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Saturday, December 8, 2018

The Power of Music

December is a busy, busy time!  My concert for all of my classes are next week.  I have to do 3 separate concerts in one night because there are not enough seats in the high school auditorium to accommodate all of my students and families.  This year my Beginners will have their own concert and will not be combining with any other grades.  That means they will have to fill the entire concert.  We have 4 pieces learned:  A Christmas March - Meyer, A Chanukah Festival - O'Reilly, Sleigh Ride in the Park - Thomas, and What Child is This - Monday.  That should take about 10 minutes....which is not enough time!  I need to stretch out this concert to at least 25

I've been teaching my beginners about the power of music by sharing stories with them about the positive effect music has on people's lives.  There are a number of great YouTube clips with touching stories:

Students have really responded well to these videos.  I want to instill in my students that music is powerful.  That music can change their lives for the better.  That they can serve others with their musical gifts.  To help students reflect on what orchestra is doing for them personally, they completed this quick survey:

 It was so interesting to read their responses.  I compiled many of their responses into a video which I will show at their concert.  I hope it will leave the message that music is important in the lives of our children.  A little music advocacy at the concert seems like it will benefit everyone.  :)    (In my original video I have pictures of my students rehearsing and I include full student names.. I edited out pictures and last names for student privacy.) 

Still, I might need to do another activity to take a little more I'm developing a little mini-game to play called, "Are You Smarter Than An Orchestra Beginner?"  I'm thinking it would be fun to have an audience member come and try some of our beginner skills.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Checking for understanding: The Possibilities of SeeSaw

Right before school started I posted about my plans to use SeeSaw in my classroom for playing tests.  So far I think it has been beneficial for students to do playing tests using this technology.  I've learned a few things about implementing SeeSaw for playing tests:

1.  Younger students struggle more with getting online to complete assignments at home.  Most rely on parent phones or computer to do the assignments.  Because of this, it is essential to involve the parents when teaching students how to sign-up for SeeSaw.

2.  Plan on spending one entire class period to help students create their accounts.  I tried to send emails home to have students sign on, but most didn't do it.  It worked best to have them all sign up at school with my help.  Once students have their accounts, they can complete a quick assignment in SeeSaw to help them learn to navigate the program.  It is very user friendly and students haven't had trouble.

3.  Review the class settings.  The default setting is for students to see each other's work.  I opted to change my settings to make each student portfolio private....but I can see benefits from keeping it all open as well.

Now that I've gotten better acquainted with SeeSaw, I've gotten so many more ideas for ways to implement student activities and check for understanding.  There are MANY uses for SeeSaw in an orchestra classroom...playing tests are just the beginning!  I love that SeeSaw helps get students thinking and working OUTSIDE of class.  This technology helps me reach students on a whole new level.

Here are 14 possibilities for utilizing SeeSaw in a string orchestra class:

1.  Have students record themselves clapping a rhythm.
2.  Have students record themselves saying note-names to a passage of music.
3.  Peer review - allow students to comment on classmates videos.
4.  Playing tests - self evaluated or teacher evaluated
5.  Before/after practice assignment
6.  Label parts of the instrument
7.  Definitions/musical terms - vocab
8.  Critique - watch a video (performance) and answer questions
9.  Take of picture of your bow hold
10.  Tutorials - students teach how to ___________.
11.  Draw/label bowings to a passage
12.  Draw notes on the staff
13.  Getting to know you - post your favorite thing
14.  Draw how the music makes you feel.


Do you wish you could see all of this and experiment with how it would work for your students?  Well you can!  I made a SAMPLE ORCHESTRA class on SeeSaw and you can sign in as a student to my sample class and try out these activities.  Just go to   and click on are instructions - just type in the code and you're in!

Feel free to play with the assignments and you can even submit sample work....just be aware that other 'teacher-students' who sign in will be able to see your posts.

*NOTE - the code expires after 7 days.  If you are reading this post after Dec. 7, 2018 you can email me for a new code:

By the way, I don't work for SeeSaw....I'm just posting these ideas just for the benefit of my readers.  I think it's a great resource to implement technology and check for understanding as you teach important techniques and concepts.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

High School grading for Orchestra - practice record


I'm teaching high school this year.  My junior high program is huge with over 300 students...but many were dropping in between junior high and high school.  I decided to have another teacher take on part of my junior high program to free me up to teach at the high school to help strengthen the program and retain students.  So far it's been really fun and I enjoy the change.  I worried about having to switch between 2 schools, but it's been totally fine. 

The majority of my students grades at the high school level are based on playing tests which they send me through SeeSaw (  Last term I had a couple students who did not send me ANY playing tests until the day before the concert...and that drove me a little crazy because it defeats the whole purpose of the test!  Students need to master the measures I assign at the time I assign them - because their playing affects the entire group - the rehearsals and the performance.  It doesn't feel good to be dragging students along.  This term I decided to make new policy and stop accepting late playing tests.  The problem is I know some students will still miss one could potentially fail my class.  I decided there has to be some sort of a make up assignment.

