Week 3 – Everything is awesome, and/or a complete disaster

So I had an experience this week and I wonder if any of you (especially you, rotary people) have had something similar.

I gave a lesson near the beginning of the week on the personal nature of composition, and the way in which many artists will use music as a way of talking about things that are important to them. Our activity for the lesson was to interpret and then compare the lyrics of two different autobiographical songs by different artists. Our examples were Solsbury Hill by Peter Gabriel, and Dear John by Styx.

I deliberately chose songs that the students were less likely to be familiar with, so that they would have to work from scratch when deciding what they thought the songs were about, rather than working from their preconceptions. The main point behind the analysis was that one song (Solsbury Hill) has a very implicit meaning, while the other (Dear John) is very explicit.

Anyway, the first grade 8 group I did this with loved it. Hands were up, everyone had an opinion, there were lots of creative interpretations – some students even started to sing along when we listened to the songs a second time, which I hadn’t asked them to do. It was great.

So great, in fact, that my AT was all, “That was cool, you should do it again with (other grade 8 group). They’ll like it.”

So I did. And it was….terrible.

Dead silence. No opinions. I had to prompt through every part of the analysis. I mean, no one was goofing off, everybody listened, but response? Nada.

At the time I had no plan B, so I just sort of plodded on through and vowed (secretly) to do better next time.

Has this happened to you? What did you do? What happens when you’re giving what you think is an awesome lesson, and halfway through, you realize it’s bombing? A disaster. A masterpiece of disaster. Disasterpiece.

I’m going to go work on a plan B.


Right folks? Right?

I’m developing a verbal tic, I think? I keep catching myself ending my sentences with “…right?” as I’m speaking to my students. I’ve never done this before, you guys. It’s weird. I’m trying to consciously replace it with something assertive, like “understand?”, because that’s what I’m really asking – I want to check in with my students. But “…right?” sounds like I’m unsure, or something, and it keeps slipping out anyway and it is FREAKING ME OUT.

My AT hasn’t mentioned it, so maybe it isn’t as noticeable and weird as I feel it is. Or maybe he’s just being nice. I aim to ask.

Anyone else find this happening to them? Any success knocking it off? Because even if my students aren’t noticing, it is totally distracting for me when a catch myself doing it.




Week 2 – Aventures in composition

So my major lesson this week was one on composition, where I gave the students 10 basic “rules” to follow and asked them to try and write a short melody. I was super excited to do this, you guys, and it went…not as well as I expected. Turns out a lot of the students just didn’t have some of the basic terminology and ideas down that they would need to make the lesson a success – so I spent a lot of time repeating myself and reassuring them that it wasn’t as hard as it seemed. I got a few really nice responses, but the overall effect was that most of the students were too intimidated to give a real effort to what I was asking them to do.

My bad.

The upside is I now have a better idea of the technical knowledge of some of the classes I am working with, and hopefully that means more appropriate lessons in the future. I scaled back a little bit on some of the lessons since then, and met with much better involvement.

I also had a chance to do the lesson based on my ALSAM with a couple classes, and it was great. I got a lot of really invested students, and it felt good to do something with them that they all felt they could do well. My tie-in to music with the ALSAM lesson was asking students to think about what would make appropriate music to accompany the work they were doing – I’m planning to follow up on that this week. Another interesting thing was seeing the different reactions of the different groups of students – I worked with a 3/4 group and a grade 7 group, and while the 3/4 group was super excited to do the activity, a lot of them ended up getting confused by the idea of there being a “right” answer they were supposed to find, even though the activity was about their personalities. The grade 7 group was less enthusiastic initially, but they were much more willing once we started to just roll with what I was asking them to do, and worried less about the results.

Today I gave my first lesson that required the students to do some work at home – and it was very successful. In class we worked on interpreting the lyrics of a couple autobiographical songs, and I talked to them about the different ways that artists and singers will use their music to talk about things that are important to them. The students are now meant to go find some music that they listen to often, and see if any of their favourite songs have deeper personal meaning for the artist. Once they’ve chosen a song, they are going to bring in a lyric sheet to share with the class, so we can work on interpreting the music the way we did with today’s examples. I’m hoping this assignment gives me a chance to get to know the students a little better by learning about the kinds of music they feel is important. I’m hoping for lots of variety in the songs they bring in…or I could end up with 30 One Direction songs. Either way, insight. I can hope, right?


Week 1 – Something, something, something, sinus headaches.

So week one was great, you guys, but I woke up sick this morning and it’s hard to think about anything other than the sensation that my eyeballs are being crowded out of my head. So apologies if I ramble a little in this post.

My first class this week was a double period with a class of 3/4 students. (My AT suggested I take this class, rather than a 30 minute single period.) I used a lesson based on a rhythm game, to work on steady beat and rhythm patterns. The lesson itself went fairly well – everyone participated, and seemed to understand the concepts I was trying to get across.  I was surprised, though, just how often the class needed to be refocused – practically as soon as I asked them to settle down and listen, they would get distracted by something else. The result was that I was really glad I took my AT’s advice and taught the double period – what I thought was a fairly compact lesson ended up taking nearly a full hour, and I omitted a final activity.

When I got the chance to teach the lesson a second time on Thursday (this time with a 5/6 class, again a double period) I was able to address a few of the things that caused me trouble the first time – I moved a little faster to keep everyone focused, and I had the students set up chairs in a circle, rather than having them stand. (I had asked the first class to stand since the activity involved a fair amount of moving around.) The students were still able to move when I asked them to, but having a seat to go back to helped keep us organized (and everyone was a little less tired.) Classroom management was still a bit of an issue, but I definitely felt more comfortable with it the second time, and I was able to get through the entire lesson in the hour I had.

My second day was both busier and a little lighter – my AT was away, and our supply was not a music teacher. There was work left behind for the older students,  but I was asked to take over and teach 3 kindergarten classes, a class of grade ones, and a choir practice. It was a lot of classes for a second day, but I was able to have some fun with the kindergarten and grade one classes – we learned a poem, sang, played London Bridge – and running a choir practice is something I’m already familiar with, so I was able to relax.

The most exciting lesson I taught this week was to teach a grade 8 class a klezmer piece. I taught the students to sing the tune, while my AT and I accompanied them on guitar and clarinet, respectively. We were able to get a nice little arrangement going, and I ended up having time to teach the students a circle dance, which we all did together while singing. Got our exercise!

Our Friday was the Halloween dance for the grade 7 and 8 students, so the day was light – I adapted the same poem I’d used earlier in the week with the kindergarten classes and used it for a rhythm and reading lesson with a 2/3 class.

My free time this week was spent doing as much lesson planning and brainstorming as I could – I tried to get all my ideas on paper, even if they weren’t fully developed into lessons yet. I know I’ll have less and less time to work on my plans as the month goes on, so I’m trying to get the hard part – coming up with ideas – out of the way now. I’m trying to remember all the great lessons I’ve ever done with my own music teachers, and trying to adapt them for the students that I have. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, right?