Harmonious Beginnings MTS

The Next Gerneration of Teachers are Using Universal Design Learning

Posted on July 13th, 2020 in Uncategorized by |

Access Checkpoints

July 13, 2020

Through my masters course work at Cardinal Stritch University, I keep running across this Universal Design Thinking (UDL). So what is it? It’s a way of thinking/ a new approach to teaching that gives every student and equal opportunity to succeed. Every student, including the kids in regualr classes, the kids in special ed classes, the kids with behavior problems, the kids in ESL classes, and the gifted and talented kids- everyone is starting from a unique place, depending on their abilities, their socio-economic status, their prior knowledge and experience, their strengths and challenges. When we consider each learner individually we find that everyone has uniquely different ways to learn. UDL teaching methods are universal and when applied as a framework for our approach to teaching, each student can learn, make improvements and take their learning to the next level.

So as I considered ways to incorporate these methods into my lesson planning, I started to get excited. The more I learn about UDL, the more I realize that lessons can be structured within this framework to give the students ownership in their education and the more thoughtfully I design my curriculum on the front end, the less work it will be once school is back in session. I will ba able to spend my time with students individually to help guide them through a process they have helped to create and when they are part of that process, they are internally motivated to succeed.

So let’s unpack this method of thinking. There are 3 guiding principles that are broken down into 3 categories. The principles are engagement, representation, and action & expression. Then they are considered across 3 phases of learning: how student access the material, how they build on the material and how they internalize the material. For the planning purposes, as I look at my general music unit plans, I would like to discuss the first stage of each principle- accessing the material. Using these guidelines, I can set up a structure that will work for any unit througout the year.

Under the principle of egagement, the lessons should offer multiple ways to recruit interest for every student, so offering student choice and autonomy is key to access of information. Finding a way to relate the material to the learner’s personal life helps to motivate students, whether it’s through their culture or their social life in a way that is meaningful to them. The exploration of the material should allow for active engagement and experimentation so that students are hands on with the information and learning through self motivated research, finding imaginative ways to solve problems creatively.

In the area of access, we can also consider the second principle, represeantation, which basically boils down to a multi-media approach to presenting material. You may have students that are hands on learners, visual learners, some auditory learners or others that are non-enlish speaking, so consider presenting information to multiple senses- visuals are important, just like presenting material audibly. Can you get them moving as they absorb information? Can they taste as they learn about nutrition? Perception happens in so many ways and through every sense, it’s not enough to just assign a chapter of reading anymore.

In the same way that material is presented in multiple ways, we want to give students the opportunity to respond in multiple ways, which brings us to the third principle- action & expression. How do your students express responses? In music, this is integral to the material. Take the response beyond pencil and paper. Offer as many alternatives and adaptive equipment as possible. In a rhythm unit, students can write out a rhythm, play it on a drum, speak a rhythm, use a garage band app to create a rhythm or a touch pad to respond to rhythm. They can even dance to the rhythm in a creative way that allows the rhythm to be expressed.

In a general music class, I can see countless ways to structure many options into project-based learning and still touch on every learning standard necessary. When we take teaching out of the box and consider the countless ways our students learn, it’s only logical to provide multiple opportunities to express the acquisition of knowledge. As teaching evolves, so will our students and they will be better prepared for the 21st century; purposeful & motivated, resourceful & knowledgeable, strategic & goal directed with competence in self-regulation, comprehension and executive function. When this happens, teachers can focus on the teaching part of teaching as opposed to the discipline part of teaching and everyone’s time will be better spent.

