are free until April 1, to help you with this new world of remote teaching. Also a reminder: remember to leave a review, which will give you credit towards future TPT purchases.

Ideas for Teaching Music Remotely

I'm pretty sure you know all about COVID-19, a viral disease that is pretty well turning the lives of citizens of the globe upside down. The strongest, and most logical, advice given to prevent the spread is to thoroughly wash hands and avoid crowds. Unfortunately, the testing system for the virus is still, at this writing, not catching up with those who are carrying it. Sports events, concerts, local events, places of worship....all are canceling until further notice. One of the most obvious germ-collecting areas, of course, are schools. Not only are there students who get sent to school with a fever because a parent or guardian cannot afford to take a day off, but there are students with conditions that cause them to be immunosuppressed. For the protection of everyone, many states are calling off school after spring breaks to allow those who might be infected to be quarantined, preventing the illness from spreading further. 

But, pathogens that cause pandemics aren't the only reason to call off schools for more than a week. We have the ever-popular snow days. And if you live in a river state like Missouri, there are the ever-famous flood days. With more and more schools providing 1:1 devices for students to take home, however, there are ways to continue the learning without the students physically being there.

There is NO way remote online learning can replace in-person encounters, especially in the arts. Those cannot take the place of your concerts, music festivals, theater productions, and daily music classroom activities. The beauty of music is that the students get to experience learning in a childlike manner. In short, they get to be kids. But that doesn't help the situation now. I've compiled a few ideas of my own, and some great resources that can get you through the next 2-3 weeks intact.

I'm retired, so I don't have to go through this. But, I have situations when I was gone when the substitute was not comfortable with music. If I was in the situation many of you are now, I would utilize SeeSaw or ClassDojo online portfolio features. I am not as familiar with Class Dojo's platform, but I had used SeeSaw for several years. With these online portfolios, you can actually record yourself presenting a lesson. The students can respond in kind with pdf assignments that you post, images, or they can record themselves. So, for instance, you can have a solfege lesson. The students can perform recorder music. You can post a YouTube video of music of another culture and ask the students to journal about. And, as soon as you look at it, you can leave instant feedback.  I have also seen quite a few teachers on Facebook, especially those in higher education, mention Zoom. I have not tried Zoom (actually, I haven't heard about it until now!), but this blog post gives suggestions for utilizing it in the classroom that you might be able to modify for your own situation. Another platform is Flipgrid

There is a Google doc being shared on Facebook groups that includes various online learning websites that are offering free services for the next month for teachers whose schools are canceled during the pandemic. To access the list, click here.

There are several terrific music teacher blogs that have included other ideas. Here is a list you should check out:

Other suggestions:
Gathering materials at the last minute can also be difficult. Because of this, I am offering all on my Teachers Pay Teachers store for free until April 1. (One product, which is a bundle, is shown with a price because I have to leave at least one product for pay. The material for the bundle is provided for free). 

I normally have Tuneful Talk Tuesdays at intervals, but I will be having one on a Sunday. March 13, 2020, at 3:00 Central time to discuss ideas on how to use some of my products as remote teaching tools. Catch these on Facebook live at https://www.facebook.com/drstaffordsmusicalcures. I will be having an Instagram live at 4:00 Central at http://www.instagram.com/drstaffordsmusicalcures.

Please feel free to share any ideas for remote teaching you have, either here or on my Facebook page. Music teachers are used to improvising. You will be fine. Just keep those students loving music, and hold them accountable. Let me know how you are all doing.


Positive Mindset in the Music Classroom: Why and How

Our students are dealing with so much in their lives. The Annie Casey Foundation website states that more than one in five children experience multiple adverse experiences.  You probably have children whose parents knowingly or unknowingly provide negative feedback, sometimes within earshot of other people. Other parents (and teachers!) can have unrealistically high expectations of their students. Quite a few students are bullied. Other students have difficulty with standard learning and test taking. All of these situations can contribute to a closed mindset.

