Thursday, October 8, 2015

Unchanging Standards in every Middle School Classroom

In my grade book today, I posted the assignment description that is list below.  I did it because, in my district and in turn at my school, there is a movement toward not holding children accountable for missing deadlines for due dates.  

I disagree with that approach, and I wanted to make it clear.  

I am absolutely in agreement that every effort should be made to help the middle school student realize that if they make some effort at some point to meet a deadline, they will get some credit for that. However, dismissing the importance of meeting a deadline is not something that I support. 

So, I wrote this:

Students were required to turn in their chorus shirt sizes and $20 for the shirt or a request for sponsorship.  They had four days to meet the deadline to receive 100%.  If they were unable to afford the shirt, they were told repeatedly that we can sponsor them, but they still had to turn in their shirt sizes like everyone else along with a note requesting sponsorship so that we could order them the proper sized shirt.  Reminders were sent to parents and students via "Remind" and via my email list on which I have a majority of parents in my program.  All were invited to participate in "remind" and the email list via the syllabus.  Most signed up.  Some do not, but I know that every effort was made on my part to help the child succeed by requesting parents to read and sign the syllabus. Students who are using the shirt of an older sibling were told they must still turn in a note telling us that information in order to get a 100.  This was due by 9 AM Friday.  Parents were here daily to collect $, shirt sizes  and sponsorship notes starting Tuesday.  We collected two more days passed the due date as well.  Cash or money order were the acceptable forms of payment, and of course sponsorship notices were encouraged for those in need.  

Every effort was made.

As teachers, most reasonable people would agree that it is important to teach the standards of responsibility and accountability.  This is a standard that does not ebb and change with the educational fads of the moment, and is one that will serve children well for a lifetime.  When they realize that NOT meeting a deadline is important, they are more likely to start meeting deadlines, and as a result, they are more likely to succeed in their endeavors.   When one misses a deadline for a bill payment, one is held accountable.  We are most often given a second chance with a penalty.  And if we don't pay the bill, we ultimately lose access to the service.  

I follow a similar philosophy with my students, and it is one of the most important reasons my program is as successful as it is. 

My 333 students are always given a second and third chance about which I remind them often.  It is also up to the parents to help them seek it.   I am their teacher, but I am not their parent.  My approach to quizzes is the same.  When a child fails, I give them chances to raise their grades by coming to me for tutoring during homeroom time.  No special transportation is required because the children are already here at that time.  Most will seize the moment.  However, some will not.  It is the nature of human beings, but I always want to feel 100% that I've worked to reach them all, so that is what I do.   

People change when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change.  

This applies to children as well as adults.  

Thank you for your support in helping our children succeed by meeting the unchanging standard of responsibility and accountability.

Creator of S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program for Beginners!
My YouTube Channel with teaching tips and teaching examples for the middle school chorus teacher.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Why I Participate in Spirit Week - Musical Interpretation

At the middle school where I teach, the week of September 28-October 2 was spirit week.

Some teachers hate it.  They feel it can be disruptive to the learning environment.

I feel just the opposite.  

I think it enhances the learning environment.

...and this is coming from a choir teacher whose in the final stages of preparing his 333 choral students for their fall concert is October 7th.  In the picture below, we are working on our flashlight choreography for Dweller of the Cave by Teresa Jennings.

I took that picture while wearing these.

They walked into the room on a very gloomy Monday, and that is how I looked on "Shades" day.  

They can't help but smile...

It literally brings their spirits to life...their little hearts awaken.

And on "Neon Day", I certainly didn't mind looking foolish.

I shouldn't be set loose inside "Party City" on the Sunday before Spirit Week.  :-)

It seemed appropriate to use Spirit week as a time to work on Interpretation in the songs they are singing for their concerts.

On Monday, we talked about the deeper meaning of the songs.  I let them tell me what mood they thought they should convey, and I let it get as silly or as deep as it needed to get...guiding them when necessary.  I told them I wanted them to sing from the heart and to try to let go on the technical imperfections.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, we worked on the technical aspects of Interpretation.  ...Perfecting the art of performing a crescendo without accidentally going sharp or causing the tone quality to suffer, for example.  Those are not easy things for middle school beginners.   We learned about how important it was to be technically strong in order to deliver a truly artistic performance that is sung from the heart.

...and on "Pink Day" while teaching the lesson, I was wearing this.

