Thursday, March 24, 2016


Closure sticks have been another quick and successful conversational tool that I have incorporated into my classroom this year!  If you are looking for a closure tool to implement tomorrow, here it is!  Both the art teacher and myself have been using these this year.  The students are used to using them in both classes and get double the practice with their conversations due to our aligned language and planning.

With about two minutes remaining in class, have a student pull a closure stick out of a can (bag, your hand, anything!). Next, add your own creative flow....

*Have the students do a  quick turn and talk with a partner
*Have the student who pulled choose someone to answer    
*Have the student who chose the stick answer....etc.

Closure sticks have been a powerful accountability tool for myself in making sure that I put a nice bow on my already solid lesson plan.  I can sometimes get caught up in my plans and I sacrifice a 2 minute closure to keep going with what I am in the middle of with the students.  Closure sticks have opened my eyes to what students are actually taking away from my lesson.  They are also allowing one more way for students to be conversational with their learning.  I have seen lightbulbs go off when a student is able to explain a concept or trick to another student in "kid language."  I want my kids to be empowered to talk about what they are learning about as many chances as possible in a safe environment.  As always, I implement these conversational tools in quick ways so that I am not taking time away from creating, performing, experiencing, composing, singing, moving, and the countless other things we do in music class.  

Don't limit yourself to these....put your own creative spin on this template! 
  • Why are we doing this? (Our concept)
  • Sweety, what did you do in music class today? (My in the voice of a mom or grandma)
  • Summarize 3 main ideas/take aways from today's class.
  • How can you use our music concept outside of school?
  • What music element or principle best describes your composition?  Why? (Feel free to change composition to any other appropriate element from the class ex: performance, drumming, etc)
  • One connection that I have to our music concept today is ________?
  • I still want to learn more about _______ because_______.
  • What was the best part of today's class? Why?
  • The part I like most about my composition is _______ because ________.  (Feel free to change composition to any other appropriate element from the class ex: performance, drumming, etc)
  • Rate your understanding from today's music concept.  (See picture from above for example)
  • One struggle I had today was ___________.
  • Of all the work I have completed today, I am most proud of __________ because _________.
  • The one thing I would change about my composition is __________ because _________.  (Feel free to change composition to any other appropriate element from the class ex: performance, drumming, etc)
Thank you so much for reading!  Please feel free to post questions or comments below!


Saturday, January 23, 2016

Depth of Knowledge

Here is one of my FAVORITE quick tools for 2015-2016.  Music teachers have such a unique opportunity for creative and extended thinking (higher levels of depth of knowledge) in our classrooms.  We know it, but do the kids know it?  Here's how I have been successfully empowering my students with this knowledge! Get ready to watch them take charge of their learning and WANT to go further with a few brain cartoons and information that just MAKES SENSE TO THEM!

DOK 1: Couch Brain: LABELING our "IT" ("IT"=Our concept)
      *Label (think labeling rhythmic and melodic symbols), memorize, match, define, tell, identify, etc

DOK 2: Walking Brain: APPLYING our "IT"("IT"=Our concept)
      *Construct (think constructing a four beat measure!), graph, compare, etc.

DOK 3: Sweating Brain: STRATEGIC THINKING with our "IT"("IT"=Our concept)
      *Revise with strategic thinking (think editing a composition or finding specific strategies to improve performance technique), compare, explain in terms of concepts, differentiate, etc

DOK 4: Brain Burpees: EXTENDED THINKING with our "IT"("IT"=Our concept)
      *Design (designing a composition from a strategic point of view with rhythms, melodies, and harmonies that comes together to tell a creative story), prove, create, synthesize, connect to the outside world

The brain pictures located above the DOK visual have changed the game in my room!  It was such a simple "carrot" to get their attention so they would investigate the poster further.

HOW DO I IMPLEMENT THIS IN MY ROOM?:  (As with all my tools that I share on my blog, I make sure that this is implemented quickly so that I don't take time away from movement, singing, and creating joyful music.  These strategies are used to enhance what I'm already doing and not shifted to be the main point.)

