Saturday, February 3, 2018

Vocal Play- a Critical Key to In Tune Singing


In tune singing- it is a vital part of Kodály music and a goal for most music teachers for their students. Although it is a goal, it is not always easy to achieve. You have to work at it, even to help students to feel comfortable singing in front of others and exposing their voice, which feels very personal. I will give you some tips on how I help students feel comfortable and help them find their in tune voice. 

Helping students feel comfortable singing


Singing and doing vocal play has to become a normal part of your classroom- a habit that every student gets into. I begin every class with an affirmation and then we immediately do vocal play, even with my 5th and 6th graders. I am new to my current school this year and I teach ukulele in our fine arts program. I just got a new set of students in January and they aren't used to doing vocal play so we had to start from the beginning. I have a student of the day that I choose from my person of the days cards (each student has one). He or she does vocal play, sits in my VIP chair, and helps with various things, such as handing out raffle tickets for answering questions.  Click on the links to read about those. It becomes a habit when students do this every day,  and I have an expectation that every student will be participating every time. They may resist at first but get used to it, especially if you smile and encourage. 

Have some fun puppets available


Over time, I have found lots of puppets so students have many options to choose from for vocal play. I have found many cute puppets in packs at Costco, bought some of the stick puppets at my school scholastic book fair, and found some at other places along the way. I have a book shelf full of puppets that students can choose from. I have more in boxes that aren't even out. I think I need a puppet intervention! 

My messy puppet shelves

Exploring vocal play through stories


I use vocal play stories in class, especially in the lower grades. I tell stories using my thumbs talking to each other in high and low voices, traveling in various modes of transportation up and down hills or going on roller coasters, while students sing and copy. You are only limited by your imagination.

I went to a workshop and the lady told a wonderful story about Mrs Red and Mrs Green just using her hands. I was so inspired that I went home a made visuals for it. I LOVE seeing how delighted the kids are to do this story, especially the part where the two meet in the middle. I love how they look forward to the new colors of houses on another day and new kinds of trees or fruits. The whole thing is magical.  You can change the names to Mr's or whatever you want. 

Assessing vocal play


In my district, we are expected to have one major student learning objective for the year. In first grade, my melodic target is that 90% of the students will sing on pitch by the end of the year. That is a huge goal! Besides having my student of the day lead vocal play every day and doing vocal play stories on a regular basis, I motivate kids to sing solos. I have a seating chart on the stand in front of me to help remember names and to write notes on, such as whether a student sang in tune. 

I have some special bubble Music Microphones and tell the students that if everyone sings hello back to me, I will blow bubbles when they are done. I sing to every hello to each student. "Hello Maya!" (sol, mi, sol, mi). She sings back, "Hello Mrs Seamons" (sol, mi, sol, sol, mi, mi). I let each student choose the color he or she will sing into for singing back to me. In the beginning, some students may be shy, so I sing with them, but they quickly learn to sing alone and get into a habit when it is done regularly. I mark a plus on my chart if they are in tune and a minus if they aren't.

When we first start this, I am super thrilled if they sing back to me. Once they get into the habit, I ask them to see if they can sing high like me. I also ask everyone (even if they are singing in tune to reach for the stars as they sing because it helps them to get their voice higher). Having everyone do it doesn't make the one or two students who is working on getting the voice higher feel different or picked on. 

Once everyone sings to me, I break out the bubble microphones. The only rule I have is that they have to stay on their pockets. They can't dive to grab them or jump up to grab someone else's bubbles. I had one student who was especially hard this year- a selective mute. She really was being stubborn and wouldn't sing. I didn't make a big fuss but when I did the bubbles, I just didn't aim them at her. She is now singing along with everyone else. It took some time to get her hooked but now she sings solos just like everyone else. 


You could use another kind of microphone or many different incentives to achieve the same thing. With the students of the day leading vocal play every class period, using vocal stories, and have students sing to me every day, in a very short time, all of my first graders sing in tune. Are they perfect every time they sing? Of course not, but they have found their high and beautiful voice and are now in tune singers! 