For more information on how to use the Universal Design Thinking for your teaching methodology, go to: http://udlguidelines.cast.org/

Integrating the Arts

Date:                   June 26, 2020

Bibliographical Information:

Branstetter, Dyan. (March 2019). Building Arts Integration Collaboration. Institute for Arts Integration and STEAM, retrieved June 26, 2020 from https://educationcloset.com/2019/03/01/arts-integration-collaboration/

Article Summary:

Dyan Branstetter is an elementary teacher that has been teaching for 16 years in Pennsylvania. She has experience in arts integration because it’s something she has dabbled with for a long time now and has learned from trial and error. She was motivated partly by her own love of music and dance, but also by the results she saw in her students; when arts were integrated, the engagement levels for the students increased tenfold. Through that trial and error process, she has figured out the best way to collaborate with other teachers to get the most out of planning time and classroom time as well as maximize the impact on students’ learning experiences. She lays out 4 different levels of collaboration that vary from a format of arts integration without collaboration (for teachers who don’t have access to arts specialists) to a completely collaborative effort where planning, implementation and teaching all occurs as a team. Of course, after experiencing every level of collaboration she felt the best results occurred when she was able to plan the lesson as a team, targeting standards from both disciplines and co-teaching the lessons together. She admits that getting to that place where both teachers could collaborate and be on the same page was hard work, but it was worth it in the end.

Reflection on the State of the Content:

As a music specialist, I am potentially an arts integration resource for fellow teachers in my building. As I searched though  blogs and articles in various education resources, I found that the key words, like collaboration, standards, integration and student engagement were always present, the actual collaborating piece was usually missing and so I found only a vague idea of how to actually accomplish a truly collaborative lesson for the students.  Dayna Branstetter’s article gave me something more concrete I could grasp how this actually happens, and a little forgiveness on my own expectations for the whole process. I see that she learned each time she tried, and each attempt was an improvement over the last. I can already foresee obstacles in my current teaching situation. For one, I rarely have prep time at the same time as the classroom teachers, it’s a daunting task with barely enough time to get organized or scratch the surface. Another big obstacle is that if teachers are interested in co-teaching, they would have to give up a prep time to co-teach with me, or vice versa. The best attempt at collaboration this year was when the Speech/Language classrooms gave me a list of speech sounds that they targeted in class and if I could find a way to work the sounds into my lessons, I did my best. I know I am fairly new to the building and all of these issues are things that can get easier with trial and error.  The resource Dyan Branstetter offers here is a good guide to starting the process. 

A Musical Chronicle of Sytematic Racism

Posted on June 29th, 2020 in Educator resource, The"why" of music education by |

Date:                   June 24, 2020

Bibliographical Information:

Stedman, Cameron (2018) “My Only Sin Is My Skin – A Musical Chronicle of Systemic Racism in the United States,” Race and Pedagogy Journal: Teaching and Learning for Justice: Vol. 3 : No. 1 , Article 13.
Available at: https://soundideas.pugetsound.edu/rpj/vol3/iss1/13

Article Summary:

This article is more of a musical chronical that addresses systematic racism through a compilation of songs, liner notes, and research into racial inequality. As he reflects upon his student-teaching experience as a middle school band teacher and specifically his work with the jazz band. The band in the middle school where he student taught is all-white and, looking back, he discovered that he did not address race, at all, when jazz music offers many opportunities to address the topic of racial inequality. As he came across the work of Sensoy and DiAngelo, which discusses the difference between “multicultural’ and “antiracist” he realized that he missed an opportunity to educate these students about their white privilege. The context of his lessons may have even perpetuated racial inequalities by avoiding the topic altogether. His musical compelation included the following songs:

  • Is It Because I’m Black? -by Sly Johnson
  • Fables of Faubus– Charles Mingus
  • Strange Fruit– Billie Holiday
  • Black and Blue– Louie Armstrong
  • Living for the City– Stevie Wonder
  • Mississippi Goddam– Nina Simone