I have done a lot of modeling which has helped to avoid students making random guesses.  When they point out or make a prediction as to what an activity is or was, they know to put quality thought into it (give evidence to support their reasoning), rather than make a random guess.  Wrong answers (with solid thought) have lead to GREAT discussions!   I have watched healthy debates in the classrooms and students empowered to state their opinion in a safe environment!  Another benefit to this list is that the students are encouraged to see how far we are pushing our brains.  They want to have more tally marks at DOK 3 and DOK 4.

Note: My students know that there is NOTHING wrong with DOK 1.  We need foundational skills to get to higher levels of learning and questioning!  It's when we find large quantities of tally marks at DOK 1 only that we have something visual to remind us that we haven't been pushing our brains as far as they can go.  It also allows me as an educator to see if I am pushing my students' thinking as far as it can go! ACCOUNTABILITY! 

WHY AM I DOING THIS?:  Implementing these strategies in my classroom has pushed me as an educator.  It has really shown me that I can push my lesson plans to the next level to make sure that I am infusing purposeful higher level questioning into everything I am doing.  It has taught me that simply having students decode and perform rhythmic patterns isn't a high level of DOK.  This pushed me to look for deeper ways that my students can explore our concepts.  It has also given me more talking points to utilize in discussions outside the music classroom regarding what we are doing.  Talk about great advocacy for our music program!  

I have seen a shift in motivation in my classroom.  We use the language that students are competing against themselves to push their brain as far as it can go.  They can choose to have a "sleeping brain" all day long, but other brains that are constantly "working out" are going to be able to run further and have far more stamina (think innovation, Apple Watches, cures for diseases, the great new novel.....I know this might seem extreme, but I BELIEVE that this creative thinking starts with me at the elementary level!).  This analogy has gotten several of my students' brains "off the couch" and the results are showing up in their work, questioning, opinions, and general discussions.  I keep hearing from people in the general public that we are losing creative thinkers in society ....CHALLENGE ACCEPTED!  

I have seen students wanting to push their brains to higher levels of DOK through this new understanding on a daily basis.  Students are being exposed to the fact that their brains are capable of so much more (insert educational buzz word rigor here.....)!  Students are understanding that just because you label a rhythmic symbol, their brains are capable of so much more exploration and independent suggestions, strategies, and application.

ENCOURAGING SURPRISES:  Several other teachers at our school have since started implementing these strategies into their classrooms too!  The students already know the process, now they just have to transfer it into another classroom/subject area.  Our 2nd grade teacher has commented that the students are pointing out what level DOK they are reaching throughout the day even without the visual aid.  It's working! 

Thank you so much for reading!  Feel free to post comments and questions below!


Friday, January 15, 2016


This reaction/warm up activity has brought a quick burst of creativity, ear training, and JOY to my classroom!  As always, try adding your own twist/characters/verbal cues and sequences into your classroom. 

I work hard to have a climate of creativity and safety in my room in order to incorporate non-traditional themed reaction activities to achieve learning targets in my room.  I love watching ear training skills improving on a daily basis using these types of activities.  I wish someone had done these with me when I was their age! 


Model and demonstrate Star Wars characters to the students (allow students to add creative suggestions to take ownership of the activity).   Utilize pitches on the piano while demonstrating each character so that the students are attaching the character with the specific pitch.  At first, you will need to guide the students through the pitches and characters.  Aim for slowly starting to back away and let the piano and pitches do the leading.  On day one you may want to utilize only ascending and descending pitches.  On following days, challenge the students with other intervals and melodic lines.  Trust your process of what you already use and what melodic intervals are best for your students in your room and your methodology.

DO: BB-8: Students curl up in a ball for character BB8

RE: REY: Students crouch down in a lunging pose with hands propped up for RE hand sign position to imitate the character Rey from Star Wars.  I remind students that RE has lots of tension because it wants to go back “home” to DO.  Their position shouldn’t hurt but their bodies should feel tension from wanting to go back to DO.