Here's how I've structured it.  Playing tests are turned in on time.  Any playing test can be re-submitted for a higher score - as long as it was initially turned in on time.  A make up assignment can be completed if a playing test was missed, although it can only make up a fraction of the points that could have been earned by doing the playing test. 

This is my make-up assignment - a 5 page practice journal.   I'm hoping students realize that the playing test is easier...but I guess if they want to fill all this out and practice every day for fewer points...that works for me, too.  Enjoy.  :)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Teaching is more than teaching

I am an introvert.  When I was a student I rarely said anything in my classes.  I was so quiet that some of my peers informed me that I would never be able to teach because I was too quiet.  Introverts are often misunderstood.  The funny thing is when I tell my students that I am quiet introvert they don't believe me!  In my role as a teacher I am outgoing and friendly and full of energy.

I've been thinking a lot about effective teaching and what makes certain teachers get hard work, respect, and loyalty from their students.  I feel it all comes down to one key element.  Master teachers build relationships with their students.  The best teachers do more than just teach...they inspire.  This can only be done when students are able to connect with their teachers.

When students feel a teacher cares about them, they will listen better, work harder, and behave better.  Students need to bond with their teachers....and I strongly believe teachers need to bond with their students.  We never know what students are going through - and just a few kind words....a little attention....a thoughtful question...just might positively transform that student's entire day.   Life is hard sometimes.  Last year I was going through some intense trials and it was hard for me to go to work and keep a smile on my face.  My students helped pull me through those hard times.  They never knew what I was going through....I never said anything about my personal struggles...but just the interaction with my students was enough to cheer me up and keep me going.

As mentioned, I am an introvert.  It's strange that I feel so comfortable speaking with my students...yet I'm totally opposite in 'real life.'   If I can build relationships with students...anyone can do it!  Here's how:

1.  Be less busy.  Make yourself available. Get to school early and be completely ready at least 15 minutes before the bell rings.  I like to have some fun, energetic music playing as students enter so they come in with a smile on their faces.  This gives you 15 minutes to interact with students as they enter your classroom.  Greet students as they come in.  Notice things about them and talk to them.  Students notice if you look and seem stressed and they will avoid you.  Be present and make the time to interact.

2.  Encourage sharing.  I often share an analogy or story to help capture the style of a piece of music.  Allow to students to share their own stories.  Find common ground.

3.  Play.  Everyone likes to have fun.  Sometimes we play games in my classes.  Instead of just being a with them!  They need to see you have fun.  It will help them relate to you.

I believe that building a positive working relationship with students is essential. It solves so many classroom issues.  Behavior issues begin to disappear.  Students become motivated and desire success.  The climate of the classroom becomes happy.  And best of all, the teacher will LOVE teaching even more and students will love the class even more.  Students often choose an elective class because of how the teacher makes them feel.  Large successful programs are built on positive teacher/student relationships - which creates the right climate for all of the hard work necessary for great performance.

Stepping off soapbox...happy teaching, everyone!

Friday, September 7, 2018

Note reading struggles

It's that time of year to teach note-reading.  I always begin by teaching students where the open strings are on the staff.  We practice memorizing them using dry-erase packets and students are able to learn them very quickly.  Some students struggle with the transition from seeing large notes on a large staff to smaller notes.  They have to learn to carefully distinguish the difference between the notes.  To help students transition to a regular sized staff I created  this worksheet...enjoy!

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Utilizing Technology - Playing Tests for the 21st Century

I'm a believer in playing tests.  I don't do practice cards, so playing tests are used to motivate students to work and practice.  Normally on playing test days (every 2 weeks) I listen to 40-50 students in 45 minutes or less.  As I listen I frantically jot down comments on my rubric and students are given an opportunity to reflect, improve, and re-take any playing test for a better score.  I have noticed that some students don't read my comments and don't make needed changes to improve their playing.  I would like students to take on more responsibility for their learning and growth.  This year I will be implement a new kind of playing test which will help students take ownership for their playing.

Here's how it's going to work:

I will be using google classroom with each of my classes this year.  Students will need a google classroom account AND a account.   SeeSaw is great because it can be accessed on any device.  There is a SeeSaw app for smart phones...but if students don't have a phone they can use computers with webcams or chomebooks.

I will assign playing tests on google classroom with specific directions.  Students receive a link to a google form which contains instructions for the test as well as a rubric where students will grade THEMSELVES.  Students will be instructed to grade themselves carefully.  They must PROVE and justify their grade by performing their playing test in SeeSaw.  I can then review any video and see if I agree with the rubric students submit.   The great thing about SeeSaw is that it creates a portfolio so students can go back and review any playing test.  They can see their progress throughout the year.