So much of Jazz music is really reflective of Black inequality, as perceived by Black musicians. The reimagining of traditional music rules, crossing boundaries, and reinventing band music in a way that had never happened before. The chords and harmonies use dissonance in new ways and symbolically reflect the dissonance happening in society, at the time. Of course, the Blues is a classic example of hardships experienced by slaves and dates back even further than jazz music. The songs chosen for Cameron Stedman’s album all contain lyrics, and so his liner notes have all the lyrics written out. In that way, his listeners can examine the lyrics apart from the music; more as a study of poetry- the meaning and weight of the words are absorbed and studied in a more impactful manner. It’s interesting that, as you look up these songs on YouTube and can watch a video of these iconic Black musicians, like Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone, and Billie Holiday, performing on stage for all White audiences, you can see that the average Black person of the time was not allowed to attend concerts, if they could even afford tickets, and the performers had to enter and leave through the back door. The last important connection I would like to highlight is that, as I learn more about Hip Hop, and more specifically, the breakdown of the rhythms used by Hip Hop artists, they typically look to Jazz music for the foundation of their rhythm compilations, bringing Black history, social justice, and the Black Lives Matter movement to their work.

Considering Religion and Resistance

Date:                   June 23, 2020

Bibliographical Information:

Nguyen, Martin (2020) “Naming Resistance and Religion in the Teaching of Race and White Supremacy: A Pedagogy of Counter-Signification for Black Lives Matter,” Race and Pedagogy Journal: Teaching and Learning for Justice: Vol. 4 : No. 3 , Article 1.
Available at: https://soundideas.pugetsound.edu/rpj/vol4/iss3/1

Article Summary:

In the article, Naming Resistance and Religion in the Teaching of Race and White Supremacy, Martin Nguyen discusses the relationship between religion and the Black Lives Matter movement. He discusses the concept of Signification and Counter-Signification, and the importance of naming specific terms and phrases that carry nuanced meaning for various groups of people. The term signification refers to “the ways through which a dominant group subjugates, denigrates and/or marginalizes another group” (p4). It is an eye-opening concept that lays out the tactics used by a dominant group in society to avoid the topic of inequality, steering discussion in another direction and preserving the system that supports their dominant position along with all the privileges. Colin Kaepernick’s protest by kneeling is great example sighted in the article. Critics of Kaepernick’s actions did not want to talk about the injustice done to Black members of society, but rather turned it into a debate about his patriotism. The bulk of the article covers the issue of religion and how it plays a role in white supremacy and the Black Lives Matter movement. Specifically, the connection of white supremacy to Christian supremacy and the implication that Christian equals American. Malcom X, like many of the forefathers in the fight against racial inequality, used the Nation of Islam as the counter-signifier to the white slave master religion of Christianity (p11). Their strength and pride came with a strong Islamic identity and helped to define their path of resistance against racial injustice.

Reflection on the State of the Content:

I was particularly interested in the religious aspect of this article because I struggle with the religious content in music. How do you keep God and state separate in a music class that studies composers whose compositions were based in their religion? As I search for Hip Hop music that is appropriate for a classroom, I find music that is riddled with swearing, gang violence and sexist imagery, but the alternative is Christian Hip Hop, which is another topic I feel is important to steer clear of in a public school. As I consider these ideas broached in the article about religion and its importance in the message of racial equality, I see that maybe religion is a topic I can cover with care and bring a more academic discussion of the roles religion plays in the creation of music. I also found the concept of signification and counter-signification an important distinction to make when discussing the topic; one that will help me to define the issues and discuss them thoroughly. After all, naming the terms and phrases that need to come to light in the era of Black Lives Matter is only half the task- if we don’t discuss them honestly and thoroughly, naming is only an empty gesture. 

Sparking Creativity with Hip Hop

Date:                   June 20, 2020

Bibliographical Information:

Hinton, Marva. (January 9, 2020). Hip Hop EDU: Use Music To Spark Students’ Creativity and Learning. School Library Journal, retrieved June 20, 2020 from https://www.slj.com/?detailStory=Hip-Hop-EDU-music-Sparking-students-Creativity-and-Learning-libraries-literacy

Article Summary:

Finding innovative ways to hook our young students can be a challenge. Marva Hinton found educators from several different areas that are using Hip Hop to engage learners in many ways, and everyone is seeing the positive impact of it. When we incorporate the things that excite our students, it honors them in a unique way. It gives validity to their voice and helps them to feel accepted, but it also provides them with an opportunity to use their language and literacy skills, create something original and collaborate with other students that they may not typically work with. One librarian in Georgia created a recording studio in a high school library where students could produce their own hip hop tracks. It was so popular that students discovered the best way to get a turn in the studio was to collaborate with classmates so that everyone could have a turn to write a verse. Other students who have a talent for producing ended up working with students they might not have ever met if it weren’t for the recording studio. Another library media specialist at a Georgia Middle School used Hip Hop to motivate her students to learn the rules of citation- they were allowed to listen to songs they cited correctly, which was always a boring skill that didn’t go over very well, but with the new motivation of preferred music, they were excited about citations. Establishing rules and boundaries around controversial lyrics is an important step to consider when incorporating Rap and Hip Hop, but in the end, it sends a message of acceptance and gives students a place where they feel welcome and encouraged to express themselves.

Reflection on the State of the Content:

The article by Marva Hinton comes from a library journal source that is not my area of expertise, but I do find the subject of hip hop in the school setting to be an important topic to explore as a music teacher. The poetic characteristics of rap and hip hop are great for incorporating language arts into a music class, but also allows students to open up, be themselves and communicate in a language that feels like home to them. Hip Hop and Rap are the voices of our young adults and transcend racial and cultural boundaries. Although the history of Hip Hop is rooted in black culture, you will find that most middle- and high-school students spend at least a portion of their down time listening to it. That provides a unique opportunity to use a genre rooted in Black culture, with messages that speak to the Black experience and educate all our students about black culture in a way that honors their voice.

Mindfulness in Early Childhood

Date:                   June 18, 2020

Bibliographical Information:

How a Mindfulness-Based Kindness Curriculum Could Shape the Future? NICABM Retrieved June 8, 2020 from https://www.nicabm.com/mindfulness-how-a-mindfulness-based-kindness-curriculum-could-shape-the-future/

Article Summary:

The National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine (NICABM) reviewed a study found in Developmental Psychology, volume 51, pp.44-51. The study came from UW-Madison in cooperation with the Center for Healthy Minds and they were researching the effectiveness of a mindfulness-based Kindness Curriculum on executive function self-regulation and prosocial behavior in preschool students. A control group of “wait list” students was compared to a group of students who received the Kindness Curriculum from a trained mindfulness teacher. Lessons included pictures books, music and movement that targeted skills like attention, emotional regulation and social skills like kindness towards peers. The preschoolers that received the mindfulness training were better at delaying gratification, cognitive flexibility, and sharing with peers. Students that were behind their peers in these categories showed the most improvement in the areas of social competence and executive function with the mindfulness training.

Reflection on the State of the Content:

I was very excited to find this review. I have been using the NICABM as a resource for trauma sensitive training and professional development. I also met a woman who worked at the Center for Healthy Minds several years ago at a meditation retreat who told me about the Kindness Curriculum. I was so interested in the curriculum, I signed up to receive the free downloadable curriculum and I have been using it for the last 2 years with the preschoolers I teach. The original study found in Developmental Psychology validates my curriculum choices as a preschool teacher and a music teacher. You can read it in it’s entirety here: https://psycnet.apa.org/doiLanding?doi=10.1037%2Fa0038256  If you find that it can be difficult to sift through journal articles for the important take away information when you do not work in the field, this NICABM resource I cited at the top of the post can be easily shared with parents that are looking for the “why” behind methodologies like these. When I used the Kindness Curriculum, I tailored it to supplement my music lessons and my students understood how to calm their bodies and identify emotions. The more advanced students were able to put these methods into practice and make the connection between their emotional state and their behavior. It’s too bad the year was cut short due to covid19, because I could see that it was really starting to make a difference for some students, but the students who needed it the most were only beginning to get the hang of it all. It is a resource I will continue to use with my preschool students.

