Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Laying Down The LAW

My year 3 kids. They're squirrelly. They're kind of rude. They're cheeky, man.

So I'm trying something new. I'm being STERN. I'm cracking down hard on this dilly dallying and this out of turn talking and this moving seats all the time and this cheeky-ness.

Darn tootin'.

I'm giving warnings left and right. And two of those warnings means a MINUS HOUSE POINT, no lie. (Don't really understand why that's a big deal, but hey. It works.) No warnings for the whole class period and they get a HOUSE POINT (again, not sure why this works- but boy howdy does it *ever.*)

My year 3 kids. They're doing their work, they're not talking to their friends constantly while I'm trying to make a point, they're raising their hands.

Sweet, man. I didn't even have to yell, just be fierce. 

New Tykes!

There's always space for more tykes, right? Well, now on some Sundays each month I trek all the way out to Harrow to be a Kodaly/singing teacher and theory teacher for a studio of 3-8 year old Suzuki violin students. The 1.5 hour schlep each way? Totally worth it. Goodness, that was fun.

There are two groups of children, the beginner and generally younger A group; and the older and more advanced B group. The teacher whose studio this is is also Dalcroze trained, so she's taking care of that with half the group while I've got the other half for singing. It's meant to be Kodaly based, but I know very little of that- so we're just doing a lot of singing instead. (Close enough.)

I started with the older B group where I began teaching a song I learned in an Orff workshop (bringing all sorts of music education strands together!), it's a Japanese dancing game that is excellent for working on both a sense of pitch and sense of rhythm. Actually I didn't start with that, first we talked about how all of the notes have names (Do Re Mi, etc.) and that we would use two of those to learn each other's names. So we sang this "hello" taunt (it's really just a chant on two pitches, but since it uses only Sol and Mi it ends up sounding like playground teasing: "nyah nyah nyah nyah" You know.) We even used Kodaly hand positions! (Though that is really the extent of my knowledge right there.)

Then we moved into the Orff dancing song and I had them bounce tennis balls around the circle (though passing is a skill they don't have yet, so really just a group of them bouncing the tennis balls while everyone else sings) which is a Dalcroze thing to do. All this for a Suzuki studio! Music education theories ALL OVER THE PLACE! 

Suddenly my 40 minutes with them were done and in trooped a group of 3-5 year olds. Well, hello there age group I have two years of experience with! Not gonna lie, I kind of made up my lesson plan as I went along. I figured to get started I'd do my favourite vocal warm up- The *MAGICAL* Stew Pot (I just made up that name. Right there.) which is a miming game that works on phonics sounds as well as warming up the voice and the jaw. Children choose what to throw into the soup pot (this group was the most reasonable I'd ever had- all were thoughtful soup ingredients; no Christmas trees or chairs or dragons to be found. That being said the soup did contain noodles, pasta, AND spaghetti. If I remember correctly, all three of which were offered by the same girl at different points.)

We then did the same hello business with Sol and Mi and, because I had the picture cards with me, we did the same fairy tale based Do You Know The Story song that I've been doing at school. I love the Drunken Sailor tune, and the the picture cards! They're so brightly coloured! 

Suddenly those 40 minutes were over as well! 

One of the mothers came over to where I had been sitting on the floor with the children and bent down so that her face was inches from mine, "You're a very good teacher," she said, in such a stern voice that for a second I didn't understand that she wasn't cross with me. "You have them..." and here she gestured to her hand. I was honoured. And belatedly realized that I hadn't even had to tell any of the children to settle down or to stop poking their neighbor. I think I want to work with Suzuki trained children all the time. They were brilliant. 

A ten minute break later and the older, group B were back in my room for theory. I went ahead and asked them as many questions as I could think of, drawing on a laminated, blank piece of paper I was grateful I'd taken with me. (Portable white boards are useful things to have...) Yes to clefs, no to key signatures, yes to note names, no to time signatures. Guys, I have be dying to teach theory for ages now. I'm so excited about this class. I ended up dividing the class into two, setting up a tic-tac-toe/naughts and crosses board made up of various note values and letting each team choose where they wanted to go. If they could answer some questions I thought up on the spot about those notes- then they could put their marker down. 

In practice, they always got it right because if they didn't I would pause the game and make sure everyone understood (either through another diagram or through walking it out (yay Dalcroze!) or through verbal/aural explanation). They were clever enough in playing the game that it was a draw (as all good tic-tac-toe games are) and then those 40 minutes were done as well. 

I caught the wrong bus, took it to the end of the line and back again while trying to get to the first of the trains that would get me home. It is a mission to get there, but THIS. THESE are the kids I want to teach. These are the kids I've been waiting to teach. 

I had a freaking wonderful first day. 

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Light and Darkness: The Tykes Have RE

I was having anxiety dreams last night about going back to school. Essentially first day of school jitters, again. It took me ages to actually get out of bed this morning as well for the same reason, but this afternoon? After having finished a full day of teaching? Good gracious I love my job!

This is my 3rd round of Spring term. I've now completed two full years of this job, so the same topics are coming round again. The reception tykes are doing Traditional Stories, which I love because it means I get to whip out Do You Know The Story? sung to the tune of What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor? I started my morning with some cutting and sticking, making A4 sized cards illustrating each of the verses. This meant that I got to harass the librarian (one of my favourite people at school) in order to locate fairy tale picture books with nice illustrations for my cards. The kids did great, the song is fun, and I love singing it because it fits in a portion of my voice that requires me to sing big in order to actually hit the notes.