Here is a link to a sample playing test so you can see how it works:


Here are some screen shots:

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

FUN IDEA for your Beginning String Orchestra! Teach proper position.

Wanna be a cool orchestra teacher?  Try this idea with your beginners!

I've been listening to the song 'Keep Your Head Up' and I love it!  Perfect for bow exercises...but it got me thinking...  If I could change the words a little - especially in the chorus - it would be perfect to use to teach proper instrument position.  So I changed the words to the song:

I plan on having my orchestra learn the words (at least to the chorus) and sing them while we are setting our left hand positions.  I purchased the karaoke version of the song on iTunes and students can sing along.

But here's another awesome thing you can do...

Buy the Karaoke version and the regular version of "Keep Your Head Up" by Andy Grammer, then get the free app: ANYTUNE.  Select the music in the app and transpose the music UP 2 half steps by clicking on the sharp sign (lower right side) 2 times.

Now you can use this tune for students to practice the D string notes!  I created this sheet music for students to play along with the transposed version of the song.  Playing along with this familiar song will help students tune their notes and stay together as a group.  Plus it's super fun!

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Lesson Plan Template for Orchestra

I really try to be organized and have looked for the perfect teacher planner to help me keep track of everything.  I've never been able to find anything that works perfectly for a middle school orchestra teacher, so I created some printable templates to make my own teacher planner binder.  This is way less expensive than buying a pre-made planner full of un-needed or non-applicable pages.  Check it out and for a limited time you may download for free HERE!

8 pages total - includes a lesson plan template for orchestra rehearsals, year at a glance, weekly overview, concert piece lists, instruments needing repair, communication log, music wish list, and participation point tracker. Easy to use - just print as many pages as you need and compile them in a binder with tabs for each section by class. Simple and easy with no fluff.

Monday, July 2, 2018

Traffic Sign Orchestra Classroom Decor

If you are looking to add some posters to your orchestra classroom, here are some traffic signs specially designed with orchestra in mind!  There are 10 signs total.  You may purchase them at by TPT site.  Each sign may be printed in color - size 8.5 x 11.   Enjoy!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Orchestra Seating Chart - redesigned

I've been using the same seating chart for awhile and I was ready for a change.  My old chart used squares to show where the seats go in my classroom.  I re-designed my chart and used circles so students can more easily see the semi-circle layout of the chairs.  The circles are grouped in 2's to show stand partners.  Once I have my final numbers I will color code the circles by section and try to streamline seating chart changes with some pre-determined variations.  This chart is based on the size of my room....I can't fit any more chairs than this.  If this chart would help you feel free to use it!  You can download it for free on my Teachers Pay Teachers site.  :)

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Finger Pattern Warm Ups for String Orchestra

When passing out a new piece of music I have often wished for a better way to drill finger-patterns to help students remember fingerings on each string for the key signatures.  So often students ask ..."Is it a high 2 or low 2 on the A string? "  I am hoping the drills and exercises in this resource will help students internalize how the key signatures change the finger patterns on each string.

This resource is 29 pages total.  It contains 7 pages of exercises for violin, viola, cello and bass.  Each page is a different key signature - from 3 sharps all the way to 3 flats.  Students can see the fingerpatterns on each string on the diagram at the top of the page.  Teachers may have students fill in the note names in the circles.  The notes at the top of the page show half steps to help students with intervals and tuning. 

You may purchase this resource on my ORCHESTRA CLASSROOM website or Teachers Pay Teachers Site.  Only $15 and you may copy as many as you need for your students.

 (Please no sharing files and it is not ok to publish my files on public web pages.)

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Pencil Problem

Like most teachers, I require students to come to my classroom prepared with their instrument, music, and a pencil.  Students are penalized points when they are unprepared for class, but I admit that I need to be more consistent with keeping track of point penalties.  It's hard for my right-brained self to track such things...especially when I don't want to stop the flow of my class and waste time.  Students who don't have pencil are in crisis mode...and they do one of the following:

  • Sit silently and do not attempt to complete the task at hand...hoping I won't notice.
  • Some raise their hands and announce to the entire class that they don't have a pencil and ask if anyone has one they can borrow.
  • Other students get out of their seats and start searching the classroom for a stray pencil.
  • Students come and ask me if they can go to their lockers to get a pencil.

All of these responses drive me CRAZY!  I just want them to be prepared and be ready to immediately do what I ask them to do.  I surely don't want my valuable class time to turn into a pencil scavenger hunt.  To combat the issue I give each student a pencil and a folder at the beginning of the year.  Students are instructed to bring the folder and pencil to class every day.  It just doesn't always happen.