Therapeutic Interventions: Somatic Experience

Date:                   June 8, 2020

Bibliographical Information:

Simon, R. (March/April 2019). An Interview with Peter Levine: Turning Psychotherapy Bottom Up. Psychotherapy Networker, retrieved June 8, 2020 from  https://www.psychotherapynetworker.org/magazine/article/2347/an-interview-with-peter-levine

Article Summary:

Peter Levine is a Psychotherapist who uses a technique called Somatic Experiencing to help clients resolve trauma.  Traumatic events that happen often are experienced in a disconnected way and the residual effects of the traumatic experience are stored physically in muscle tension, or internally in other symptomatic ways such as digestion issues or elevate blood pressure. Traditional talk therapy addresses the trauma from only one perspective, that is to talk about it, examine the memory of it, but the physical sensations that accompany the ‘reliving’ of the event are not addressed. Somatic Experiencing (SE) can help to address the traumatic responses of our physical bodies that are ignored when talk is the focus. Bringing the clients attention to what’s happening physically can help them to target the traumatic experience from another angle and the focus on body awareness, such as relaxing muscle tension can help to interrupt the physical responses to the trauma and deal with one aspect of the trauma at a time so that it is easier to address and not so overwhelming. The focus on body sensations help his clients to be physically present in the current moment and in that way they are able to take a more objective perspective on the event that they need to heal from.


Reflection on the State of the Content:

It may seem strange that I chose a psychotherapy article to review, but I have noticed in my work with preschoolers that behaviors are often a result of traumatic events happening outside of school. I am sure that in the midst of a behavioral meltdown, I have dealt with students that are reliving something traumatic that they are not able to put into words. Using an intervention such as this Somatic Experiencing can be a way to help a student disconnect from the traumatic event and anchor them in the present situation at school, so that they can move beyond it, they can pull themselves out of the state of flashback and feel reassured that in this moment they are safe. My hope is to always be sensitive in my behavior management techniques to subtle cues of trauma so that the underlying issue can be referred to the school staff best equipped to help and handle the situation. Social and emotional learning is an integral part of my teaching curriculum and if something as simple as body awareness and breathing can help a student through a difficult moment, I feel articles like this one are important to include in my teaching resources.

Returning and Re-inventing

Posted on June 29th, 2020 in personal observations by |

It’s been quite some time since I was last active here on my own website. I notice that the last post was June 11th of 2014! Wow, so 6 years have gone by and although my webpage doesn’t reflect it, things have been changing and evolving form me over the last 6 years. In a way, I am returning to my roots. Both my parents were teachers and now after almost 20 years in the music therapy business, I am returning to school for a master’s in music education. It’s not that I don’t love the work I do as a music therapist, I do. I just really feel the desire to get into the school system. I was a student in RUSD schools my whole life and now my children are RUSD students; it’s also the same district my parents taught for and with so much history there, I love our schools. I love the teachers that teach for our schools. I love the students that attend our schools. But I see that as a system our schools are failing all these people I love. When I was offered a music specialist position at the Racine Early Education (REE) Center, I was a little skeptical. I knew the director and felt that she was a great advocate, who truly cared about the students and was awesome to work for. Plus, I love the early childhood kiddos the best, but I wasn’t sure I would be able to acclimate to a system like Racine Unified School District after years of working for myself. In the end I took the job and did both- wearing my teacher hat 2 days a week and kept my therapy hat the other 3 days of the week. Now as I ponder the next phase of my career, I think I can do amazing things to change the broken system. I am pursuing my license so that I can continue to teach for the public schools and in the process will earn my Masters. I think I have great things to offer as a Music Therapist of many years’ experience in addition to the education I am getting back in school again at Cardinal Stritch. I am a hybrid of what music can be- healing supportive, adaptive and innovative plus, standards driven, research-based, skills focused and collaborative. I do not only address the music skills you learn in general music so that you can understand the language of music, but I use the music as ways to discover the strength students have inside music and otherwise, that helps them to develop important life skills. Emotional expression, self-awareness, kindness and compassion, empathy and confidence are at the core of everything I teacher.
As I make this transition, I will be updating and modifying this website to reflect my work as both a teacher and a therapist. During the school year, I will focus on what is happening in school. In the summer I will be focusing on therapeutic services. Keep an eye on the website for changes as they are rolled out and bear with me as I make this transition. We are living in a new normal and I am evolving to adapt to the change. Join me on this journey.

