Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Tykes Get Emotional


Whew. Glad that's out of the way. (Sometimes the excitement just gets to me, you know?)

The tykes are having some trouble with...friendship. And pushing. And apologising. One of the reception classes has been having some physical altercations. (I love that word: altercations. It just rolls of the tongue so nicely.)

On Tuesday during my planning time (I love planning time! And have decided that it is imperative that I be there for lunch on planning day since that allows me to get a much clearer picture of how the department is doing and also allows me to have many mini-meetings with teachers. Handy.) I was asked if it would be possible to work in some emotional/friendship coaching into my lesson plan.

I haven't told you about this yet, but last Thursday I was at a teacher training day called 'Making Music Matter' at Wigmore Hall. It was fabulous. We learned all sorts of great things and were sent off to try some of the new ideas out in order to report back on them next week when we meet again. One of my activities that I wanted to try was conducting a song via facial expression pictures. Like: can we sing this song Happily? Sadly? Angrily? etc.

Synchronicity. I tried it out today, thereby fulfilling all sorts of requests.

In class I brought back the penguin bouncing song and sang it according to the emotions on the pictures. (I'm so DONE with the penguin bouncing song. But! Activity Extension! Number 6. in my list of things I want to learn: how to have a bunch of educational extension ideas for any activity I use in class)

In order to facilitate this I overacted the crap out it: weeping during sad, hiding behind the penguin during scared, huffing and slamming the penguin into my lap during angry. They tykes ate it up with a spoon. And isn't it cool that we were able to provide a space to practice those emotions? We're not really angry- but here is a safe place to try it out.

Some thoughts: 1. I really should have figured out how to draw more than one positive face. As it was 75% of our choices were negative. 2. Pulling those faces gave my eyebrows and forehead a workout. 3. It is actually incredibly emotionally draining to pretend, loudly, to be angry/sad/scared all day if you are not. I don't know how actors do it.

Some further thoughts: Okay. So in conducting class at Peabody we learned a little bit about Laban movement analysis ( Totally stealing from wikipedia here:

"The difference between punching someone in anger and reaching for a glass is slight in terms of body organization - both rely on extension of the arm. The attention to the strength of the movement, the control of the movement and the timing of the movement are very different.

Effort has four subcategories, each of which has two opposite polarities.
Space: Direct / Indirect
Weight: Strong / Light
Time: Sudden / Sustained
Flow: Bound / Free "

I don't know if this makes a whole lot of sense- in person I could show you easily. The point is that there are certain categories and there are opposites within those categories and you can combine them in different ways to create/classify any type of movement. For example a "flick" is indirect/light/sudden/free; a "push" is direct/strong/sustained/bound

When I was singing Bounce the Penguin with different emotions over the course of the six classes that I have, this is what I realized:

Here are my categories
attack: legato/staccato (long and sustained/short and punchy)
volume: loud/quiet

Here is how my emotions fit into those categories
Happy: loud/legato
Angry: loud/staccato
Sad: quiet/legato
Scared: quiet/staccato

They don't fit perfectly into this setting-- like Happy wasn't legato per se, but it was more connected than Angry was; and scared wasn't staccato exactly, but close enough.

I feel all clever for pulling those concepts together in my mind.

Things I need to learn about teaching

Sometimes I forget that, actually, I have been teaching for less than a year. Like, a lot less than a year. In true perfectionist form I compare myself to the best educators I have come across and find myself lacking.

While this may or may not be a necessary step in my learning process- I can tell you that I have created a list of things I think I ought to be better at, develop skills in, and just generally learn. I've seen my favorite teachers manage these things and now I want to as well.

1. Develop more of an awareness of where the tykes/kids are at individually:

Are they matching pitch? Are they keeping a steady beat? If not, why? Is there something obvious in the way that I am leading that could explain why they are getting it wrong? Are they getting it wrong in such a way that implies musicality? i.e., are they clapping the off beats? are they singing in harmony? Are they screaming and running around when they're supposed to be playing the drum, but still stopping when the drums are supposed to be quiet? (I actually had a kid do that. Fascinating.)