At the end of the school year, my PLC group discussed the pencil problem at our collaboration meeting.  The art teacher at my school got really excited because he said he has solved this problem.  He told us that his students always have a pencil because he keeps pencils in the classroom for students to use.  He buys hundreds of pencils provides them for students.  I was thinking...well I do that, too...I have a giant cup full of pencils and students are allowed to borrow them.  This doesn't quite solve my problem because I don't want kids out of their seats to fetch a pencil...that all takes time.  Sometimes I bring pencils around the room to students that don't have one...yet again, it takes time.

 I've been thinking a lot about this pencil problem.  How can I provide pencils that are conveniently accessible?  I looked for options online.  Music stores sell spring-like contraptions that attach to music stands, but they are a bit expensive.  I need something cost effective, efficient, removable, durable, and something that would allow the music stands to be stacked without having to move it.

Here's what I came up with....DOLLAR STORE HAIR BANDS!  They come in packs of 8 - so 8 bands for $1.00.  I can wrap one of these babies around each of my 48 music stands and it will only cost me $6!  They easily hold 2 pencils and it is very simple to take pencils out of the band and put them back in.  Pencils can stay in place, even when stacking stands on racks at the end of each day.  If I don't want pencils on the stands during a concert, the bands can quickly be removed.

Some classroom management strategies will need to be in place for this work.  Students will be expected and required to store pencils appropriately after each rehearsal.  They will not be allowed to remove the band (or mess with it in any way).  Students must be taught a procedure for sharpening pencils when needed. 

Having pencils readily available for students to use will save a lot of time in rehearsal.  No more searching for pencils.  No more excuses.  Pencil problem....solved.

Saturday, April 14, 2018

Orchestra Rehearsal Re-Focused

Coming back to school after spring never know exactly how that first rehearsal will go.  I always hope my students have practiced a little bit during their one week of freedom, but I understand that some families have busy vacations and practicing doesn't usually happen.  Over the break I began thinking of policies and expectations that I should review with my classes.  I created this orchestra survey for students to determine their own level of work ethic.  It went amazingly well.  I didn't have to harp on them for not doing this or that....they filled out their own survey and we talked about 'what if.'  What if every student in class stopped right when I stopped...what if every student prepared difficult passages at home...etc.  It really got them thinking and it helped remind them of my expectations.  The rehearsal went great and students were sensing their's amazing how much more work can be done when students are truly attentive and focusing.

Download this for FREE at the TPT site: Orchestra Classroom

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Recruiting Round-up

Every year I add new ideas to my regular recruiting routine (search for my other posts about recruiting for other great ideas) and consistently have enjoyed an increase in students.  It is important to stay on top of current trends and use those things in your recruiting program.  I keep thinking I've reached my max number of students, but my numbers keep going up!  Last year I had to cut 30 students out of my beginning strings class because I didn't have enough room in my schedule to teach them all.  This year over 160 signed up for beginning strings (making my total student load 330!) and I'm not planning on cutting any because the school will hire a second orchestra teacher help teach some of the classes.

 I'm ecstatic that over 27% of our student population is in orchestra.  It feels like orchestra is taking over the school!  That is what inspired me to create new recruiting materials featuring a zombie orchestra theme:



I also had these postcards printed at  You can buy the image at my TpT store.

While elementary school kids were out of the classroom watching my recruiting assembly performed by my group of 100+ beginners, I had a group of my older students place one of these postcards on every student's desk.  Many of the postcards had a personal note on the back from a student in my program saying how much they love orchestra.  (My 8th graders enjoyed that assignment.)  I only wish I would have seen their reactions to see their room had been taken over by zombie orchestra signs.  :)

The Greatest Showman is a very popular movie in my area, so I had a high school student come with us and she played an AMAZING variation of 'Rewrite the Stars' on an electric violin with a back-up track.  Kids were mesmerized and many sang along.  I had introduced my student as they next famous YouTube Lindsey Stirling and Rob Landes (who had just performed at one of my concerts).  Many elementary students got her autograph afterwards.

We left these posters at each school...and the image is available at my TpT site:

In years past I purchased fortune cookies and painstakingly removed every fortune and replaced them with my own pro-orchestra fortunes.  This year I simplified by purchasing these fortune cookie erasers at  Fortune Cookie Erasers

Student helpers easily replaced all the fortunes with things like, 'You belong in orchestra'   'Life is better in orchestra'  'Orchestra is for you!'   At the end of our recruiting concert, we invite students to come try our instruments for a couple of minutes and afterwards they get the eraser.  I heard one kid say, "That was fun!  I'm totally going to join orchestra.  Plus my fortune cookie told me to."  It was hilarious.

Another fun addition this year was a bubble machine! We always play 'Appalachian Hymn' by Soon Hee Newbold as students enter the assembly.  This year be had a pro bubble machine pumping out bubbles galore as students took their seats.  It was fun and added an exciting unexpected twist.