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#47: Three Failures in the Music Room

Three failures in the music room: from musical programs, to centers, to folk dancing...how I turned failures into successes!

Often, on my blog, I’m writing about what worked really well in my music room. Today, I decided to write about three failures I’ve had in my music room (and what I did to turn those failures into successes!) The first is from the start of my career, but the last two are more recent failures. You can listen to the podcast here, and can also read the blog post, below.

#1: My First Music Program

I learned a ton during my student teaching, but one thing I didn’t really learn was how to put together a music program, as my coordinating teacher didn’t do any programs. So my first year, I was clueless as to how to put together a program. Like, really clueless.

I had a few classes from a few grade levels for the program. I chose some songs that I thought would work. But…

There was no theme.

I had no idea how to handle the logistics. And worse yet…

The songs weren’t performed well.

Of course, my parents were there (and it was the only program they’ve ever been to, as shortly after that, I moved to Ohio!) They smiled and clapped, but I knew they knew that it was a big fat failure. And I’m not just saying that to feel sorry for myself…my principal actually pulled me into his office to validate that it was bad, and to tell me it needed to get better (he gave me no suggestions, just to get better.)

I felt horrible. But I pulled myself up by the bootstraps and told myself I COULD do better.

For my next program, I had a theme (Caribbean music.) I tied it together with a storyline. It still wasn’t fantastic, but the kids seemed to enjoy it, and hey, my principal didn’t call me into his office!

Over time, I figured out how to handle the logistics (check out this free program checklist, which I still use!) During my Kodály training, I learned how to teach students to sing well, and I learned a TON of folk songs and dances to incorporate into programs. 

Lastly, I realized my passion for children’s literature, and began to weave books into my programs. Here are a few blog posts about programs based on children’s literature:

And here are a few of my favorite programs on TpT, which I created to be easy-to-use!

What I learned: Thinking through all of the logistics is important, and a theme or storyline helps to tie everything together.

#2: Trying to do too much in one lesson (on the day of an observation!)

Last year, I was supposed to be observed during third grade. I decided to show my assistant principal something fancy…differentiated centers. The idea was that students could choose which center to go to, but at some of the centers, there would be differentiated tasks. For example, if working on practicing re, at the instrument center, students at a level 1 would figure out how to play “Hot Cross Buns,” knowing that C= do, students at a level 2 would figure out “Closet Key,” and students at a level 3 would figure out “Let us chase the squirrel.” I gave a pre-test before the lesson to see where kids were with their melodic understanding, and gave them blue, green, or pink cards so they’d know which tasks to do at the differentiated centers.

The day of the observation came, and it was going beautifully. But then my assistant principal was called out of the room due to a situation, and didn’t get to come back during that lesson.

So she came back…on the day of a two-hour delay (when we would have shortened classes—30 minutes instead of 50) and on the day of a program…and with one of the more challenging classes at the school.

This time, it didn’t go beautifully.

It took too long for me to explain all of the centers, so by the time they got to the centers, there wasn’t too much time left (since we had 30 minutes instead of 50.) I had one student who was new to the school and wasn’t doing well with the change and was refusing to participate, and I had several students who were just plain rowdy and off-task.

At the end of the lesson, I felt like a failure…and I’d been observed the whole time! In retrospect, I realized that I should have either a.) gone with a different lesson, given the time difference, or b.) let students choose the level of difficulty at those tasks, instead of telling them where to go to.  I could have also taken out one of the centers, so that it was one less to explain (and one less to go to, given the time!)

Now, when I do differentiated centers, I do allow students to self-differentiate, and it feels much more relaxed! 

What I learned: Focus on student success when planning lessons, instead of trying to impress your administrator! Also, be willing to adapt the plan on the spot when you realize several factors have changed!

#3: Folk dance Failure

I typically feel pretty comfortable teaching folk dances…but last week, I failed.

I had already taught a simplified version of “Waves of Tory.” For the simplified version, students stand in a longways set. They walk in 4, walk out 4, then switch spots, then repeat. Then the top pair sashays down and sashays back up, then they peel the orange.

Simple! Until they try the real way, which looks like this:

Before I had them try out, I had them watch the video and compare and contrast the “real” way to the simplified way. This was a great discussion! 

In the following lesson, we tried it. I thought I knew exactly how to explain the dance. But then we started the “dip and dive”….and I realized I did not, in fact, understand how to explain it!

The fourth graders looked at me and shook their heads. They said they didn’t get it…and neither did I! But then a beautiful thing happened. We watched the video again and the kids figured it out! A few kids said they understood how to teach it, and I let them. Some of them failed, like me, but a couple figured it out. And then when they did it correctly, they were SO excited!

So that doesn’t exactly sound like a failure…but it was, at first. I should have known that I didn’t quite know how to explain it. I should have prefaced my teaching with a discussion about how some dances are really hard to teach and explain. It did end up being a success at the end, but in retrospect, I wish I had foreseen that it was not going to go the way I planned.

In the end, though, they were really proud of themselves!

What I learned: Know what's easy for you and what's not…and be willing to admit that!

I was inspired by this experience, and by a book I’m reading called “Hacking Project Based Learning: 10 Easy Steps to PBL and Inquiry in the Classroom,” by Ross Cooper and Erin Murphy. Although the book was all about PBL, they discussed ways to make kids comfortable with failure, and presented the idea of an “Epic Failure” bulletin board. I decided to do this in my classroom, so I could write about my experience, welcome kids and staff members to write about their failures, and make students comfortable with the fact that failure is okay! 

Here is my bulletin board…I'll be adding more to it soon!

I hope that this blog post has you thinking about ways in which you have failed, and how you can or how you already have turned those failures into successes!

Comment below with any failures you’ve had, and you have learned from them. Happy teaching!

2 Responses

  1. Them movement you the teacher is calling “sashay” is a dance movement called chasse which is a french word that means “to chase”. Chasse is pronounced shasay with the first a sound as a short vowel sound.

  2. Aileen, THANK YOU FOR YOUR HONESTY! I’m a second-year music teacher, who teaches K-6 in one day. I have had some huge challenges and what you wrote above resonates on every level. I’m teaching myself how to teach while I’m teaching, most of the time. BUT… I have found that bending with the wind on those crazy days is the way to go. Great advice and it’s so reassuring knowing the most experienced teachers have travelled the road many times before me. Thanks for your generosity. Ana, Sydney, Australia.

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