The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Posts tagged “Music

Field Trip: Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra

I’ve written about field trips to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts many times over the past seven years that I have been teaching at Wiley. They are some of my favourite trips to take with students, most likely because they are short bus rides and they expose students to an amazing world-class performance space that is right in their own neighbourhood. Today the two fourth grade classes at Wiley got to go to the Krannert Center for the second time this school year, this time to attend the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra‘s youth concert. When we arrived, a student noticed a bus from Effingham and wondered aloud why someone would come so far. I explained that not every community has a place like the Krannert Center and reminded the students who were listening how fortunate we are to have a space so close and so accessible. (I said this then and write this now while still acknowledging that ticket prices for general admission are often well beyond what my students’ families can afford, especially if they want to take the whole family. This is something that I wish the Krannert Center Board of Directors would consider changing.)

During today’s performance, the students not only got to listen to movements from Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite, movements from Georges Brizet’s Carmen Overture, and a complete piece by CUSO’s current Composer-in-Residence Stacy Garrop, but they also got to learn about music composition and orchestration as Music Director Stephen Alltop explained concepts such as melody, colour (or timbre), and harmony.

Later in the afternoon, I had my students write letters to the C-U Symphony Orchestra, thanking them for the performance and sharing their favourite parts. I was impressed with the number of students who recognised some of the melodies, the knowledge of different musical instruments, and the personal connections many made. (One student shared that she loved the Peer Gynt Suite because that is the music her mom uses to wake her up each morning.)

I was so proud of all of our fourth graders! They were a model audience, listening intently at the right times, clapping at the end of pieces, responding when asked to, and ignoring the distractions of classes around them that were not quite so well behaved. A huge shout-out to our music teacher, Mrs. V, who arranged this, and the parents who were able to come and help us out!

[NOTE: Neither video is of the C-U Symphony Orchestra, but I wanted videos with the music in case students’ parents saw this and wanted to talk to the children about the music they heard today.]

Field Trip: Youth Concert

Way back at the start of the year, my fourth grade partner and I had arranged for our class to have two field trips in April: one to Springfield right before our Spring Holiday and one to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts at the end of the month to celebrate the end of PARCC testing. Several weeks ago, our awesome music teacher let us know that she was able to secure tickets for our classes to go to the Krannert Center for the Youth Concert, which happened to be scheduled for April 10. That meant that our three April trips would be on the tenth, twelfth, and twenty-first.

Today was the first of the trips. We got to spend a part of the morning at the Krannert Center listening to a performance by the Champaign-Urbana Symphony Orchestra of Peter and the Wolf. It was exciting to bring our students to Krannert to see a very different kind of performance from the one we saw back at the start of the year. We talked to the students ahead of time about how to engage with a symphony orchestra performance: quiet and listening, applauding at the end of each piece.

(Obviously, the YouTube video isn’t the performance we saw today, but I wanted to share a video so that students could talk about and share what they saw and heard.)

I wish I could say that everything went flawlessly for my students, but the reality is that some of them have never been to a performance like this before and are still learning how to respond appropriately to such settings. There were many conversation afterwards about it and I hope that my students will find the opportunity to attend the symphony again at some point. I also hope that they will learn from this experience!

Thank you to the symphony members and the Krannert staff for providing such a great learning opportunity and being patient with the hundreds of students who were attending their performance this morning!

Field Trip: Black Violin

I love data. Really, I do. I find it incredibly valuable to look at data and interpret the story of what the numbers and facts represent. Data tell us so much about what a student is doing at a specific time, what is happening in a room or a school, and how students, teachers, administrators, and families are operating as a system. I love digging in deep and sifting through the massive amounts of collected data to put the pieces of the puzzle together.

A big component of data these days comes from standardised testing. There are many who thumb their noses at such assessments, rightfully arguing that not all students learn the same way or at the same rate, therefore testing them all the same way does not accurately tell us the whole picture. And I agree, especially with that last part: standardised tests should never be used to determine the whole picture. However, they do give us useful data about part of the picture and we can use that part of the picture to understand how some of the other components are working. Data drives instructional decisions and help us know what we need to do to help our students be successful.

But there are some things in a school setting that can’t be measured by hard data. There are some things that simply cannot be adequately measured, categorised, and tagged. I got a brief glimpse of this today as I went with my class, along with the other fourth grade class and both fifth grade classes, to the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts to see and listen to a performance of by Black Violin. This performance was a part of the Krannert Center’s amazing Youth Series, which allows young people the opportunity to watch fantastic performances in a world-class facility for a very low cost. Black Violin, for those who have never heard of them, here’s a video that provides a great explanation of what they do:

For about an hour, our students got to listen to a performance that energised and excited them. I saw students standing up, clapping, singing along, cheering, and full of a pure joy that will never be captured by a standardised test.img_4929

And that’s okay. In fact, that is more than okay. It is wonderful! The thing I love most about taking my students to Youth Series performances is that I am able to see a completely different side to my students than I will never get to see in the classroom. The message that Kev and Wil shared is that we should be willing to break out of our boxes, defy stereotypes, and do the unexpected. Watching these two guys on the stage with their violins, playing a synthesis of classical music and hip-hop, is all about breaking stereotypes!