MI:  DARTH MAUL:  Students crouch down with arms and hands out flat (similar to MI hand sign position) and act as if their hand extensions are light sabers. (Students should be slightly higher than RE)

SO: C3PO: Students stand upright with arms in SO hand sign position while imitating C3PO.  Take this one further by adding a verbal cue of “oh my” or any similar phrase that C3PO would say.  (Note, this verbal cue is meant to be a reaction and not a distraction, make sure the students are prepped to give a quick and animated verbal cue with their motions)

LA: CHEWBACCA: Students raise arms into LA hand sign position and imitate Chewbacca.  Get ready for JOY!

  • Utilize this activity with diatonic scales and intervals and add more characters.
  • Break students into small groups.  Have them come up with their own theme and characters and have them try this reaction activity with their own creations.

VERSION 1: I immediately transfer this activity to a vertical pitch stack on my white board with students echoing patterns to aid my visual learners

VERSION 2: : Have students echo something different than what you sing.  Take it slow and stick to one combination at a time for greater student success and comprehension.

  • Teacher sings solfege, students echo numbers.  
  • Teacher sings numbers, students echo solfege.
  • Teacher sings note names, students echo solfege.  
  • Teacher sings solfege, students echo note names.

    VERSION 3: Try kicking this activity up to a higher DOK by switching your student/teacher echo (similar to version 2 but with a quicker pace).  Consistently switch versions (solfege-numbers, note names-numbers, etc) when singing patterns to students.  Get ready to watch their brains sweat and total student engagement!

STUDENT LEADERSHIP:  Pick a Han Solo or Princess Leia to lead echo patterns for the class.

JAM SESSION: I then transfer students to either recorders, Orff instruments, or both for some improvisation using the C pentatonic scale (don’t forget to transfer this knowledge to other pentatonic scales….higher DOK….on future days!).  I lead students using the guitar to create a “jam session” climate.  A quick reminder for students (SUCCESS CRITERIA): Starting and ending on Home Tone (DO), next door neighbors (steps and skips), and have a plan (keep it simple and show that you are not just wasting your time by hitting random notes), and as always add ARTISTRY/TELL YOUR STORY THROUGH SOUND!

COMPOSER'S CORNER:  My students transfer this knowledge to written compositions in their portfolios.  More to come on their compositions in a later post! 

As always, feel free to leave questions and comments below or send them to

May the force be with you!

Holly Baier 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Year's Growth: Music Portfolios in the General Music Classroom

Portfolios: I am using portfolios in grades 2-6 this year.  This tool has absolutely enhanced what I'm already doing in my teaching.

Nuts and Bolts: The portfolios are actually art portfolios (used in art classrooms throughout the district) purchased and made from the district print shop.  The portfolios have spiral bindings, plenty of blank pages, and were a dollar and change each.  I purchased roller carts from IKEA as well as flower pots turned pencil/glue stick holders (IKEA finds as well) for storage.  I utilize portfolios anywhere from 3-10 minutes depending on the activity.

Getting Started:  Student captains have made sure that valuable musical minutes are not wasted.  Try pencil captains (captains grab a pencil holder and down the row it goes!).  We stress "no shopping" and "take one, pass the rest" from day one to ensure time is not wasted! I also have a "stacker" (cue super hero music) in each class that is in charge of passing out each row's stack of portfolios as well as placing the portfolios back in the cases with spiral spines alternating for each row in the stack.  This makes passing out portfolios effortless during each class.  We are all about saving time in our room!  Students also know that when we pass portfolios in at the end of an activity, we make sure that the students put their book on top of the book they receive so that next time, we can just pass them and they are magically in the correct order!