I asked them if it was difficult to take me seriously while I was teaching.  They laughed and nodded yes.

Laughter is such an awesome thing to hear in a middle school classroom.   Sharing laughter with them helps us bond.  It helps them want to work with you, and it makes your job fun!

...And let's face it...if they want to make our lives miserable, they can!   I think we've all been there.  

Participating in spirit week keeps my own spirit awake. 

It's so easy to get caught up in the teaching only the technical aspects of music.   As middle school choral music educators, we have to stay connected to the incredible power of a truly artistically moving performance given by our students, and we have to work to figure out every way we can do get it out of them.

...Because it's magical.

Check out my blog!
Creator of S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program for Beginners.
My YouTube Channel with teaching tips and teaching examples.

Monday, September 28, 2015

The TPT Milestone Giveaways Continue at Music in the Middle With Mr D! S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program for Beginners!

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Missed the giveaway from September 27-28?  No worries!  I want the TPT milestone celebration to continue!  

I'm giving away another Complete S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Bundle for Beginners this week!  I'll announce the winner on the morning of October 4.  

You can enter from 12:01 AM September 29 until 11:59 PM on October 3.  Here is the link!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Also, Lesson 1 in the Series remains free all week!  Tell all of your peers so they can download it and get a taste of what S-Cubed is all about...teaching the true beginner in the group setting...and having a great time doing it!

If you are ready to purchase the program, it's marked down from $199 to $149 on September 29 and 30th only. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

My TPT Milestone Celebration means Freebies and Discounts! S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program for Beginners

TPT recently notified me that I have reached a sales milestone for the website, and we are going to celebrate with some giveaways and a sale!

I am honored and humbled that so many teachers have purchased S-Cubed products from my store, and I am even more thrilled that it seems to be helping so many teachers in their classrooms.  Just yesterday, I got this feedback, and it made my day.

I need your help in spreading the word about these giveaways and sales to teachers of middle school beginners who haven't found this program yet!  Please share, tag and forward any and all information about the upcoming events to celebrate the Milestone!  If they've never heard of the program, the following post is a good place to start:  About my sight singing program for middle school beginners.

More about the festivities...  September 27-October 3


1)  Lesson 1 from the S-Cubed Program will be free all week long!  Click here to get it!  It's normally $30.  This is a great time to get a taste of the philosophy and approach of this program that is helping middle school teachers all over the world.

#2:  The Giveaway!  9/27-9/28.  Enter at the bottom of this blog in the Rafflecopter.  The winner will be announced right here on the morning of 9/29.

#3:  The SALE!   The Complete S-Cubed Sight Singing Bundle will be $150 on September 29-30 only!  Normally, it's $199.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Check out my blog!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

So...You're replacing a legendary choir teacher....

If you are about to face a group of middle school or high school chorus students in the upcoming school year who have been taught by a teacher they absolutely adored, you may be feeling like you've just been hired to replace 

It is so scary.  

Can you imagine?!?

In my very first job, I was hired to replace a beloved teacher, and I remember a student saying out loud in class one day while I was teaching (bombing)... "You need to call Ms. Yokley up and ask her how to do this."

Ok...In that single moment, after having just completed 6 straight years of higher education, including obtaining a masters degree, I knew lots about theory, music history and art song, but I had no idea how to actually teach middle school children, and I've just replaced a legend. 


Whether it is your first year or your twenty-first year teaching, it is hard to replace a legend.  

In this post, I want to share what I learned during the two times I replaced legends in the choral classroom.

Here they are:

1)  If possible, form a relationship with the teacher you are replacing. 

Schedule a meeting with the teacher before you take over the program.  Ask questions about the program, the children, the administration, the counselors, the parents and any other question you can think of.

Ask the teacher if it is ok to be in touch during the school year to ask more questions via text, email or phone call.  You are likely to have many questions once the year gets going that you could not have anticipated, so having continued contact with the teacher you replaced is very helpful.

The children often find out that you and the former teacher have been in touch, and that can really help.  It means that you value what went on before you came, and that is very important in terms of helping them accept you in this new position.

2)  Either formally or informally, as early in the year as possible, sit down with key upperclassmen to ask questions about what they've enjoyed about their time in chorus under the previous leadership.

Listen.  Learn.  

It's about respecting what went on before you arrived and showing your respect by taking the time to learn about their experience.  

