Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The tykes: they be TINY

Today the little 'uns were supposed to go to Kew Gardens on a super special trip- which would have meant that I only taught the nursery children and then had the afternoon to do my lesson plans for next term- but the weather was changeable (sunny, rain, one person claimed they saw some snow) so they stayed at school and I had three surprise extra classes.

Fortunately I'm flexible and up for a challenge.

So I taught them a new song I found in a GOOD tiny tykes song book. Niki Davies, I am a fan. It was about plants growing and has a wonderful chorus that I found fun to sing- which is good as I got to sing it a lot.

The first verse is about a seed that is asleep under the ground. One of my nursery classes clearly needed a nap because their action for that was to lie face down on the floor and then stay there through the next 3 verses. The next few verses are about sprouting, growing leaves and waving in the wind, and flowering.

I have been the early years music teacher for five weeks now- and this is apparently about the amount of time that I needed to be really known by the nursery classes. The reception (kindergarten) classes have been pretty free with the hugs and cheek kisses for a while now, but there was a marked increase in affection from all of the nursery classes this week.

I go around to the various classrooms in the morning to both get a chance to spend time with the kids outside of music class and also to get them thinking about music class for the day. You know "Oh! Miss Casey is here....Simama Ka Simamamamama ka!" This morning Miss Kate, one of the nursery teachers, had me join in with their finger painting. I've still got fluorescent green paint stuck in random crevices around my fingernails. So much fun! Though it took a little bravery to shove my entire hand into the plate of paint...I haven't done that in quite a long time.

The best part of the day though was right as the kids were leaving- Laine and Grammy showed up! They had trekked all the way across the park to make it to the school. I paraded them around and sang one of the tyke's favorite songs with some reception stragglers whose parent's hadn't shown up yet. It was very satisfying to walk through the school with Laine and Grammy and A: realize how many of their names I do know now and B: have so many of them say "Good Afternoon, Miss Casey" and make a cursory attempt to shake my hand.

The tykes, they're pretty terrific

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I'm tired of tykes titles (but not tired of the tykes)

but clearly not yet tired of alliteration (as though that's ever going to happen.)

Yesterday was yet another fly by the seat of my pants operations. We sang a couple of songs from Tanzania that I learned way back at the beginning of last year- and they worked a treat.

The first one "Kalele" is a welcoming song that is great because you can put in each child's name (wonderful since I still am struggling with the names) and then they giggle or roll their eyes back in to their head (that was a weird reaction) or turn bright red or grin or curl up into a little ball.

Green class nursery is my first class each week and I feel a bit bad about them because they're the experiment class- is this going to work? Is this enough material? Do I bring the instruments out? Are they going to enjoy this? Is it engaging? I find all of this out in green class. Or rather, I begin to find this out and then refine as the day goes on.

The thing about 'Kalele' is that you can, at any point in the song, throw in this bit where you have a call and response "hey!" shouty thing- which is totally fun- but a helpful tip is to not do it after every child's name in a class of 20+ kids. Also, make sure that you're singing in head voice instead of chest voice so that you don't go totally hoarse by the time you get to blue class nursery. These are the sorts of things I learn in green class nursery. I felt bad about it too- because their attention was totally wandering by the time we got halfway through the group- but you can't not include half of their names, that would be *devastating* and you also can't totally change how the song goes halfway through. That would be totally bewildering.

I was pleased to hear after school that the playground/field area had been filled with song as everyone was singing the two songs that I taught this week. Apparently non-stop- which I can see would be annoying for the teachers, but I was chuffed.

I found out this week that I get to write a lesson plan grid for the next term with learning objectives, activities, resources, topic links, and learning outcomes. Surprise! I kind of love the fact that I have been given so much autonomy and am only beginning to have supervision now; in my third week of doing the job. I won't have a proper meeting with my upper school counterpart until next week at the earliest and I've been enjoying the ferreting out process of figuring out all that my job actually entails- things like writing a term long lesson plan.

Wednesday was gorgeous and I hadn't yet gone out to the garden- so I wandered around a bit after my last class and ended up getting heavily involved in a rocket ship trip with stops in Spain, Ecuador, and Tanzania to gather pebbles. I kept trying to leave and let them get on with playing by themselves, but my hand was very firmly grasped and it was clear that I was going to be staying. I loved that they didn't change how they were playing just because I was there- I was just another one of their playmates- albeit quite a lot larger.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

This one just makes me laugh

As though they need any encouragement!

Sung to: "Are You Sleeping?"

I am special, I am special,
Look at me, Look at me.
A very special person,
A very special person
That is me, That is me.

Probably I should stop hanging out in the 'Me, Myself, & I' section of if all I am going to do is make fun of it.

A song I will NOT be using

Sung to Twinkle Twinkle Little star...

