And so these seemingly fun little pointers got on my "list." In trying to reduce the amount of stuff in my room (let's be honest, teachers are pack-rats and in my fourth year I've already got too much stuff) I've decided that I need to rethink what I've got and how I'm using it. These little pointers jumped out at me as a "keep or give away" item. I've been asking myself some questions. Why do I really have this? How can I use it better? What makes it so special that I should keep it? So, I started to try and use the pointers more often and came up with some pretty fun ways to use them in everyday settings. Here are some ideas that I've had and ways that I've come up with to use your pointer more effectively and creatively. Leave a comment here or on FB if you have another great idea of how to use the pointer in a new or interesting way.
Pointer Privilege -- Assessment and Affective Filter
My options for assessment are limited in this case. We're trying to get students to identify something that's pretty abstract for their little 6-year-old minds. Hearing a timbre and matching their own vocal production is a big feat in and of itself. This is especially true for the singing voice. They're not used to using that in an academic setting (and some of them just haven't used it much at all) and so that's a little foreign to them. Almost all of my students are English Language Learners (ELL). Officially my building has something like 80-90% of students somewhere on the ELL spectrum. These little babies are still learning basics of the language.
Now, having one kiddo stand up and use the pointer might be normal with other classrooms but not in mine. There's something that happens especially with ELL kiddos called the "affective filter." The idea is sort of that there's an imaginary window or sliding door between the kids and language input. When they're anxious or under pressure the window closes and they're not as able to learn. When they're in a relaxed setting or the pressure is off they're much more apt to understand and get involved. This happens with all students, but especially with language learners as they try to take steps out of their comfort zone. So, asking a kid to stand up in front of the class was a bad idea. Instead I put the big book out behind the class. The kid who got the "special pointer" stood up and walked behind the group of kiddos. The class all looked at me and I could see all of them AND the kid standing behind them with the book. This gave the kid standing up the chance to listen and identify without all the other kids looking at them. It also meant that the other kids couldn't help them by watching their movement and pointing to another place on the book if the kid with the pointer chose wrong.
I can't even begin to tell you how well this worked. The kids loved that they got to choose their own special pointer (I have a blue one and a sparkly silver one) and then got to use it to listen and identify the voices. Since I didn't bill this activity as an assessment or a test they just thought it was a listening game and the affective filter went down. To add even more fun, the whole class was mimicking my voice and doing "Open Shut Them" with me, sometimes in a singing voice like normal but sometimes in a whisper, shouting, or speaking voice. I was able to watch all my students and get them all involved in the actions of the song and in our different voices. They were engaged as they tried to listen to and match my vocal timbre (great chance for experimentation for them and a chance to hear and match). The student being assessed didn't know they were being assessed and at the back of the class the pressure was off if they didn't get it right. So much fun, so easy, and such a great chance to use the pointer fingers!
My one Thing To Say - students evaluating students
As important as I feel evaluating is, it's hard to pull off sometimes with classes. For four years I've tried to find a strategy that I like. I've given out worksheets that ask students to look for good moments and things to improve on. Then once they've watched they need to write a short written statements about the music they're evaluating. This tactic flopped. Again, almost all my student are ELL in some way and so giving them a worksheet to complete means that they need a substantial amount of time and scaffolding (depending on the grade) to be successful. It also means that I have to check with their teachers and tailor the worksheet to their skill level. For younger grades that sometimes means taking out the written aspect and instead having them try to use a smiley face or a frowny face or other pictorial assessment. I hate that! I don't want them watching themselves and circling a frowny face! Oh, and did I mention that I only have 25 minute classes? This written stuff seems impossible. To be successful in this way would take a lot of time and that means multiple class period. No thanks.
I told all students that they ALL had to come up with one thing that was good and one thing that could be better for every song that we watched. Then after the song was over I'd stop the video and I would give out the pointers to students. I didn't tell them who would get the pointer and I didn't ask them to raise hands if they wanted the pointer (like a talking stick). Because they didn't know who would get called on/who would get the pointer all students were responsible for coming up with an answer. This is a critical thinking/classroom management technique to keep all students on task. Don't tell them who is going to be called on and they're all gonna have to stay on their toes and follow along. One kid had to tell their thing that was good and had to be specific. I wouldn't take an answer like "we sounded good," and would instead immediately ask them, "What part was good? Which verse? The harmony? Doing the lyrics correctly? You need to be specific!" Then I would ask the other student to say something that they thought we could do better requiring the same specificity. "You thought the lyrics could be clearer? Do you mean in the A section or the B section?" Make them be specific. I gets them thinking.
Of course you could do a variation on this and give out the pointer finger to a group of kids or give it out before you watched the video so that the kid knew they would be talking. You could also have the student who just answered give the pointer to another kid of their choosing. In this instance it does sort of function as a talking stick (and reminds me a little of the Lord of the Flies... "I got the conch!") but it usually functions pretty well and helps student stay on task and thinking in an evaluative way!
Pointer Power to the People
And thus begins my journey to revitalize my room by looking not outward but inward. Instead of looking at catalogs and thing "what if," I want to look at my room and my resources and think "what if I used this in a new way?" Share your ideas about using the pointer in the comments below or on Facebook. I'd love to hear your ideas!
I've included lots of slides and posters about weird archaic vocabulary and traditions that don't make sense in the carols. Like "figgy pudding." What is it and why do we want it? Or "wassail"! What the heck is that? Again, I'm in an ELL building and one of the strategies that we us a lot is to incorporate pictures with words and so I'm trying to get pictures of carolers, wassail, the many birds of the 12 Days of Christmas, and more. I've also included the different melodies that go with songs (did you know that 12 Days of Christmas has a DIFFERENT traditional melody than the one we sing in the U.S.? I didn't!). I want these packs to be a resource as I teach and hope that they function that way for you too!
Click the banner above to see all the packs that I made and click their previews to get a glimpse of what's included. If you go to and check them out today or tomorrow (Thanksgiving) you'll see the Carols Bundle 50% off! Woo-hoo!
Have a happy and safe Thanksgiving! I hope that you get some rest on these great days of vacation!