I've learned so much from the two legends that I replaced.  By following suggestions #1 and #2, I learned new ways to do things, new songs to teach, new classroom management ideas and so much more.  

3)  Repeat #2 with key parents.  

Parents are the backbone of my program.  I couldn't teach my 300+ children without their support and help.  Show that you value them by taking the time to meet and listen early in the year.

4)  Respect tradition.

Some of the traditions the community has may seem completely silly to you, but in your first year there, respect as many of those traditions as you can while maintaining true to yourself and your own future vision for the program.  It can be quite a delicate balancing act.  Eventually, you will create your own traditions, but if you walk in and refuse to honor the most important ones, you will lose support.  

5)  Be humble and don't take anything personally.  

You are going to meet resistance because you are not 
Mr. or Ms. _________.  You can't change it, so just accept it during that first year.   

Your rehearsal techniques will not be the same.  They may rebel against your new ideas.  Don't take it personally.  Call the teacher you replaced and see if you can use one of her ideas instead of the one you tried today that bombed!  

6)  The students in the lowest grade level you teach are yours.  

They have no experience with the previous teacher.  While some of them may have had siblings who were taught by the previous teacher, essentially, they are yours.  Word of mouth is not the same as true experience.  The youngest students who never had the previous teacher are more pliable.  You can treat them as yours from day 1.  Enjoy your time with them because, at times, you will be very frustrated with the older children who question you, your techniques and your vision.

7)  Believe in yourself and in your long-term vision.

With each year that passes, the program becomes yours.  

When you are replacing a legend within a school community, it is going to be difficult, and there is no way around it. Parents, and even faculty and administration may also challenge your ideas. You may lose some students.  You may get phone calls.  

It is going to take time.  Be patient.  You will build your own legacy in time.

The second time I replaced a legend, I had been teaching for a long time, so it was quite difficult for me when I met resistance.  Each time, I took a deep breath, and I listened with respect.  I asked questions.  I made sure that I did not reveal what I was thinking...(i.e....."I know what I'm doing!!!  Just let me do it!").  

...And in doing so, I was able to slowly gain the support of the people with the biggest concerns.  

They don't care what you've done before.  It means very little to them in their daily experience with you as their current teacher. Mostly, they care about what you are about to do now.

Remember:  They just want the program to be great!  We should be thrilled they care enough to speak up!

Hope that helps some of you who are facing what feels daunting at the moment!  You'll be fine.  Hang in there!

Sight Singing stuff....In the next week, I will start releasing S-Cubed Level 2.  

Here are two videos of my 8th graders at their adjudication last spring.  They'd just completed Level 2 of the S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program for Beginners.

From the very first day of school with my middle school choral students, I begin using S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program for Beginners.   They love the game Forbidden Pattern, so it is a great way to get them hooked so they can't wait to come back to your class the next day!

When I created S-Cubed, I did it with the beginning teacher in mind, but I have been thrilled to learn that teachers of all levels and all backgrounds are finding the program helpful in their classrooms!  Some say that it's rejuvenated their daily routines, and others say it's helped them survive the transition from teaching band to teaching chorus.  Whatever the reason, I am very happy when I hear that it's helping folks!  It makes all of the work worthwhile!

Enjoy the rest of your summer!  I don't know about you, but I am going to squeeze out every last drop so I am ready when those eager middle school children walk through my door on the first day!

Monday, July 20, 2015

Puppies and Middle School Children...Some Classroom Management for Back to School!

During summer, I like to reflect on the previous school year and plan for the next one.  I reflect on what worked and what I'd like to do better.  I think about why I do things the way I do them, and how I can tweak and improve my work to make it more effective for my students.

...And somehow, I find ways to take life events and daily occurrences and pull out the lessons that might help me manage my middle school choral classroom better.

Sometimes, the comparisons are ridiculous. 


Puppies and Middle School Classroom Management.  

In February, I unexpectedly lost this incredibly beautiful and sweet doggie, Maxie.

I will never forget him.  He was 11 years old.  Our times together were so very memorable and fun.  Here are some of the things I treasure most about that little boy:  

He was hungry.  He kept our floors perfectly clean because he licked up every morsel of food.  He loved to chase squirrels.  He loved feeling the sun on his back.  He was a great supervisor of laundry duty.

Certainly, dogs go to heaven.  If they don't, I don't know who would.