Thank you, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and Black Violin, for making it possible!

The Sir Roger de Coverley Dance

In Urbana School District #116, we are very proud of our fine arts programming that is available for all students in all grade levels. In the elementary schools, my students are able to attend special classes for visual arts, music, drama, and dance. In addition, classroom teachers are able to arrange for arts infusion projects with the fine arts teachers, tying the classroom curriculum to the arts. I am not always able to take advantage of such infusion projects, but I was really excited to do one to go along with our social studies unit on colonial America.

I talked with our dance teacher and she was able to find out information about a traditional colonial era dance called the Sir Roger de Coverley (sometimes spelled Coverly) dance. This is a group dance that involves six pairs (traditionally male and female partners, but can easily be done with any arrangement of pairs). We modified it slightly to better accommodate our students and to keep them more actively involved.

After practicing once a week for several weeks, we had a demonstration this morning. Parents, family, and friends were invited to attend, along with our kindergarten buddies. My students demonstrated for the dance first and did an amazing job remembering all of the steps and the turns! Then they invited the audience to join in and they taught the dance to them! Several parents took videos and pictures; alas, because I was helping to prompt the students, I was unable to do either. (Any parents who were there, please feel free to upload to Google Drive and share your videos or pictures with me or burn them onto a disc!)

As I told our audience at the end, the entire thing went about 500 times better than I could have hoped for! There was so much laughter and fun and clapping and enjoyment all around! I love being able to infuse the arts into my curriculum and hope to fit in at least one more project before the end of the year. (I already have an idea in my head to discuss with our music teacher but I haven’t talked to her about it at all yet so I don’t know if we will be able to pull it off or not!)

Thank you to everyone who came out to support my students! They were so excited to see so many people there for them and they had a wonderful time teaching what they had learned to others!

How do you connect the arts to what you are doing?


Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration 2015

Each year our school has a special assembly to celebrate the life and accomplishments of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I don’t know how long this tradition has gone on, but I know it has been many, many years. This year’s assembly kind of snuck up on us, in part because of the two “cold days” we had right after winter break, which is when we usually plan and organise the assembly.

However, we were still able to put together a great program, in large part due to the Herculean efforts of our visual arts teacher and one of our dance/drama/music teachers. Different classes put together presentations, including songs, videos, and poetry recitals. The first graders sang a song about being peacemakers. One of the third grade classes shared a video about ways that they can make Dr. King’s dream a reality. A fifth grade class presented a video of students reading excerpts of poems by Langston Hughes. The other fifth grade class did a song. One of the fourth grade classes (not mine) did an animation based on a poem about Dr. King. (My class was going to do an animation to a song by the Beatles but we simply ran out of time.)

The entire assembly was led by the handsome engagement director guy from the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, who has been a long-time friend to Wiley Elementary School and has become a part of our school family over the years. Families were invited to attend and join in group singing while celebrating the work of a man who dedicated his life to ending racial inequality and fighting for justice. Our society still has a long way to go before we truly achieve the dream that Dr. King shared, but I truly believe we are doing better than we were in the past. This weekend, take some time to reflect on not just what Dr. King did, but also the other men and women who struggled to bring about civil rights for all people.

Increasing Productivity with Music

Practically since the day my students first got to use their Chromebooks in my class this year, there has been a constant request coming from them: wanting to listen to music while doing independent work. For several weeks now, I have held firm against it, but I didn’t have a particular reason why.

The question came up yet again yesterday and I decided to really look into the subject. The first thing I did was turn to the power of social networking, specifically, Twitter. There are teachers from across the nation that I can reach out to with questions and thoughts and requests for feedback and it usually comes within a few hours, if not minutes. I have learned the power of using #edchat when trying to get input, and using a modified form, such as #edtechedchat when looking for people who can help with a specific question. So I quickly posted the question and got some replies right way! (The person I had tagged in the initial post is an administrator I met while at a conference in Chicago before Thanksgiving. His district has done a lot with using Chromebooks and 1:1 technology, so I knew he’d be a good person to ask!)

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Then I started looking online for research to support the practice and found several news articles, blog posts, and academic research summaries that supported the practice. So I decided to do what I’ve been doing all year long: I took a chance.