Special special special me
How I wonder what I'll be
In this big world I can be
Anything I want to be
Special special special me
How I wonder what I'll be

Of all the simpering, poorly rhymed songs!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Cornwall: The end

Our last trip to Cornwall was last weekend and I'm sorry that it is all over now. I had a wonderful time with the project and became very attached to (not to mention proud of) my group of kids.

We had an uneventful drive up to Cornwall and were back at the first set of cottages. This time we didn't have the uninhabitable in the winter cottage up on the cliff with the outdoor toilet and the coffin bathtub- but we also weren't entirely sure where the other cottage was... so that let to a very late night the first night as we kept trying to figure out where we were staying. I say "we" but I actually slept through most of that as I was in the first cottage.

Fortunately for the more sleep deprived members of our party we didn't have to get to the school until 4:30 the next day so we had a leisurely morning and then FINALLY had a chance to explore a bit of Cornwall. Emma and Jo went for a drive while the rest of us explored the sea side and countryside around our cottages. We were blessed with gorgeous weather (also a first for our Cornwall trips) and went on a bit of a hike. I played unabashed tourist and took bunches of pictures which are now up on flickr:

That afternoon we only got one and a half hours with our kids, and actually it was in the evening too- so they were knackered and we were all like "Ahh! You have to remember the piece because this is the only time we get with you before the performance! Ahh!" So it wasn't quite as much fun as the other rehearsals/composition times have been. But my group is still pretty great. It was nice that the piece worked out the way that it did too- because there were clear wind sections and string sections which meant that I could send the winds out to the hallway to remember what they were doing and I could keep the strings in the room and tell them to "play that again. Nice, now listen to each other and try to get the same sort of sound. Sit up straight" etc.

Sunday was the day of the performance. The pieces that we wrote were only one part of a much larger "Super Sunday" that happens once a month at the Tate St. Ives. It is an open family day with free activities for all ages to help them engage a bit more than they might usually at an art gallery. In one room they were writing stories, another they were making textured collages, and in my room they were making graphic scores. The 9 of us were divided up in to teams for the various gallery spaces. Heather, Jo, and I were lucky enough to be in the gorgeous room with the giant windows looking out at the sea and the beach.

As kids came into the room they were encouraged to take some crayons and a giant piece of staff paper and make a piece for us to play. We started as a cello, tuba, and bass trio and then broke up to turn into solo acts as the room got busier. It was so much fun, and really quite rewarding to do so many graphic scores in a row. Instead of straight reading what they had drawn, we decided to have them conduct it and point to the shape/color/whatever that they wanted us to play. We encouraged them to point in any order and to go back to sounds that they really liked.

I had two favorites from the morning. The first was a child who had drawn a pink cloud. We tried something together first and that was "pretty good, but it sounded like a dark cloud" but then his father asked if the tuba could be played with out pitch, just air. So then Heather and I wanted in on the fun so we started blowing into our F holes which A: made a great sound and was louder than we expected and B: made both of us rather light headed... It was all to the good though because then we were "perfect." And you can't top that.

My other favorite was a toddler who had scribbled all over the page. There was one small, purple scribble in the centre and whenever he pointed there I played a short, loud, rumble at the bottom of my range. He loved it and would point quickly at the purple dot before burying his face in his father's knee over and over and over again. It was so cool that he understood that he was controlling what I was doing.

Whew. So that was a long and satisfying morning- and then we had the performances! The crowd was pretty large at this point. My group played splendidly (though I really would have appreciated a chance to do a run through on the day of the performance) and everyone else did as well. Two of the gallery spaces were too small to fit the crowd, so they got to play their pieces twice in order to let everyone hear who wanted to. It was a lovely day and really such a wonderful experience.

improvisation experiments

Creative Ensemble was a bit a loose ends this week since we don't currently have a performance looming that requires us to HURRY UP AND WRITE SOMETHING ALREADY. So we did some scheduling and then sat around for a moment trying to figure out what to do with ourselves. Our next performance is part of a quirky set of concerts happening on the upper deck of an old Route Master bus in Spitalfields (neat, huh?!) so we wanted to figure out what to do there and were talking about that when Jo had a brilliant idea:

send half the group into the hallway and make up some sort of rule for improvising- then bring everyone back in and have at it and see what happens.

This was ridiculously fun.

My group went first and started out slowly with these rules: ignore the audience. Talk about fruit. The piece ends when we start talking about starfruit. Now, as leadership students, we are not typical audience members- which meant that it was actually pretty difficult to ignore the audience because they kept trying to influence us by shouting "banana!" "MANGO!" "grape! Green grape!"