2. Create a consistent structure and atmosphere:

One of the things that I am having difficulty with currently in both schools is classroom management. I have a theory about that: I think it is because I have not created an atmosphere of paying attention and listening. I think it would help (or at least be worth trying out) to have the same start and end to each class each week (like, a consistent hello and goodbye song). I think it would help to set up very clear and consistent boundaries on playing the instruments out of turn, smacking into other kids/tykes instead of participating, and raising your hand to talk about *anything* other than music (that's nice that your baby sister had cereal for breakfast today, is right now the best time to tell me that?).

A corollary to this one is stop using rhetorical questions! It just opens the door for smart-alec little ones to answer wrongly and then you have to deal with that, taking away even more time from the music lesson.

3. Have entire lesson plans build to a specific musical point:

Wouldn't it be great if every activity we did as a class had a reason?! I'm really keen to figure out how to do this- structure entire lessons around specific educational goals. I do this a bit, but could be so much better at it. Usually there is at least one song just because. Wouldn't it be neat if all of the rhythm work fed into the song which fed into the concept we were working on which fed into learning how to read music? Wouldn't that just be so neat?

4. Use music to cue the class:

For instance: a musical (non verbal) cue to sit down. To be quiet and listen. To stand up. To hold hands. Etc. I feel like my classes have a remarkable lack of music for music classes...too much explaining and wordiness; a lack of anything other than single line singing or playing. Not that I'm expecting part singing from the tykes- but I would like to, you know, have the musical cues be music and not just sounds.

For example- my favorite Dalcroze teacher uses a descending scale pattern with the words "will you please sit down" that she plays on the xylophone at the same time. This ties into numbers 2 and 3 as well because the beauty of this is manifold: there is a clear, consistent signal for when to sit down; the signal becomes something that can be non-verbal (once they know the signal if they hear that pattern- they sit); it is a constant aural reminder of the first 5 notes of a scale meaning that when they start learning how to sing scales- they already have sung them- many times. You can then also add other pitches to that scale set-- crouch down (shorter than sitting) for the leading tone.

Brilliant. I must use that.

(5. Figure out how to make rhythms more interesting)

I've been working these past two weeks on using a rhythmic solfege pattern with the tykes and kids in order to introduce crotchets and quavers (quarter and eighth notes) and the reason this is in parenthesis is because *I* thought the kids/tykes had been getting bored with it and was thinking that I should figure out some way to work it into a story or something activating more pathways in to learning. I still think I should figure out multiple ways of presenting this information- but I am less inclined to think that they're bored since one of the reception teachers specifically asked me to make sure that I did that "song...? The one with all the T's...ta ti?" since her class kept singing it to themselves.

I have no idea if this blog is coherent or not- but thanks for sticking with me through this!

New School: The Second Week

I've been having anxiety dreams about the new school. Now in my second week, I dreamt that half of the kids decided to drop the class because they thought it was such rubbish. Terrible dream that was.

So imagine how I felt when, after a very long day's teaching one of the new kids exclaimed to her mother;
"It wasn't serious at all!"

Was that good? Was that bad? Was she going to come back for the next lesson?

I froze.

Fortunately, her mother asked for me-
"So does that mean you want to come again next week?"

It was a resounding yes. Thank goodness!

(A similar conversation happened two minutes later, but since this second conversation was entirely in French I had to have it translated for me and it has less of a visceral impact.)

Saturday, September 26, 2009

New School

I've had two days now at the new school/music service I'm teaching at. I teach there in the afternoons on Tuesday and Wednesday. We are leasing rooms from a tutoring service so on Tuesday I get my classroom with the white boards filled with triangles and cosine equations. The building is covered in artwork- old French art show style with paintings and photographs reaching up to the ceiling. My favorite is a black and white photograph of a cow pissing in a field. Because, why?

The classroom situation is both lucky and not. On the one hand it is a lovely size, wood floors for sliding around on, and a window for opening when it gets super stuffy. On the other hand it is right over the kitchen/reception room- and you remember all of those lovely paintings and whatnot? They shake. It's a very bouncy floor.

So the question then becomes A: is it at *all* possible to get another room? I'll even take one smaller and with tables in it...I think. As long as it doesn't bounce the entire building. And B: is it possible to teach an early years music course without and stomping, jumping, or throwing yourself onto the floor because you're so excited you just can't control yourself? Then a third question, C: how much do I stick to my guns and try to get another room/convince them that it is okay that the paintings are shaking on the wall because this is the class they hired me to teach?