Reasons to Make a Playlist

Posted on June 11th, 2014 in personal observations by |

Today, as I was driving, I was listening to WUWM, Lake Effect and I heard an interview with a gerontologist (someone who studies aging) who worked with dementia patients. She had been researching the effects of music on her nursing home residents and found many benefits to listening to favorite songs – or preferred music as we MTs call it.

None of the research was surprising or new to me, but I was glad to hear that research was being done on the effects of music by another profession besides Music Therapists. It kind of sent me down another track of a more personal application. She talked about how she was in the process of creating her own playlist to be used by friends and family when and if she ever was elderly, ill or incapacitated in a way that made it difficult to communicate her wished to her care takers. Eureka! Of course! Why haven’t I thought of that? I have often thought about the music that calms me…motivates me…brings back memories…but I have never made a list of those songs! What a great tool to have. Only you truly know what goes through your mind when you hear certain songs and making a list of those songs and what they do for you, is almost like creating a treatment plan for  future care givers like Music Therapists to use.

I’m going to start my list and encourage family members to do the same. Mom and Dad, I don’t know what’s in store for us as the next stage of our lives unfold, but this tool would be invaluable to me! I’m sure I could make some pretty good guesses as to what my family likes to listen to, but it’s the specific songs that are tied to memories and emotions that are key. Putting this list together now, means that you can consider all the options while your mind is healthy and functioning. Some of the songs I played in the UW-Eau Claire Symphony Orchestra would never occur to my brother to put on my favorite song list, but the Shostakovitch Symphonies or the Barber Adagio for Strings that we played as I cried tears on stage is a memory that my family might not consider. And I think those are precious….so I’m writing them down and starting today. You should too.



Posted on December 12th, 2013 in Uncategorized by |

I have found myself talking about patterns so often lately, that I think it’s becoming a pattern! Honestly, as I stop to consider how I teach young children- my own, the children in my music classes, or the clients at the clinic- the perceptions of patterns becomes the key point on which my teaching philosophy pivots.

Head start classes talk about rhythm: Patterns of steady beats, patterns of ‘the rhythm of the words,’ patterns of Ta’s and Ti-ti’s… helping the kids find the rhythm in many different ways is the focus this month. At 4 or 5 years old, A-B-A-B patters are easy, but A-B-B-A-B-B is not as easy. The amazing thing is, kids this age learn so fast, it kind of blows my mind to watch some of the children grasp the new pattern in a period of 5 minutes and just light up as they recognize that they are accomplishing something new!

Doing math homework with my own kids: Patterns in the numbers, looking for patterns of 5’s and 10’s as my kids work on adding, and multiplying to help them beat the ‘Time Test Tuesday’ Challenge, so they don’t have to count on their fingers anymore. I wish I had paid more attention to patterns in numbers as I was working through school- seeing the patterns helps to define the big picture and understand the relevance of why you need to know what you need to know.

Doing preschool academics: Patterns start at 2 and 3 years old- recognizing simple patterns on preschool homework pages.

Studying harmonies/ music theory: Patterns in intervals- half steps and whole steps make sense in the most simplistic harmonies of open 5th and the most complicated harmonies of the dissonant jazz chord progressions.

Art lessons: Patterns in shapes and colors.

Patterns that surround us- auditory, visual, sensory etc.

Our brains seek out patterns to make sense of our environment. Humans have been learning from patterns since the beginning. Cycles of the sun, moon, planets, astrology, days, weeks, months, seasons, our biological rhythms are our biological patterns….it’s how we learn and how we can continue to grow. IF we are able to find the healthy patterns and continue with them as we distinguish between our bad habits that need changing, we should be able to focus effort to change for the better. The difficulty lies in the conflict between the need for change and our quest for patterns. I think I am better at it that the generation before me, but I hope that my children are better at it than I am….and so continues another pattern.