So, I mourned.  Deeply.  His sudden loss shook me to my core.

I knew that, at my age (30, of course....not), I wasn't going to wait too long for puppy love, but I knew I couldn't get one immediately. It would be irresponsible because from March to May, my world at school with my students is insane as I'm sure most of you can relate.  During that time, we have adjudicated festivals with all 300 choir members and our annual full scale musical revue happens in early May.  

So, reluctantly, I waited.  

The weekend after my spring musical revue, I drove to Waleska, GA, and I met this little boy.  

This is Beaux.


I'm probably biased, but he's got to be the cutest puppy ever.

Then, it gets real...

The peeing.  The pooping.  The shoe-chewing.   The biting.  The out of control jumping.  The barking.  ...And on and on.

...And then you start thinking "What have I done?  Am I ready for this?"  

It's similar to the feeling we get at about the third or fourth week of school after the "honeymoon" period has ended with our middle school children.  

That's when the rubber meets the road.  That's when our words no longer matter and it becomes about what we DO.  

Before I go any further, I want to write two disclaimers:
#1:  I am not a dog trainer.  I am making it up as I go just like I did my first year of teaching!  Thank goodness for "google".
#2:  Middle School children are not puppies...obviously!  :-) is raising a puppy similar to running a middle school classroom?!

#1)  Both puppies and middle school students need lots of 
Praise, Reward and Positive Recognition.

Where I grew up, when a puppy had an accident in your house, you were supposed to yell at him and then rub his nose in it. 


In my early years of teaching, I remember people telling me "Don't Smile Before Christmas."  

Well, both of those things sound awful to me.   

Whose bright ideas are these and why are they training puppies or teaching middle school?  Would YOU feel good about learning from somehow who rubbed your nose in poop or someone who is frowning every time you enter the classroom?

Right now, with my new puppy, I'm taking him outside several times per day.  When he pee-pees or poops outside, we have a party!  I have a treat ready in my pocket to give to him immediately upon the finishing of the deed.  After a few weeks of pee-pee and poop parties, my little puppy has now gone three days in a row with no accidents inside the house!   In fact, two times, he barked at the door to let me know it was time to take him out!  He's getting it!!  

Puppies naturally want to please, and so do our middle school children...unless we are mean to them, disrespectful to them or don't listen to them. 

Are puppies and middle school children full of energy?  Yes.  Do they need play?  Yes.  Do they do bad things sometimes?  Yes.

The question is how we respond to it.

I learned through many failures during my early years of teaching that positive reinforcement matters.  When I started teaching, I looked 14 years old, so I thought I had to be mean.  They hated me, and they made my life miserable until I figured it out.

When I catch my middle school children doing the right thing, I praise publicly.  Sometimes, I reward them by giving them a sticker.  After receiving three stickers, they get a Starburst.    

It doesn't matter how you praise, but it's important to do it.

It is so important for us, as teachers, to brainstorm about all of the ways we can publicly recognize and reward positive behaviors in our children often.  

#2:  Puppies and Middle School Children need Structure

You come home after a long day of teaching.  You are very excited to greet your puppy.  What do you find?  ...Shredded pieces of toilet paper, piles of poop and pee pee to clean up and chewed up shoes.  

No fun.  

You are angry and  frustrated.  Why doesn't he know better?!

Well...because we haven't set him up for success with clear boundaries and structure.

And it isn't enough to state the rules and procedures.  You have to practice them daily.

Puppies and middle school children feel your anger and frustration when they haven't pleased you, and they respond to it.   Your relationship with them will be impacted.  That's why it is best to set them up for success by providing daily rituals and routines.  

Puppies and middle school children thrive on it.

When I leave the house or when I can't watch him closely, he goes into his crate.  I never give him free reign to roam through the house because if I do, he is going to do something bad.  I'll be upset, and he will feel it.   

When he is out of the kennel, he needs structure too.  We have done our best to set him up for success by always keeping him in our sight when he is out of his crate.  We've placed barriers at open doorways to keep him close enough that we can hear him and monitor his behavior.  By being able to monitor, we can reward the good behaviors and gently correct ones we don't like when they happen.    

Does it take time to teach structure?  Absolutely...but the long-term rewards are immense.   