I told my class about the process (because I always want them to understand why we are doing the things we do) and I made this point about monitoring their behviour: one of our classroom expectations, and indeed a district-wide expectation, is for students (and staff) to be responsible. If I truly expect my students to be responsible, that means that I am expecting them to monitor their own behaviour and use the technology and resources we have correctly. I told them that I wouldn’t go around unplugging headphones to try to “catch” them doing the wrong thing; instead, I would trust that they were doing what they were supposed to be doing. (Of course, I would notice what was on their screens as I was moving around the room and helping with questions or offering suggestions as they worked, so it isn’t as if I am leaving them to use technology unsupervised!) I also made sure that they understood that listening to music was only something they could do during independent work time.

The class was excited to try this out. They knew that they had to make good choices in order to maintain this new privilege and they wanted it! So I gave them a few minutes to get situated and then made sure everyone was working. While that happened, Ms. Schultz and I were able to work with individual students, and the students were quiet and focused on their work!

Perhaps one of the greatest things to happen was when a student came to me with her Chromebook and a piece of writing that she felt she had finished. I started to look over it and then realised that I could pull it up on my computer (since all of my students’ writing is shared with me) and work with her on the revising process. We conferenced together, looking at her writing, discussing word choice, moving some parts around, cutting out repetitive phrases, and correcting for spelling, capitalisation, and punctuation, all while maintaining her unique voice. It was exactly what I have wanted to have happen during our Writers’ Workshop time!

I am so excited to do this again tomorrow and to do more conferences with students as they finish their writing and prepare to publish! I haven’t collected any data yet to measure productivity, but I do know from anecdotal observations that students were working, they were focused, and they were allowing others to do the same. That’s counts as improved productivity in my book!

Celebrating Small Victories

I wrote recently about the short-term “token economy” system that our new music teacher and I decided to put into place for my class as an effort to bolster their positive behaviour. Another thing I have done with my classes over the years to support following rules and meeting expectations has been using a pebble jar. I have had varying success with the pebble jar over the years, but it has been more positive than not, so I’ve continued to use it. (When I first introduced it this year, I had hoped we’d be able to fill the jar in three weeks. It has taken us almost three months. Hopefully the second filling will go much faster!)

The jar I use holds 168 glass pebbles. My class had earned 167 of them but was still having a hard time with expectations, especially in Music. So I decided to have them earn the last pebble by getting an “excellent” report from the music teacher. “Pretty good, “okay,” and “all right” were not going to be good enough for the pebble. It had to be “excellent.” To show how big a deal this last pebble was, I even put it in a ring box so that I could display it while we waited to earn it.

The first few days of trying to earn the last pebble didn’t go so well and I began to briefly despair. But then things got just a little bit better. And then still a little better. Then we had a “good” report. But I was still waiting for that “excellent.” On Wednesday, we had an amazing morning. And the afternoon read aloud went pretty well, so I was being cautiously optimistic about my class’s ability to hold it together through Music. I reminded them of the last pebble once again, dropped them off, and then went about doing the usual prep work I do in the classroom with my student teacher while they were gone.

When I went to pick them up, I immediately noticed something different: the class was quietly lined up, waiting patiently, and the music teacher was actually smiling! I asked her how things went.

She looked at the class.

The class looked at her.

I looked at all of them.

Then she said the words we had been waiting to hear: “You know, Mr. Valencic? I think I have to say that today was pretty… excellent!”

The whole class cheered. I cheered (inside). As we walked out, they all seemed to hold their heads a little higher and were just a little more relaxed and more focused on their afternoon task of reading with their Learning Buddies before returning to the classroom for math. It was a small victory, to be sure, but a victory nonetheless.

The next day we had a vote for how to celebrate. The class came up with the ideas and then selected their favourite. They decided they wanted to have an electronics party. Students were invited to bring in personal electronic devices (which I kept locked in a cabinet during the day) and got to use them for 30 minutes this morning. Those who didn’t bring in devices were able to use the Nooks and the Chromebooks.

Before starting the celebration, I talked with the class about the difference between how they felt when they earned their last pebble (good, happy, excited, positive) and how they felt on other days (upset, frustrated, sad, angry). They all agreed that it felt a lot better to walk out of Music on Wednesday knowing that they had all done what they were supposed to do and they felt a lot better about themselves.

Do they still have some learned behaviours and habits that need to be unlearned and broken? Oh, definitely. Did they have an excellent day in the library yesterday and an excellent day in Music today? No, unfortunately, they didn’t. Did this experience give them a glimpse of what can be? Absolutely it did. And that’s my point for using the pebble jar: to focus students on the good and the positive and to encourage them to do more of that each day.