The Meat and Potatoes: What's inside?  The portfolios forced me as an educator to re-examine my planning from a year's perspective.  The portfolio is not meant to be busy work or to simply please an administrator with having my students write, write, and write some more in my room.  Here are three examples of what I have been using regularly:
  • Learning target:  This acts as a way to begin a new section of their portfolio.  During trimester one, the students are guided through this process.  We copy the learning target from the board and box/circle/underline any buzz words (vocab/important/key words).  I know that copying is DOK 1, but this guided work and modeling has set us up for huge success during trimester two.  During trimester two, students write learning targets in their own words.  They use my version of the learning target to help with spelling and to make sure that their version is different.  
  • Thinking Maps: This has been an eye opening and valid part of our portfolios.  I have seen this grow from a DOK 1 (identify and label parts) activity, to an outlet for creative thinking in my classroom.  Students are encouraged to share their individual thinking (words, pictures, scenarios) while creating various maps.  I have been pleasantly surprised by this QUICK and useful resource in my room.  Try having students describe rhythmic or melodic symbols. 
  • Compositions: This has been one of my favorite portions of the portfolios.  I have seen it grown from a DOK 2 activity (putting our "it" (aka learning target) into action) to a DOK 3 activity.  Not only are the students putting their "it" into action by constructing a "four/eight/twelve/sixteen beat composition" but they are showing a strategic plan and explaining why as an artist they are choosing particular durations for their composition to best TELL THEIR STORY!  If they leave my room only knowing how "beats and sounds" can fit in a measure, I have failed to produce artists and creative thinkers.  Rhythmic and melodic symbols should be a vehicle for telling a story and expressing feelings and not simply a mathematical left brain exercise.  I will show various examples of how I structure this in a future blogpost.  

Portfolio Night and The Why (Another motivating factor):  Inspired by Daniel Pink's book Drive, I wanted the students to have another intrinsic motivator to take pride in their work.    The art teacher and I are hosting a Portfolio Night for parents at the end of the year.  The night will include students guiding their parents through a year's worth of growth through their portfolios.  This is the first year we are trying this and I cannot wait to see it carried out.  Look for a follow up post at the end of the school year to see how the event turns out! 

There are so many more details regarding portfolios that I have left out of this post!  In a nutshell, try to make them:
  • Purposeful: Students will know if it is simply busy work
  • Creative: Allow students to put their own spin on their work
  • Short: Keep time in mind when planning portfolio activities!  My focus has always been to have students move/sing/play as much as possible when they are in my room, but I am finding that having this consistent written outlet to be a powerful way to enhance what they are already doing.
  • End Goal: Have a year's worth of growth in mind when designing what you want in your student's portfolios.  What's your bigger picture?  Where do you want your students to be by the end of the year.  Include dates for each entry so students can actually look back and see growth! 
  • TIME/TIME/TIME: Use student captains as much as possible and figure out simple management systems so that these portfolios do not take time away from movement/singing/playing in the classroom.
  • DOK: Examine what you are putting into your portfolios and if most of the activities seem to be labeling and identifying (DOK 1), try to see if you can push activities to a higher DOK by adding elements of strategic and extended thinking.  
Questions/Comments? Share below or email at

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Feedback and guiding my students to be conversational with their learning

This year I have spent time reflecting on the fact that while my students tend to be phenomenal performers, the moment they are asked to verbalize what they are doing......crickets.....

Challenge Accepted!  

My students need to be advocates of their learning and their hard work.  I have enhanced what I am already doing in the classroom to ensure that they can have an intelligent conversation about their projects and performances without taking time away from the joy of creativity and music making.  

I have found that dedicating a minute here and a minute there to encourage my students to verbalize what they are doing is paying off.  The key has been the consistent use of simple sentence stems that can be transferred easily from movement, vocal, rhythmic and melodic reading, and instrumental activities.

Here is one tool that has been a gem in my classroom!  

Beginning polyrhythmic reading activity: Blue/Left Pat, Red/Right Pat.  Students perform rhythm from board (See visual above).  One student is chosen before (or after to keep them on their toes) to be the "funky feedbacker."  Another student is chosen to be the "feedback checker" (I don't have a catchy title for this job yet....)

The funky feedbacker's job is to simply stick to the sentence stems (from the visual), be very specific (use evidence to support their observation), and be concise (straight and to the point with a challenge of avoiding the use of "likes" "ums" and "you knows").