Then the other group went. They made the room in to a sound installation by taking themselves out of it. Really what this meant is that it turned into a silent game of hide and seek while we tried to find them in amongst (or actually in) the giant percussion cases stored in that room.

My group went a second time and had a GENIUS idea. We set up the chairs so that they were in one row, but alternating which direction they were facing. So that the people on either side of you could make eye contact. Then we came up with a seven beat body rhythm that involved our knees, our neighbors (the other groups)'s knees, and a high five that would effectively be in the other groups' faces. We weren't sure how they were going to react or what was really going to happen, but what DID happen was this: they joined in. Everyone laughed a LOT, and it was brilliant. What was so nice about it was that because it was 7 beats long it was just difficult enough that it took a couple of tries to get right. Also, because we were so close to each other it felt very inclusive- without being freaky the way that staring straight into someone else's face would be. This would be a perfect ice breaking, group building activity for teenagers.

Then the other group had a GENIUS idea. They all chose one body part to be conducted by and then reacted whenever one of us moved. It took us longer than you might think to figure out what exactly they were being controlled by, but it was totally fun trying to work it out. Kate was singing whenever one of us moved our face, but Nick just kept yodeling so they got into a yodeling match. Eventually Emma and I started moving their chairs around at which point it became unclear who was really in charge of the improvisation. We're thinking we'll use that one on the bus- an improvisation led by the audience with quite specific rules to be worked out later...

It was so lovely to be working with the group in a relaxed and FUN manner and to be so very goofy with them. It is good to be reminded that we're a goofy group of people, that we have good ideas, and that making music with each other can be downright joyous.

Fun Flat Times

So. My flat has been getting a little goofy recently. Oddly we've all been home at the same time recently, which usually never happens. Last night we had a late supper together (read: most of us had eaten, but Latana had made a casserole and wanted to fatten us all up, so we all ate some more!) and had a lovely chat. Tonight Latana came home tired and a bit depressed, so I taught her two of my tiny tots songs that involve much dancing around.

We got a little bit rowdy and started accidentally knocking stuff off of the shelves by jumping up and down too hard. Moises got involved and we were all laughing so hard that Ella turned red and almost missed an important call she had to take.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Is Shakespeare Evil?

One of the wonderful things about London is that I can decide on a whim that I want to see a theatre show and I'll be able to that night. What is wonderful about being a student is that frequently (though by no means always) I can get cheap tickets. Case in point- Monday, when I went to see The Taming of the Shrew by the Royal Shakespeare Company with Meredith.

I'd been wanting to see the show for a while because Michelle Gomez, an actress from one of my favorite TV shows ever Green Wing is playing Katherine. Also, I think it ends this week so this was pretty much my only chance to see it. Also, RSC! So there you go. Meredith and I were prepared to spend twenty quid on the tickets but when we got to the box office the saleswoman eyed us and asked us how hold we were. Turns out Monday was a special promotion night for 16-25 year olds so we got five pound tickets! Yay.

So. The production. It was very good. I was particularly impressed with the use of costumes as a device for setting the place and time. The way they set it up the production vacillates between modern time, 1600's Italy, and the 1940's-ish? Most of which was done through the costumes- everyone had their own color scheme, but the actual pieces they were wearing would shift. For instance, if they were wearing a leather biker jacket in the modern time, then in 1600's Italy it would still be leather and have too many zippers, but it would be cut like a doublet. Isn't that neat?

So here is where the problems come in: Taming of the Shrew is a horrifically misogynistic play. Particularly if you play it straight. This is a problem. You can tell that the RSC knows that this is a problem from their programme. Here are the titles of short articles within the programme:

"The World's Oldest Prejudice"
"The Battle of the Sexes"
"The Taming of the Shrew and the Commedia Dell'Arte" (okay, not that one)

Katherine gets raped between 3 and 5 times in this version. This version highlights the fact that she is being stripped of her humanity, it is basically an instruction manual on how to dehumanize someone and was incredibly difficult to watch. At one point Meredith and I leaned over to each other and started talking about how we didn't think that abuse was funny. The ending speech where Katherine talks about how wives should obey their husband was completely lacking in life and was scary.

The last Shakespeare play I saw was Twelfth Night at the Donmar with Derek Jacobi as Malvolio. In that one the costumes drove me up the wall because they all fit so poorly. The real problem with that one is how devastating Malvolio was. I know he is insufferable and pompous, but don't torture him! Derek Jacobi is a brilliant actor and played slightly differently the scene where Malvolio is locked in the cellar and begs to be let free because he is not insane could be funny- if he kept his pompousness, if he was still playing higher status than the clown. But he didn't: he was ruined and tragic and heartbreaking. So that one was difficult to watch as well.