The tykes are different from my usual tykes. They're a bit older (I'm going to call them kids, I think) and they're a bit snarkier. One girl was rolling her eyes and saying "easy peasy lemon squeezy" any time I asked her to do something. Eventually she forgot because she started having so much fun (because I am good at my job) but until we got to that point I was finding it somewhat difficult to ignore the eye rolling and not roll mine right back. That being said, it was hilariously over the top.

Fortunately most of the kids speak English- there are only a couple who don't and music, being that handy dandy universal language, seems to get through alright anyway. For the most part. There is a wide range of abilities as well- one girl came in, saw me playing the tiny xylophone, and responded to that by singing a major scale on solfege....I'm going to suggest that she gets bumped up to the more advanced class.

It will be interesting to see how my experience in the different schools inform and change what I do with both of them. For instance- on Tuesday the more structured rhythm work went very well at the new school, so on Wednesday I brought that to the tykes- reminding me that it is possible to teach even the little ones some proper foundation in musical notation rather than just fun songs. That being said, my tykes favorite songs were also the kids favorite songs. So there you go.

I feel like I've been putting my foot in it a bit with the head of the new school- so hopefully that will all calm down soon. Wednesday went better than Tuesday and I've been ruminating on how to teach tykes/kids without running around all over the's a challenge.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

I had a lovely birthday, thanks for asking!

I had stayed up late the night before making pancake batter, deciding that chicken hot dogs were close enough to count as sausages in a breakfast environment, and washing all the dishes. This meant that when Sarah showed up for breakfast and chatting it didn't matter that I was still totally in my pajamas and had only rolled out of bed because the doorbell was ringing. We had a marvelously wonderful time talking about life after school, being a freelance musician, visa issues, upcoming nuptials, ohmygodwe'relikeadults, music pedagogy, and the like.

We ended the conversation because I had a lunch date to make and in spite of completely losing track of time managed to show up only 20 minutes late...sorry Jon. Jon and I had dutch pancakes which are giant crepe/burrito hybrids with things like eggplant and bacon cooked into the batter. Craziness. Lunch was delightful and it was great to see Jon again.

Then I wandered over to Covent Garden where I located an astrology shop and read all of their Virgo birthday cards. We are apparently critical and perfectionist. Hmmph. Also- our astrological vegetable is carrots.

Ella called and I remembered that there is a restaurant/bar/tourist trap in Covent Garden that has wonderfully creative cocktails for 50% off on Sundays and Mondays. So we proceeded to get a little tipsy in the early evening. Remind me later that I dislike bright, fruity drinks that turn my mouth unflattering shades of blue. Banana Coladas though? Yes.

We then walked up towards Oxford street to meet up with Sarah, Dave, and Meredith at John Louis where we provided unhelpful advice on the topic of Buying A Lamp. We also lusted after beautiful but expensive and impractically deep pile carpets. Should I end up with scads of money at a latter point in my life I may need to be restrained from decorating my house entirely in William Morris prints.

The five of us, having disagreed on lamp purchases but agreed unanimously that bean bag chairs are a Good Thing, continued on to tasty tasty Thai food. I had some delicious Tom Ka Gai and some disappointing chicken satay.

So there. Doesn't that sound like a nice birthday?

I swear not all of my posts are about tykes

But this one is.

You know how I told you that I would tell you if I got that other job? I did. (Oh, and I get to work extra hours at the first school when I want to too.) We start next week and I am in charge of the intro to music class for 4-6 year olds. I gather that the parents are rather a force to be reckoned with at this school so I am spending the rest of the week and weekend writing up a term's worth of lesson plans, making homework sheets, and drafting a letter to the parents about What We Will Be Learning.

I'm excited, looking forward to actually setting down all my thoughts and plans about this class. It is a new, start up school so the pay is less than stellar- but I would actually do this for free- so getting paid is a bonus anyway and I have a new practice arena! With even more tykes who don't speak English!

The school has just hired a new musical director and he is amusingly nervous. I mean, I'm nervous too because it's a new school and I'm going to need to be much more goal oriented with what I am teaching the tykes. I need to be clear from the outset what I am planning on teaching them and why- so challenging and whatnot. He is just jittery though. Worried about which set of percussion to buy. Worried about what the correct rhythmic Sol-fa syllables are. Worried about the fact that he is going to be teaching primary school students when his experience is exclusively with 16+. I told him it would all be okay.

Things I would not have thought of had we not discussed it: French Sol-fa or English? (one syllable difference); fixed Do or movable? (corollary: sing on "la", Sol-fa, or letter names?); English, American, Canadian, or French duration terms?; etc.

Really interesting.

However, as this meeting was after an action packed day at the races and continued on rather more lengthily than I had anticipated- I was glad that I had packed myself snacks. (Things I've learned from my mother: Wear layers. Pack snacks. Take up space at meetings.)

I walked to the bus stop through the park as the light was fading. It is so autumnal now- brisk weather, colored leaves, flocks of geese silhouetted against the sunset.



Yeah, I'm just naming tyke posts made up words at this point...but I took notes today! So you get *Accuracy* and *Authenticity* which you all should really value in a tyke post.

Now, normally I would go about this chronologically- because that is how I think of things- in order to make sure that I don't miss anything exciting. In the past this has made for what I am sure were very tedious accounts of my day at school. "Well, in first period...." So today I am going to try and break away from that pattern. Namely because what I really want to tell you is that during garden time a little girl was balancing on this plastic tyre type thing and asked "Do you want to watch me and then clap?"

The tykes were moody today. Variable. Changeable. Mercurial if you will. In one of my reception classes I got mixed up with how I was planning to start the class so instead of using a story to do a vocal warm up to-- I just started singing. Singing with hand motions. Sound effects singing. Illustrating the sound and the actions together. And the kids were doing a fantastic job. They were pitch matching. They were singing in unison. They were singing with good, loud voices. They were all engaged. They were giggling in a "this is fun" sort of way that didn't disrupt the entire class and didn't turn into a "look at ME" sort of giggle. We kept it going for a good 5 minutes longer than I would have thought possible because it was just flowing and it was beautiful and gosh darn it *I* was having fun. So we drove their teacher from the room. No worries.

Then we tried singing the name song. Nope. For some reason this class just does not get the concept of singing in call and response form. I tried beating that dead horse for longer than was strictly necessary because we had just moved mountains with our miracle vocal warm up. But to no avail. They were gone and out of it for the rest of the class. We even sang a song where they have to divide up by gender and that didn't work either. "All the boys raise their hands! No, you're a girl. You're a boy, raise your hand? No?" Right then. Whatever.

In one of the nursery classes I walked in on a show and tell presentation which consisted of an impressive rendition of "Mama Mia" including dance routine. Well done you adorable little 3 year old boy! They were delightful and though they can't keep a beat to save their little tyke lives, they did do a creditable pig pile hug at the end of class- and you have to love them for that.

Linda and I did music club together. I was fried by this point having had one 15 minute break wherein I researched songs for their nativity play for Christmas. Fortunately Linda and I had independently come up with brilliant plans for music club. It is amazing how much faster time flies when there are two of us and twenty tykes.

Linda started it out so that I could recover my brain a little, (I was grateful) and it was interesting to see how we have different approaches. She's very good at songs and props and general tyke demeanor. She has a lot of tools in her tool box. I am very good at using whatever input the tykes will give me and shoving it into a song. Example lyric "we're all spitting our tongues, all spitting our tongues, la la la la we're all spitting our tongues." Admittedly I'm not sure what "spitting our tongues" means other than that a kid was ignoring me and spitting to himself across the circle and that was the correct number of syllables. It got his attention, the tykes enjoyed the spitting, and then everyone clamored to be the next to suggest an action. Today we got to be spiderman AND spidergirl. (Is there even a spidergirl? I don't know.)

Then there was the potty incident.

More properly the potty incidentS.

More properly the "oops" lake.


The thing is that with 20 tykes of varying ages, none of whom are more than passably familiar to either Linda or me? It is really easy to fail to recognize the signs that someone needs the toilet. Like they keep standing up, but are too shy to ask to use the toilet so they keep sitting down when we tell them to. (You're such a good little boy! I'm so sorry I didn't understand what you needed!) Okay, so that was E's excuse. But N? You're nearly 5. And you know me. E's mother was watching from the hallway and came in once she realized what had happened. So he got cleaned up fairly quickly. Then we noticed that there was more than just a dampness, there seemed to be a puddle. So we moved the tyke circle to the other side of the room. At which point it became clear that N. had also had an accident. Most of which was hidden under a rolling bookshelf. It was a giant pee lake. That, like, 4 or 5 different tykes were all sitting in. Awesome. I swear we're good and observant teachers. Honest.

Thursday, September 10, 2009


I love the tykes. I really do. What I *don't* love is not yet having Internet at my flat and so having to remember cute things for longer than I normally would have to in order to blog about them. So please forgive me if this is a bit short:

They are not as little as I was remembering them. I think what has happened is that I kept thinking that they were smaller than I remembered so that they gradually shrank in my memory- making them basically giants when I actually saw them again.

All the rooms are clean, beautiful, and newly organized. The staff room has been newly painted and remodeled so that it feels like a nice place to take a break as opposed to the re purposed storage closet vibe it gave off last year.

We started by being very quiet: taping our heads, noses, bellies, and knees as quietly as we could before getting up to creep around listening to the xylophone. I have now learned that it is useful to use recognizable music for the tykes if you want them to notice when the music stops. In this case I played phrases from twinkle twinkle having the tykes freeze in place whenever the xylophone stopped playing (always at the end of phrases, I'm no dummy.) We did this very quietly a few times before playing it very loudly and stomping around.

One of the goals listed in all of the foundation stages music books that I have been reading is for the tykes to be able to differentiate between loud and quiet. Um. I think they get it already. One of those innate things?In every class when I started playing the xylophone loudly, at least a quarter of the tykes started stomping around without any instruction from me. I will say that they pay a heck of a lot more attention when they are required to be very quiet, though. Loud boisterousness lends itself to anarchy.

Linda, the new upper school music teacher, has been a great help already and suggested that I do a chant with the kids to help them differentiate between their whispering voice, talking voice, and singing voice. We then further differentiated between robot voices, monster voices, shy voices, grumpy voices, and under water voices (much hilarity there--not good to use all the time, see previous note about anarchy).

We did a quick name song, trying to get the tykes to actually sing. That is one of my goals this year- to have the tykes become confident in their own singing voices so that it doesn't end up being me simply singing at them. The teachers are all pleased that I didn't use the same name song as last year as that one got rather overdone. The response required from the tykes was just to say "hello" and wave in the correct place. Some could handle this and some couldn't. Some classes were much more accomplished and I suspect that I managed to explain it more fully in those classes.

Finally we finished up with a re-lyric-ing of twinkle twinkle that was all about sharing and bouncing a teddy bear up and down. I substituted a penguin for the teddy because, for some reason, I feel significantly less silly singing "Bounce the penguin, fun to do" as opposed to "bounce the teddy." Plus, Linda had a very cute stuffed penguin she said I could borrow.

I've been wary of using props in my tykes classes- things like finger puppets and stuffed animals and the like. But the kids responded very well to Mr. Penguin- even going so far as to demand that we sing the song again and to accuse me of providing Mr. Penguin's voice. As though he couldn't speak for himself! So now I am cautiously for using props. Or at least Mr. Penguin.

The two women who could conceivably be seen as my direct superiors are both very much for having me at school for more than one day, but it is yet to be seen whether or not we can get the Headmaster to go for it. I'm not sure how much I can push or if I should just stay out of the way. As it is I now only have a 45 minute lunch period and have 20 (!) tykes signed up for music club. Linda is attempting to reorganize her Wednesdays so that she can do music club with me, but still- we have a lot of planning to do and I don't even have a moment to put lesson plans on to the computer the way my schedule is currently set up. So hopefully they can convince the Headmaster that it really would be useful to have me around for more than one day. Fingers crossed!

The other thing I did yesterday (why was I worried that this would be a short post?) was go to my job interview for another teaching job. It is a new music school that I will tell you more about if I get the post. They were luck to get me for the interview immediately after teaching because I was so hyped up about things. I managed to talk about how I would run classes and what things I would like to try for nearly an hour. They said they were very impressed with my experience- which was both gratifying and a little mystifying- I've only had classes since February. I was very clear that I haven't taught this age group before (year one and two) but man-oh-man does it turn out that I have plans. The only real barrier that I see between me and the job is that they really would like me to work on Wednesdays during the day which I simply can't do. Eh, we'll see. If I do get the job it would only be a couple more hours a week, but it would give me an opportunity to start out work on my plans, and that would be lots of fun.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Almost Tyke Time

You guys missed the tyke blogs, didn't you? Don't worry, the tykosity is nearly back again. This afternoon I went to meet the new upper school music teacher, the new reception year teacher, and have a meeting with my boss.

I got there a bit before people were ready so I went and had a chat with some of the tykes who were still there. It is early days yet in the year so a lot of the nursery children are only there in the morning- easing in to the whole idea of school. That meant that the tykes who were still there were tykes that I knew.

I was greeted in a variety of ways. Two tykes (who were AT holiday camp and who TOTALLY know me) forgot who I was. One tyke growled like a monster with big scary claws, and when I growled back (claws included) he buried his face in my elbow. One of the reception classes came berreling down the stairs to go to garden time and started shouting "Miss Casey! Miss Casey!" They enveloped me in hugs- which is totally why I teach this age group. The other reason I teach this age group is their pursuadability- some of the hugs were definitely from tykes I haven't met yet- but everyone else was giving Miss Casey hugs so surely that is just what one does, right?

The meeting with my boss and the new music teacher was a little bit awkward- we were all feeling a bit defensive about our work and the things we'd like to try and do- which was really silly because we're all talking about the exact same things. So here is what we've decided: where to put the music planning on the academic server (not at all clear, there are at least 4 possibilities that would make perfect logical sense), that having me at school for more than one day a week would be a good thing, and that it would be nice to get more integration between the upper school music and the early years music.

By the end of the day, Linda, the new music teacher, and I had formulated big plans. Things like integrated music clubs, a box of activity cards for teachers to help in extending music lessons throughout the week,'m sure I've got more written down somewhere but that is what I remember.

In anycase- I have school bright and early tomorrow morning, I almost have a lesson plan ready, and I have a job interview for another early years post in the afternoon. Classy. Oh, and today I walked from Hyde park to Oxford Street to Tottenham Court Rd to King's Cross down to Angel past the Barbican and then into Shoreditch. Pretty awesome, huh?

Monday, September 7, 2009

Happy Birthday Nancy!

Thanks for being my favorite aunt- even though you're the only one I have you're still the absolute top. You introduced us to "spoil the nieces" and the joys of peering into houses that are for sale.

Remember when we went to see In America and we stopped by your friend's flower shop and ended up with bouquets of orchids for the movie? I think all movies should involve bouquets with orchids the colors of skittles.

I wouldn't know anything about salted liquorice without you. And Crossing Jordan while eating that liquorice.

Thanks for helping to send me to London. It's been brilliant and wonderful (And without you the title of this blog would be somewhat nonsensical...)

Remember at the Horniman when we were folding cranes and you pointed out that I really should be a teacher? It turns out I've been having quite a lot of fun doing just that. Good thing you're observant as well as being such a good role model in that capacity.

Plus- you have the most conveniently memorable birth date ever- (there are two of us, our birthday is the 14th, there is one of you so divide ours by 2 and you get the 7th! I think it's handy.)

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Back In London!

So I'm back in the UK country. It's a good thing. The flight was just fine, though I was reading a book that talked a lot about aviation failures and for the first time in my life was a little afraid of flying, but it worked out okay in the end, we didn't crash. (whew.)

Back in London today I have been catching up on paperwork and the like that I have been ignoring for three weeks. Bills are paid, address is changed for *most* things, AND applied for another job. I've got a bunch more I need to apply for- at some point I'll be able to pay my own way...I've been making a budget for this year (a necessary step) and this will work, I think. Fingers crossed and all that.

The flat is still totally packed, but I'll be starting to work on that soon.

Seattle was a brilliant visit. I spent most of the time clearing out my parents basement and garage- it was really fun. Satisfying to see floor space clearing up and cleaning floors and making usable space. I had a great time. Good to see everyone in the family too. (You guys are awesome.)