Be careful of the language you use


I am extremely sensitive to how I talk about in tune singing. I don't want to cause a child to grow up and be that adult who says he  can't sing because a teacher told him that. If you wanted to give a grade on a report card, you could use terms such as improving on in tune singing or participates. If a student doesn't sing in tune, I don't make a big fuss. I just move on and work on it again next time. When he does finally sing in tune, I do make a big fuss and the whole class claps. 

These are some ways I use to help my students find their in tune voice. I hope you can use some of these ways to help your students.  I will write more posts on in tune singing with more ideas later. I would love to hear your ideas too! 

Read about matching sol mi in kindergarten through a book in this blog post. 



Sunday, January 28, 2018

Connecting with Second Language Learners in the Music Classroom Part 1


I have always loved teaching songs from around the world, abundant in the Kodály repertoire. In the past 10 years, our district has changed to include an increasing number of second language learners. I have enjoyed working to connect with these students in the music classroom, more challenging because of the limited time we have each week. I have some favorite ways to connect and have found some ways that other great teachers connect. 

Help students feel that their culture is valued


Because we do many folk songs from around the world, it is common look at the world map on a regular basis. I have a wonderful world map that is always up in my classroom. The students love to look at this colorful map. 


Not only do I regularly talk about various places in the world, I take the time to talk to students about places I've been. When we discuss a place, I often ask students if they have been there or if they know someone there and talk about languages their families and my family speaks. Among my three kids are 6 languages: English, Thai, Italian, Spanish, Haitian Creole and Mandarin Chinese. Students talk about their relatives in various places. Asking about students' connections shows them that we value other places in the world and that we find them interesting.

I make a habit of asking students if they are going to visit relatives or places over Christmas or over summer break. They are happy to tell me they are visiting relatives or going somewhere. It only takes a couple of minutes, but I feel that the benefits are worth the time. 


Learn special songs from various cultures


My youngest son has always been a language guy. He just graduated in Computer Science with a minor in Chinese and Spanish, plus is fluent in Haitian Creole because he worked for two years in Florida with the Haitians. He married a young lady from Mexico. Last year, she taught me the fun birthday piñata song, "Dale, Dale".  I will never forget the first time I taught kids at my school and how they came alive, singing at the top of their lungs a favorite song from their culture. The other kids were as surprised as me at this hidden culture we had discovered. 

I am new at my school this year and am teaching "Dale, Dale" again. Once again, there are numerous kids in every class who know this song from Mexico, some just from going to a Mexican birthday party. I always ask them how they know it, and they are happy to tell the class because we show that we value their opinions and experiences.
Here is a video of some kids singing it. 



My school has many students of Tongan descent and one of our district schools has many Tongan students. Julianna Gylseth, a master teacher in my district, recently taught this song to her students and shared it with teachers at the Western Kodály Conference, held in Utah in 2017. It is such a fun song and has more advanced movements too! 


Here is a version at the Polynesian Cultural Center in Hawaii. 



And here is another video. My favorite is when you toss the sticks. 



Sing songs from around the world in choir


When I do choir programs, I always include several songs from around the world. It is good for the students to learn other languages and good for them to learn about other countries. I always choose a Spanish language song, since I have so many Hispanic students, but I often also include one from another language. Last year in the Spring, I found a wonderful African song called "Yesu Ni Wangu" arranged by Ruth Morris Gray. We ended up singing this at our district choir festival as our solo piece. I had a couple of boys who had moved to our school from Africa. We held our choir in the other side of the cafeteria, with just a stiff curtain that came down between us and the morning breakfast kids. For the last 15 minutes of choir, the kids who were there for breakfast early would hear the music from choir. I used to be irritated by it but learned to appreciate the fact that those kids were being exposed to a lot of wonderful music. One day during class, one of the boys who moved here from Africa exclaimed, "Mrs Seamons, you are singing a  song from my country!" He was so thrilled. They had heard it during breakfast. Even for the students who aren't in choir, it is a great exposure. 



These are just a few ideas for helping second language learners. I will give you some more in a second post soon.