What is a closed mindset? According to Dr.Diana Allan of Missouri Southern State University, a mindset is "the lens through which we view our world". (Source, clinic at Missouri Music Educators Conference).
People with closed mindsets:

  • Avoid challenges
  • Give up easily
  • See efforts as fruitless
  • Ignore useful negative feedback
  • Are threatened by the success of others 
On the other hand, people with positive (growth) mindsets:

  •  Embrace challenges
  • Persist, even with setbacks
  • Believe effort is just a pathway to success
  • Learn from criticism
  • Are inspired by the success of others
When so many outside obstacles can throw a monkey wrench into the growth mindset works, what can teachers do to help students develop a positive attitude towards their abilities?

  1. Determine if your expectations are reasonable, but also provide a challenge. The best way to do that is to actually never assume anything. It's better to start a little easy, note when students are zipping through objectives, and state, "Wow. You know this! Let's try to up this". When you get to the part when the students don't get it right the first time, make sure the feedback is positive, with a hint of help that seems to come from them. "Oops, I think we have a little challenge. Have you tried...", or "Hmmm, here's a tricky part. What do you think you can do to tackle this?"
  2. Make sure the classroom environment is risk-free. The biggest impediment to risk-free? Bullying and teasing. Nothing is going to shut down creativity and pushing the success envelope more than the fear of peers laughing at you. The best thing to do is to be proactive.
    *Use team-building discussion activities. The picture below shows an activity I've used in my classroom. Students toss a skein of yarn to another student. Each student answers the question posed, hold on to a section of the yarn, and then toss it to someone else. Everyone must answer, and the answers must be accepted, no matter how short.

       *Teach students how to critique. Remind them that critiquing doesn't always mean negative comments. 
        * Teach students how to SELF-critique. Many of our bullies have low self-esteem. When students learn how to objectively self-critique and understand where their strengths are and that they have them, the bullying tendencies stop. Case in point: for many, recorder is a struggle. Ask them what they did correctly, many will answer "Nothing". BUT, you can say "Were you able to hold the recorder?" "Did you use warm air?" "Did you play the entire song without stopping?" Humans are generally very hard on themselves. When we learn to see the positive we can do, our feelings of safety are increased. We are willing to take more risks and understand that not every task is immediately successful.
        * Teach students that the journey, not necessarily the destination, is important. This is a very important tenant in the Orff-Schulwerk approach to teaching music. ("Experience first, then intellectualize".)
                                   MOVING ON to POSITIVE MINDSET DEVELOPMENT
  4. Give feedback that focuses on process. (What was I saying about the Orff approach?)
  5. Introduce students to the growth mindset process. Here are some examples of what I did when I was teaching:
       *Most of us are familiar with exit tickets. I used exit tickets that focused on effort and self-reflection, not music objectives. I had a special bulletin board for success, and students would post answers to effort questions with Post-It notes. ("Where did you feel success in music today?" "Who did you see that found success in something they struggled with?")
      * I frequently asked students to journal on SeeSaw. The students could either type their reflections or record themselves. They could also ask me to keep it private. The students could record their reflections on activities, their successes, their frustrations and how they planned to overcome their frustrations in progressing on a certain music objective;
      * Introduce students to musicians who had positive mindsets in the face of adversity. Some great examples:
               +Evelyn Glennie
               +Ray Charles and Stevie Wonder
               +Hank Williams
               +Itzhak Perlman
               + Mel Tillis
               + Michael Bolton
               + Tony Braxton
               +  Ali Stroker

Blogs on Student Mindset

Bully-proof Your Classroom

6 Tips to Help Develop Positive Mindset

Mindset, Grit, and Determination

Mindset in the Music Classroom

Coming up: PD in the Pages Book Review, observations, stress, music classroom jobs........

Check out Dr. Stafford's Tuneful Talk Tuesdays on Instagram and Facebook Live!
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Facebook: 7:30 Central
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