How do you want your students to come into your room?  Do you want them to wait at the door until you open it?  Or do they get to come in when they want?   What is the first thing you expect them to do when they sit down?  What should they bring to class each day?  How will you dismiss your children at the end of class?  Will you dismiss by rows?  What will they do with their chorus folders?  (Click the link to see a previous blog post on dealing with folders.)

These are just a few things we have to teach in the first few days.  

Our children don't know what we want unless we show them.  Our children and our puppies are not mind-readers.  They need us to patiently guide them.  

I begin teaching structure on the very first day of school.  Two years ago, I created this lesson to help teachers prepare for the first day of school.
In the power point, I've shared ideas for a game to help teachers begin forming positive relationships with their students, a copy of my syllabus, and ideas for setting up your classroom on and before the first day of school.  

#3  Puppies and Middle School Children need FUN, brief effective learning sessions.

I've been teaching Beaux how to "sit" and "stay" as well as a few other tricks.  

I get out the treats, we head to the living room, and we start the training session.  He loves the treats, and he cannot WAIT to figure out how to earn one. 

After about 5 minutes, the little boy is done.  He exhibits all the signs of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).  He starts scratching or looking at the bird that just flew by the window.

The truth is that it doesn't matter whether a child has ADD or not.   Nobody wants to sit in a non-interactive, unchanging session of any kind for very long.  We get bored, and we mentally check out. 

Sometimes, my puppy just needs to run.  Sometimes, middle school children need to move.  They give us the signals!  My puppy starts growling and jumping at my feet!  My middle school children start looking at the clock.  It's up to us to learn to recognize the signals and change up the activity or the manner in which we are presenting it so we can create a more enjoyable learning experience for our students.

We have to avoid lecturing the life force out of our children.     

In a 50 minute class period, I have found that using several 10-15 minute learning sessions works well for me.  I like to think of these critical points as I prepare and present my lessons:

1)  I want to have a specific achievable arc of learning.
2)  I want to use effective and varied kinesthetic, aural and visual techniques for teaching the particular learning goals of the day. 
3)  I want at least one moment of laughter and fun!  More if possible!

Otherwise, they check out...just like my little Beaux.

In addition to the teaching ideas for the first day of school that I've shared in "Back to School! What do you MEAN I Can't Smile Before Christmas?!?", I use the game, Forbidden Pattern, with my students on the first day.  This video of the game was taken on the very first day of school with my sixth graders in 2013.

This particular game helps them learn solfege and have a good time doing it!  Forbidden Pattern is Lesson 1 in the S-Cubed series, and it reflects the philosophical and technical basis of the S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program for Beginners.  It's fun, it's short and effective, and you get to use your special personality traits with your students while building your relationship with them...all while they learn!

Puppies are such a delight.  They are silly.  They are sponges for learning. They want to move.  They want some level of independence, but they aren't ready for too much of it.  

They want to please.  They are loyal.

Adopting a puppy isn't for everyone and neither is teaching middle school.  If we approach puppies and middle school children with anger and frustration, they can turn on us quickly.  When we invest the time and energy to learn and develop positive, proper, and effective teaching strategies and classroom management techniques, it brings out the very best in them.  

During my 23 years of teaching this age group in my public middle school choral classroom, I have found my students to be incredibly generous, loyal and well...silly...just like Beaux!

Look at the energy of this pup!  It beams in this picture.  He needs to run.  He wants to discover, and he wants to learn.  He wants us to notice him. 

This world is brand new to him.

He needs my guidance...My structure...My that I can teach him what I expect of him.  

He isn't born knowing.  

He is just a puppy.

Enjoy the rest of your summer, and wishing you a wonderful and rewarding new school year with your middle school children!

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Tuesday, June 9, 2015

How do I use a Purchase Order on TPT to purchase S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program?

Thank you so much for your interest in S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing program!

Here are the links that will help you answer all of your questions regarding using a purchase order to purchase S-Cubed and any other product on TPT!

How do I use Purchase Orders to buy products on TPT?

Why can't I select the Purchase Order option at checkout?

How long does it take to process purchase orders?

We want to buy from TpT, but our purchasing rules require that Sellers first sign a Sole Source Affidavit. Can we still buy with TpT?

If you need me to sign a Sole Source Affidavit, please send it to me with the attachment and with the instructions in your email.  Send it to  I will return it promptly.

If, after reading the above links, you still have questions, please send me an email or Contact TPT directly, and we will get all of your questions answered so you can start using S-Cubed in your classroom!

Thank you!

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