What is with all of this abuse in Shakespeare? Did I miss that somehow when I was in High School? I guess in Midsummer Night's Dream you've got what could be played as horribly mean mocking of Bottom. Romeo and Juliet? They're just young and stupid, not really cruelly used. Eh. I don't know my plays well enough to keep going from here. Any Shakespeare scholars that can help me out here? What is with the bullying that verges on torture in his plays?

Tiny Tykes Tire Out

Second day of teaching little ones and I'm still having a lot of fun. This week we sang a song about caterpillars. (The nursery kids are learning about the life cycle of butterflies this week. Which actually I didn't know, so well timed me!) The song goes to the same tune as "she'll be coming round the mountain" and it goes a little like this:

"There's a tiny caterpillar on a leaf wiggle wiggle, there's a tiny caterpillar on a leaf wiggle wiggle, there's a tiny caterpillar, tiny caterpillar, there's a tiny caterpillar on a leaf wiggle wiggle

He will eat the leaves around him till he's full... munch munch

A cocoon is what he's building for his home... spin spin

Soon he'll be a butterfly and fly away...flap flap"

So that's kind of cute, right? I got the song and lesson plan from a Foundation Stages music book. I couldn't bring myself to use the CD that came along with it because it was just far too corny and jangly but I did use a lot of what they suggested for extra bits to reinforce the song. We did hand motions, whole body motions, a caterpillar chant that got louder and softer, and then when I got to the reception/kindergarten classes they kept asking to make shapes again so we'd sing the song and freeze in a shape during the italicised bits of the song.

I expected that I would need more material for the reception kids because they're older and able to learn material more quickly, but what it actually turned out was that the nursery classes needed a LOT more material because they couldn't get as deep in to it.

The song stayed interesting for longer in the older classes because they could actually sing it and understand where it was going to go next and how to freeze when it was the opposite of what they had done before. The nursery kids just got super bored of having the same song sung at them over and over again. So we did the motions and wiggled about on the floor and practiced loud and soft with the caterpillar chant- but all of that only took up about 15-20 minutes. So fortunately I had an extra song to use as well and in one of the nursery classes we learned that, but man- they're tough customers those three year olds!

The nursery classes had a big day on Tuesday- they went on a coach to a play park and saw lots of animals in a jungle setting (was it a zoo? I don't know...) so they were tuckered out. One class in particular was just NOT going to pay attention. After about 10 minutes of trying and trying I finally looked helplessly at the head teacher and asked if she had any ideas. So we put on their favorite version of Nellie the Elephant which usually they love dancing around to, but that only managed to grab the attention of about four more children and in a class of 21, that just isn't all that helpful. So we quit about 10 minutes early because there was nothing doing, it really wasn't going to work.

The next nursery class after that was my pain in the butt one from last week where they all wandered off behind the pillar- this week they were angels and it was a lot of fun. Then, at lunch time the angel class teacher apologised for how out of it they were...really? That was them being spacey? Awesome! I'm looking forward to next week then!

The reception classes all have VERY different personalities. The first one just wants to play the instruments, they want to play them NOW. They're also the most sound oriented of the bunch, we can play with how things sound and different types of sound and how concepts would sound and all that. Sound as opposed to words or actions or singing.

The second one likes dancing, they will sing too- but they'll be happier about the singing if they can also dance and preferably crawl under the tables. Under the tables is a very desirable place to be.

The third reception class is full of personalities. "Miss Casey! Look at my shoes!" "Miss Casey! Look at my spinning! This is how I spin!" They're all chatty chatty chatty and will chat regardless of whether or not anyone (and I mean anyone) is actually listening. Also, they are bossy bossy bossy and if it seems like I've gotten confused or have lost the plot at all, then there are a number of them who will be quick to tell me where to go and what to do and what I've just done wrong. We're singing High School Musical songs with them next week because they asked specifically and they have already started to learn the words. They tried to perform it for me after their music class but it sounded like this:

".... hemamn.........TOGETHER, TOGETHER........hmm amnm.......TOGETHER......mfha...."

also, there was some dancing involved.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Coming Soon!

This blog is getting behind, for which I apologise. However, I need to be getting some sleep so that I can teach the tykes well tomorrow (we're singing songs about caterpillars and we're going to wiggle and spin and munch. I'm using a lesson plan from a book and trying to un-twee it a bit.)

Here are some mini entries so that A: you know what is coming and B: I make a commitment to actually write about them...

Cornwall: The End- amazing, so much fun! Beautiful weather! I miss the kids already.

Bubblegum: The Conference- a very silly piece written by my flatmate- I chewed bubblegum in concert for it.

Taming of the Shrew- RSC performance with one of my favorite actresses. Wow, that was difficult to watch. Remind me that I HATE the taming of the shrew and I really ought not to see it, even if I love the people in it. Also, is Shakespeare evil? More to come!