The feedback checker could easily answer their checklist of the funky feedbacker's job with yes or no answers.  This does not show active listening skills and proves nothing!  We take it a step further by encouraging them to be conversational and prove their own feedback of the person giving feedback!  They should:
  • Use complete sentences and site from the "text" (Hannah used specific details when she said.....)
    • The key phrase that shows active listening skills is the phrase when she/he said.  I have noticed a HUGE difference in engaging conversations within my classroom.  The students are doing this in their homeroom classrooms by using paper clips, post it notes, and highlighters when reading texts while supporting their answers with evidence, so why not transfer it to my room too?!
  • The fourth and final question is whether or not the feedbacker was able to complete the task on their own without assistance.  We take this one further by adding a challenge or action plan from one student to another.
    • Hannah was able to complete this on her own and I want to challenge her to use even more detail in her next turn.  
    • The challenge is revolving around their feedback and not their performance.  While introducing this new system in my classes, I noticed that some students default to giving performance challenges/feedback, but they are reminded to give a challenge for the student's actual feedback.  Do they want to hear more details, hear specific note names, specific measures, etc?  
      • I remind students that the challenge/action plan is coming from a place of "we are excited about what you said and want even more!"  I refer to scenarios of dessert...when it's good, you want more!  This steers the students in a direction of respect and positive communication skills, rather than feeling like they are being criticized for not doing enough.  It's all in the delivery.
Remind students that observations and feedback from an individual can be transferred to anyone and can help us all grow to become more successful musicians.  

We have gone through several changes in my building and district revolving around feedback and observations.  I have worked very hard over the years to create a climate of respect and safety in my room.  It has taken time, trust, and modeling to create a culture where students are comfortable receiving and giving feedback, critiques, and stating and receiving opinions without the default reaction of anger, sadness, and the general feeling of "I'm being picked on" or "I'm not good enough so I don't care anymore."  I have learned a lot from watching teachers receiving feedback and have want to grow from mistakes made in my work environment and the uncomfortable situations that can be created if the climate is not laid out correctly.  

Friday, March 27, 2015

Thinking Maps

I've been incorporating Thinking Maps in whole class, small group, and individual settings in my classroom this year.  Incorporating various maps in quick and purposeful times can be woven into any concept.  

Why I'm Doing It:

  • I've seen lightbulb moments when students have a chance to describe meanings to concepts in multiple ways.
  • They can be quick and purposeful
  • They can be solo or collaborative
  • They do not take away from my movement, instrumental, creation, vocal, and other learning areas in my classroom.  I have found that they enhance these activities by allowing students to dig deeper into their learning and understanding of concepts.  
Bubble maps were created for our grade level rhythmic units.
They are displayed throughout the room for reminders throughout the year

Bubble maps were created to enhance our harmony unit to describe I, IV, V, and vi chords.
Various colors were used for different classes.
This activity was done after various movement, reaction, and instrumental activities.
Brainstorming from the harmony unit bubble maps was inputted into
Tagxedo for one more creative way to display our ideas.  
Thinking Maps

Do you utilize various thinking maps in your classroom?  I'd love to hear your ideas at or feel free to share below!

Friday, September 28, 2012

Welcome Back!

Welcome Back!

I hope everyone out there tried to take some time this summer to clear their head, recharge their batteries, and get pumped for a new year of inspiring kiddos!  I wanted to share a source of continuing education that I can't seem to stop going to on my IPad.

Pinterest is a great source for the most mouthwatering recipes, new ways to assemble an outfit with the latest style trends, and instructions on how to create cheaper cleaning products using commonly found kitchen items, but there are   other gems to be found in this oh so addicting site.

I have been building an endless web of video segments, web resources, and enough curriculum maps to bring out my inner continuing education nerd!  The ability to access resources from teachers of all different methodologies from across the country without spending a dime or a Saturday at a workshop is something that I've found to be invaluable.  I challenge teachers to grab a cup of tea, sign up for an account, friend other teachers, start pinning and then start exploring and implementing these new ideas in their classrooms!  Have you found a great pin that worked wonders in your classroom?  Email me: