Recorders: a staple in most American elementary music curriculums. I have fond memories of sitting on my elementary school stage learning how to play Mary Had a Little Lamb, so bringing something like this to Guatemala was special to me. When I accepted the position at The School of Hope, I told myself that this was something I had to implement.

One of my 6th grade students practicing.

For the past month my students from 3rd grade to 6th grade have been learning how to play the recorders. Since I only teach Music twice a week, I have only had 8 lessons with them. So far, I have been impressed with the progress they have made in such a short amount of time. In the previous quarter, we learned how to read the treble clef using bells and floor activities. Before the introduction of the treble clef, they learned how to analyze different rhythms. Now, students are applying prior knowledge in order to read new sheet music. I have been impressed with my 3rd grade and 6th grade classes. In both of those classes, when they get new sheet music, the first thing they do is attempt to sight read it. While the tempo and rhythm may be a little off, the notes they play are spot on. I am very proud of their progress so far, and I’m looking forward to teaching/playing more advanced music.

As for curriculum, we are following “Recorder Karate,” a program that uses colored “belts” to gain experience. Each belt features one song and a new skill to further comprehend sheet music. For example, for the Purple Belt (which is what my 6th graders are working on), they are learning the new note “E” and practicing how to play eighth notes, to the tune of “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” The 3rd graders are working towards their orange belts, which introduces the note “C” as well as eighth notes for the first time using the song, “Cobbler, Cobbler.” Differentiation for each student is encouraged with this program. Students move at their own pace in order to receive the next belt. For students who need a further challenge I can push them to work on a different song with a higher difficulty while I work individually with students who are struggling.

3rd grade students gearing up to perform.

I have also used the program to develop performance skills with the students. In order for a student to advance to a new belt color, the student must perform for the class. We have had conversations about what performing means, how one acts when performing for an audience, and appropriate behavior as a member of an audience. So far, the students have learned and informed me that they should not laugh while they are on stage or at other students on stage, they should listen to the conductor and the other students around them, and finally that they should clap when a group of students is done performing.

Recently, I’ve noticed that many of my fourth grade students take home their recorders in order to practice more! I have a couple of rules with home practicing: first, they have to bring back the recorder the next day, and second, I am not going to replace lost/broken/stolen recorders if it happens outside of my classroom. I love using this program in order to teach personal responsibility, and I have been impressed with their diligence. Every student who has taken one home has brought it back the next day in prime condition. I am thankful that they are taking this portion of the class seriously.

So far, I am pleased with the students progress and their eagerness to learn. I am looking forward to giving the students more challenging music as well as listening to them play more challenging songs. Be on the look out for a video of them playing the Star Wars Theme. It’s going to be great!


First Quarter Review

Goodness Gracious! It has been a full month and I have not posted anything! Sorry! That being said, many activities and games have happened in the class, and the first term of the school year, out of four, is coming to a close. It’s crazy to think how quickly time flies! Has it really already been 3 months? These past three months I have learned a lot about myself as a teacher and as a person. As I reflect on my first 3 months of teaching as well as living in another country, I think about five very important lessons I have learned and am continually relearning the more time I spend teaching.

Lesson 1: Teaching 100 students is a different beast than teaching 30 students.

3rd Graders playing soccer during PE.

If there’s something that I love, it’s getting to know every single student in the school, but I do miss having one grade of students to invest in and love. The positive side of teaching a wider range of students is that I feel that every student in the school is mine. I love having the opportunity to see every student’s high and low moments. I get to experience very different classroom environments every 40 minutes. For example, my third grade class loves competition. They try so hard in both Music and PE to just beat the other team in relay races and review games. That class is a well-oiled machine. They responded very well to the added structure. My 4th grade class is a different animal altogether. They are a class with such passion and sass, which keeps me on my toes. This class does not respond as well to structure, but they love having a good time. They love it when I joke with them and laugh with them. While the classes are only one year apart in their schooling, they are very different students. I love having the opportunity to develop different teaching personas that suit the needs of each class! Its keeps my school days fresh.

Lesson 2: Patience is key.

Music review, using the floor as the treble staff!

Having patience, especially with these students, is what will either make or break a day. There are several factors contributing to this, but a big one is the language proficiency level. While some students have been taking English classes for two years, there are students who have never taken an English class until coming to our school this year. There is a major language gap between the beginning speakers and the intermediate speakers, so I design my lessons to cater to many levels of English proficiency. Implementing these lessons requires a lot of patience and repetition in order for students to achieve the “lightbulb moment.”

Lesson 3: Student background will affect their classroom behavior.

This was something I learned while at Pepperdine, but didn’t come to life until I came to Guatemala. The methods you would use to comfort a child who comes from a loving household with involved parents would not necessarily translate to with a child who may have been abused or neglected by their parents. For example, I will not send a child to timeout if they have experienced parental abandonment. While I will send them out of the classroom, I’ll make sure an adult is with the individual to comfort him or her. The same goes for one of my students who has ADHD. Sometimes he or she just needs some space to calm down. Stepping out of the classroom for five minutes with an adult where distractions will not be an issue is better for long term learning. I have found that after he has calmed down and is ready to return, he is much more receptive to content.

Lesson 4: The Student-Teacher relationship is what drives learning.

This ties closely to Lesson 3. The way I handle situations of disruption or discipline, or other positive aspects of the classroom like a passing test score or having a “lightbulb moment”,  will affect the relationship I have with the student. I have found that when the relationship between the student and the teacher is severed, the student will not be open to learn. They may be able to pass the test, but they will not process and fully learn the topic. This is the constant challenge with my 4th grade class. We have great days when positive relationships are built, participation is high, and students succeed at the given activity. But the next day the mood of the class may have shifted. If I am not careful, I can damage a great learning relationship with the student, and then we take 3 steps backwards after taking a step forward.

Lesson 5: Invest in yourself.

Now this is a lesson that my Dad has been trying to teach me for ages. The lesson didn’t really “click” until I started to teach myself to play guitar this year. If I had not started to teach myself the instrument, my music classes would look drastically different. I spend half of my music classes teaching basic, child-friendly theory and the other half of the class teaching different songs and singing with the kids. I found that my students love to sing and the fact that I can now play means they have more opportunities to learn new songs across different genres.

Looking forward, Final Thoughts.

Overall, this first quarter of the year has already been a growing experience both personally and in my professional development as a teacher. I am ready for the second quarter and excited to start the recorders with the kids as well as a school wide Olympics later in the Bimester. It should be a blast to teach an instrument to these students. Be prepared to read about more video game songs and classical composers.

Getting Lunch with one of my students!



5th grade students working together to write in the notes of each song.

I grew up playing video games, maybe too many if you ask my parents. Looking back, I should have picked up an instrument sooner instead of playing all those games. There is a positive side, though, because my favorite gaming series, The Legend of Zelda, has taught me problem solving, how to read, and a love for music. The music featured in the series is some of the best in video gaming. There are several Zelda games that feature an instrument such as Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask. The main character in the games has to play very simple songs in order to galavant around the land and save the world. One of the things they stress in the Teacher Education program at Pepperdine is that you need to “spice up” the lessons, which means incorporating my love for Zelda in my music classes.

4th Grade students playing a song from the Zelda franchise.

In our music classes we have been learning how to read the treble clef. I’m teaching classic acronyms such as FACE for the spaces and EGBDF (Every Good Boy Does Fine) for the lines. Once I felt that the students had a good grasp of these concepts, I figured that they needed to see the notes in action. They needed to play something, to experience music coming to life. I was lucky to have two sets of bells donated to me before coming down to Huehuetenango. Naturally, I want the students to get good use out of the bells, and I thought that a simple way to ease them into it would be to teach them Zelda songs. Zelda melodies are straightforward and catchy. You hear it once and it is stuck in your head. Some of the songs are comparable in difficulty to other child classics, such as “hot cross buns.” The songs’ simplicity made them ideal for this lesson.

A 6th Grade student having some fun writing.

I took the time to write down two of the melodies from the games. Then I had the students split into small groups of about two or three students and write out the rhythms and the names of the notes, reviewing everything we had done so far in the class. When the groups were ready, I showed them the bells. They seemed to be excited because they have not had anything like them in the music classes in the past. I gave them some time to play with the instrument and then asked them to try and play the song. I am happy to report that it went smoothly. Once they mastered the two songs I notated from the Zelda franchise, I saw and heard the students starting to create their own songs, witnessing the creative process before my eyes.

This is only the beginning though. Soon my students will be playing many simple songs with the bells in order to get more practice. I am excited to see where the bells and this new found creative freedom takes the class. If all goes as planned, most of my students will have their own original songs before the first bimester ends! In the next bimester we will be playing the recorders!

Run, Kids, Run!

Today I realized that it has been a month of school and I have not posted anything about the PE classes. Sad right? Well today we will be discussing some of the things I have done with my first and second graders.

The 2nd graders!

As stated in a previous post, I have had some challenging times with my first and second graders, most of which had to do with the lack of an established structure or routine in my PE classes. After much experimenting in my first and second grade classes, I finally had an idea. I simply asked myself, if I were a child, what would I want in a PE class? The answer was simple: competition. I split my first and second grade classes into two teams and tasked them to create their own English team names. For example, the second grade teams are the Dolphins and the Turtles (they were studying ocean life recently). With this structure in place, I am able to give points to the teams in a positive manner, such as not interrupting in class or staying on task. So far, these classes have been a blast thanks to the team-based structure that plays into the students’ natural competitive drive.

My students love to run, so I try to find activities that incorporate that love while assisting their English development as well as teaching them to work as a team. The first activity we have been doing is simple: running relay races. Kids will run on tires, dance for three seconds and scale the playset all while holding a volleyball. The catch is that the team only wins if they are in line and silent. They cannot be talking. There have been many races that the team who was behind during the race will win because they were the first team to have all their players run and wait quietly in line. It’s fun the watch the kids slowly realize that they race is about participation and following directions rather than just being the first one to finish.

Some of the cards that I hang around school that the students have to find.

The second activity involves vocabulary. I usually ask the first and second grade teachers what words they have been working on. Once they send me a list, I make flashcards and tape the cards around the school. The task is to run to the card that I said and get in line with the team. The first team to have all of the players in line quietly wins a point.

This once again builds teamwork because the kids are figuring out the vocabulary together and then running to the desired destination. It’s amazing to see ELL students go through the process of working together to find the word and then have that “lightbulb moment” when they find it.

Overall, PE has been an adventure to teach. These past few months have been about trying to figure out what works and doesn’t work in each grade. It is refreshing to finally have found something that will work for the younger grades.

Songs and Facetime

In music class yesterday, my fourth graders had the opportunity to Facetime my former master teacher, Clark Barnett, and his fourth grade class. Before coming to Guatemala, I spent four  months learning the ways of teaching under Clark’s guidance as well as teaching his wonderful students. For me, it was a great opportunity to connect my former students to my current students!

Now, what does this have to do with music? Well, I have to tell you a little about my elementary music experience in order for you to understand the whole picture. Back when I was in fourth 10958278_10205229727796765_2024099074_ograde at Edison Elementary, I had a music teacher named Mrs. Krisberg. We did all different activities in class, but there are two activities that, to this day, stand out to me: learning the recorder and singing the “goodbye song.” She ended all of her music periods with the goodbye song, and more than a decade later, I still have the tune memorized.

When brainstorming a good first week of school activity for all grades, I immediately thought of that song. So, I wrote lyrics for a hello version of the song as well as the goodbye version and taped it up on the classroom wall. Since all of my students are learning english, I thought this would be a good way to introduce words, suchIMG_0836 as “hello,” “goodbye,” “welcome,” and phrases like “thank you.” Teaching the song during the first week went very well. The younger grades want to sing it every time we have a music class. It’s so fun!

So, when thinking of a simple activity that would translate well over Facetime, I once again thought of that song, but this time teaching it in Spanish to my former students. My current fourth graders and I translated the English version to Spanish. We printed off little half sheets, and sang it for my former fourth grade students back in the United States.

Below are the lyrics to the goodbye song in both English and Spanish.

Goodbye Everybody

See you next time

See you next time

See you next time

Goodbye everybody

See you next time

Thank you Very Much

Adios todos

Miramos otra vez

Miramos otra vez

Miramos otra vez

Adios Todos

Miramos otra vez

Muchas Gracias

Overall, I think my students enjoyed the time. Both my current and former students were exposed to a new language and 10969278_10205229726396730_96409629_oa new culture through using technology. I think the opportunity to Facetime with another class was a captivating new experience for the students.  My former students had the same opportunity that my current students had during the first week of school: learning a song in their second language. From what I hear, my former students will be writing letters to my fourth grade class. I am excited for the letters to get here and for both my current and former students to get to know one another!


In music class with grades 3-6, we have been doing a lot of rhythm games!  They are able to identify quarter notes, half notes, 8th notes, whole notes, and now 16th notes. We practiced them through repetition games as well as through competition. Once I felt that the students had a grasp of the rhythmic notations, I introduced the cup game to the students. They loved it! I even showed the music video by Anna Kendrick as well as a cover of the song by Sam Tsui. Once they saw the videos they were eager to learn the game!

Teaching the game was a slow process. Since I only have forty minutIMG_0780e periods, I decided to split the learning into two separate class periods. I must say that the kids really started to learn it on their own. When I visited the orphanage, which is where the majority of my students live, they were practicing after they ate dinner. It was such a wonderful sight. The students who practiced outside of the class became the leaders inside the classroom.

Classroom leaders are a vital part of a well structured classroom. Having a student to help the cIMG_0786lassroom will not only change their behavior for the better, but also motivate the other students in the class. I notice this particularly in my 3rd and 5th grade classes. I saw the kids who knew the cup game well correcting the students around them while I was teaching. So, instead of doing it as a whole group, I was able to split both of those classes into two groups. Each group had a leader who was tasked with helping teach the game to the other students. These students really stepped up to the task and by the end of the period most students could perform the game at a slow tempo! I was very proud of the students who stepped up at the end of the day

Right now, I am very optimistic about the direction all of my classes are taking. Leaders are starting to take charge in most grades, students seem to like my class, and there is a lot of active participation. It makes me pretty excited for what we can accomplish. I look forward to seeing how these students grow this year!



The First Day

The first week brings many challenges. Students are going through emotional rollercoasters including loops of nervousness and excitement. For parents from the community, it may be their precious child’s first day of preschool. I saw it all this week, from parents taking photos of their child in preschool, to students running frantically in the halls and teachers making an effort to teach and maintain order. In my own classes, I faced students lying about their names, not wanting to participate, and showing some sassy attitude. There is also a beauty in the ability to switch subjects in the middle of the week. For example, I teach PE on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays and Music on Tuesdays and Thursdays. It adds a tiny bit of stress, but keeps me on my toes. Yet, even with all of the switching subjects midweek and establishing routines, I must say that the first day was pretty successful!

Would you like to know what the first day of school was like? Lots of names. Lots and lots of names. It’s unrealistic for one person to learn 120 names in just one day. Yet, I tried… and failed. Even now I think it is pretty safe to say that I only KNOW about 2/3rds of the names (yes, I am terrible with names). What we did was lots and lots of names games. Each grade roughly had the same plan, with differentiation for more age appropriate activities. For example, 4th, 5th, and 6th grades played a lot of team building games, such as the knot game. The knot game is when everyone forms a circle and grabs the hands of the person on the opposite end with one hand. With the other hand they have to grab another person’s hand. The goal is the find a way to untangle the circle without letting go of the hands. Younger students played the name game and then did some rhythm games. There were a lot of smiles.

While I felt that overall the day went well, I will say my last period of the day was a challenge . I teach the first graders at the end of the day and one of my biggest issues as a teacher occurred during that forty minute period. Just when you think you have established enough structure, the first graders show you, the teacher, that you really have not. I saw everything in that period. Students biting each other, students hitting each other and finally that little group of girls in the corner just trying to figure out what is going on in the class. My goal for the period was the get through everyone’s names and have an opportunity for every student to share their name and something about themselves. I think I got through about 10 of my 22 students before I moved on to “plan B”. Was I frustrated? Absolutely, but I learned that this specific group of students needed more structure than I provided.

If there is anything that I learned from that as a teacher, it is that you’re going to have good periods and not so good periods. It is up the teacher to change the mindset in order to be the most effective teacher for the students.

I will say that the next day with the first graders went much smoother than the first!