Perfect Pointer Pointers
A few years ago I purchased one of those classroom pointers that every teacher seems to have (little pointing hand on a stick) when the book fair came through my school. The following year I bought another one because it had cooler colors and was just generally awesome. The problem was that I really didn’t know what to do with them. I use the pointers to point to things on the board sometimes or when I need to point out something on recorder fingering charts since those are higher up the wall in my room. But mostly I just use it for the novelty. I honestly could just use my own hand to point. So… why did I buy this thing again?
In trying to reduce the amount of stuff in my room I’ve decided that I need to rethink what I’ve got and how I’m using it (let’s be honest, teachers are pack-rats and in my fourth year I’ve already got too much stuff). These little pointers jumped out at me as a “keep or give away” item. I’ve been asking myself some “stuff-reducing” questions: Why do I really have this? How can I use it better? What makes it so special that I should keep it?
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 down in the comments section if you have another great idea of how to use the pointer in a new or interesting way.
Pointer Privilege — Assessment and Affective Filter
A few weeks ago I was assessing my kindergartners on their ability to identify vocal timbres. In our district it is a first quarter objective to make sure that kindergarten students can identify and correctly use their singing, whisper, shouting, and speaking voices. Teaching them the concepts wasn’t too hard but figuring out a way to assess this concept was. When we learn the four vocal timbres we usually do so next to my big book (a resource that came with our textbook series). The big book has large pictures of kids using their four voices. This visual representation has been really helpful and I always go back to it to give kids an “anchor” when we refer to the voices or learn a new one. I wanted to incorporate the anchor in the assessment in some way because I knew the images/process would be familiar to students and might help kids be a little more successful.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. My kiddos are not used to singing in a school setting and some of them just haven’t sung much at all. In my school, about 80-90% of students have been identified as English Language Learners (ELL). These little babies are still learning basics of the language and asking them to then associate words and pictures with the timbres is an extra, difficult step.
I decided that I would have students sit in a small group together and one student at a time would get up and would get the “special pointer” as they stood next to the big book. I would start with a song that we knew really well and I would do it with either a singing, shouting, whisper, or speaking voice. The kids in the group on the floor got to join me using their special voices and we would do the whole poem while the kid with the pointer identified which voice we used and pointed to the picture in the big book.
Now, having one kiddo stand up and use the pointer on their own might be normal with other classrooms but not in mine. Especially in first semester kindergarten we do almost everything in a large group to minimize stress. There’s something that happens especially with English Language Learners 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 the window opens up and 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 “pointer person” the chance to listen and identify without all the other kids looking at them. It also meant that the other kids couldn’t help the pointer person by watching their movement and gesturing 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
A week or two later I got another chance to pull out the pointers and use them in a new way. My second and third graders had just finished a big program and we were taking a day to watch the video and evaluate our work. The act of evaluating feels like such an important thing for us because we want students to be able to critically look at their own work and find good things in what they’ve created and also identify things to improve. It helps them to self-monitor and take the learning in their own hands. It’s also at the highest point on Bloom’s Taxonomy and something that many administrators think that we don’t do in the music room. We do! It’s important to us!
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 and the whole thing turns the lesson from evaluating their performance into a lesson on writing. 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.
So, instead I pulled out the pointer sticks. I “pointed out” to the kids that the finger on the end of the stick is putting out its index finger, as if it’s showing the number 1. I told them that if they get the stick that they have to share “one thing” that’s positive about what they saw in the video or “one thing” that we could improve on. Then I spelled it out for them (since watching and listening can be sort of abstract). I wrote on the board that they should look for positive and negative things like kids singing together, kids messing around, kids waving to the audience, and kids doing the actions correctly or not. I wrote that they could listen for kids singing, using their speaking voice, not participating, singing on pitch, singing at the right times, and more. They could listen at entrances and see if we remembered to come in, they could listen for harmony or partner songs, etc. I knew what musical things were happening in each song and so I previewed those on the board and had them look out/listen out for those things.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 one more slightly general idea. I’ve played around a lot with giving the pointer to kids throughout the day. Kids who do really well get to hold it as a reward. If a kid is chosen to “be it” in a song or game they might get to hold it and point to someone new when their turn is over. I’ve of course used it as a “if you can identify then go and point to…” sort of thing at the board. I might point to kids who are doing really well listening and following directions so that they can line up first. There are about a million ways to incorporate this little pointer into the room if you look for them. Kids at all ages (honestly, I tried things out with K-5 and they were all on board) like to use the pointer whenever they can.
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 new ideas about using the pointer in the comments section below. I’d love to hear your ideas!