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