Interestingly 2 out of the 3 classes said the name of the stories rhythmically, while the 3rd class just shouted out willy nilly. Of the two that did it rhythmically one class sings regularly as a matter of course, and the other had been singing for 10 minutes before I arrived due to a combination of confusion about when I would show up and my running over time with the first class. I've been wondering ever since how I could prep the 3rd class so that they also speak the titles rhythmically....

Music classes being over for the day it was then on to RE! A class that continues to amuse me by virtue of the fact that the school has me teaching it. (I feel distinctly unqualified.) Whatever; this week we were talking about anticipation! Particularly as it refers to Christmas and even more particularly as it refers to Jesus's birth. Also about the concept of the light/dark - good/bad metaphor. (I spent most of the class desperately hoping none of the kids would link it to race because I don't feel qualified to tackle that one either. They didn't, but they did immediately link it to Star Wars! ....of course.)

We had a class discussion where I drew a giant light bulb on the interactive white board. Good things about their holidays were written inside the bulb, and outside we wrote the bad things that had happened. (One child's grandfather had died. That was sad and we had an impromptu and completely spontaneous moment of silence for him.) We then read Isaiah 9:2 and 6 (Miss Casey? What's an extract?) where Jesus is described as a great light. They got to respond to that however they wanted- writing about light/good, dark/bad or drawing a picture or whatever.

They worked quietly! (mostly) And raised their hands when they needed help! And my most difficult kid did his work! And the results were varied and interesting!

When most of the class was finished we had about 10 minutes left and I had already gathered them at the front of the room where we were sitting in the dark,


Kid A: "Miss Casey? Um. Why are we sitting in the dark?" 
Me: "I think it's a metaphor. I'm not really sure what point it's supposed to be making...I'm supposed to have a candle but instead we've just got the glow of the board lighting your faces."
Kid A: "So my face is lightness but my body is darkness?"
Me: "Sure."
Kid B, sitting off to the side: "Hey! I'm entirely in the darkness...I'm on the dark side!" 

Cue mad scramble by about 50% of the kids to join Kid B on the dark side. So I invented a quick game- the dark side had a minute to come up with something evil, then the light side had to counter with something at least as good at the evil thing was bad. I, as the arbitrary arbiter got to choose which was more extreme and therefore won. Then we switched who got to go first. (The obvious flaw in this game mechanic being that whoever goes second necessarily wins.)

The first evil suggestion by the Dark Side was killing the Queen. I don't remember what exactly the Light Side came up with, but as it pertained to the whole world: they won. Then the Light Side came up with "being nice to everyone in the whole world"  to which the Dark Side countered "The Devil eating the Universe!" 

At which point I sent them all down to lunch.

Monday, January 3, 2011

New Years in the North

Nik and I went to Newcastle for New Years: I met a cavalcade of his friends, all of whom are full of inside jokes, laughter, enthusiasm, and possibly too much energy. Over two days we were at three different families' homes, played numerous board games (most of which were either collaborative in design or possible to steer towards collaboration, much to my delight), played an epic 2010 quiz, ate heaps of delicious food, and had a wonderful walk right after mid-night through an old, icy train track (sounds dangerous; wasn't).

I thought they were wonderful.

Definitely looking forward to seeing them again and hanging out more, but for now, let's move on to the nostalgia part of things.

In 1994 my family took a trip to England. This was our first big international trip and it was a Big. Deal. We still talk about it regularly and it certainly looms large in my memory. (Can't speak for the rest of us, but I'm pretty sure that sentiment is shared.) One of my very favourite parts of the trip was going to Durham.

Laine and I had just finished 4th grade where we had learned about Castles. (Fantasy novel obsessed 9 year old Casey was very into this topic.) I still have vivid memories of what was probably my favourite project of all of fourth grade: designing and stocking a castle keep. (Combining two of my then favourite activities: drawing and designing things that were theoretically worth money and grocery shopping.)

The train into Durham has a magnificent view of the castle and the cathedral. As the story goes we stood on the platform looking at the castle and my dad told me that is was our hotel. Being sharper than your average rolling pin, I didn't believe him. Once he convinced me that, yes, we really were staying at the castle I'm pretty sure it is safe to assume I started bouncing up and down.

The castle is now part of Durham university and parts of it are used for university housing. Since we were there during the summer, they rented out the rooms to tourists. I remember worn stone staircases, bathrooms down the corridor, a wide hallway with places for me to perch (a windowsill?), creaky wooden stairs on the way down to the cafeteria with banisters topped by "pineapples" carved without having seen the fruit but only having heard a description, and telling my dad all about the arrow loops.

"Cakes, you know those are real arrow loops, right?"

".... !!"

Mind blowing stuff.

Oh, right. Nik. Here's how Nik works into this story- he spent sixth form living in Durham, it's where he met all the wonderful people from the beginning of this post. His mother was working at the Cathedral and so while the family lived in Durham Nik and his brother worked as vergers there. This was excellent for me because it meant that I had an extremely knowledgeable tour guide to lead me around. I was also pleased to meet some of the people from stories I've been hearing about his time working there.

It was a wonderful, wonderful day and because they were the cheapest tickets, when we took the train back to London, it was in First Class. Nice.

L to R: Castle, Cathedral, Me