Dec 8, 2014

The Kids LOVE TO Chat!

I wear a lot of hats in my school district. I was first hired to teach a sixth grade chorus and a seventh/eighth grade combined chorus at one of the middle schools, as well as teaching two first grade and one kindergarten general music class. Three years later, I am now teaching fourteen preschool classes on top of my choruses and now three first grade classes.

Despite the differences between all of these age groups, I have found that there is a common theme among them. They. Love. To. Chat. Constantly. They chat a lot. Some days, more than a lot. Some days, even more than that.

Specifically, let’s talk about my middle school students. At first, it bothered me because I thought they were being disrespectful to me and inconsiderate of our time together. Don’t they know I have new music to teach them? Why are they being so rude? They CHOSE to be in chorus class, why don’t they want to learn?

Well, it’s taken me a while to learn it’s not me. I mean, yes, if I tend to ramble on during a lesson and not get to my point fast enough, then yes, it is me, but overall, it’s really not me. Having that knowledge in my back pocket makes me feel better, but it doesn’t solve my problem.

So here’s my theory; I’ve come to the conclusion that kids don’t just chat because they don’t have something to say. Kids chat because they DO have something to say. Whether it’s relevant to the class or not, whether what they are saying is so far-fetched, that it makes no sense. Kids just want to be heard. They want to be listened to. They have to listen to adults ALL DAY LONG in all of their classes, all of their extra-curricular activities, all of their outside tasks. They have to sit still, focus, engage, be ready to receive new information at a moment’s notice, ingest it, absorb it, spit out the information and do it all over again in the next class.

I don’t blame them for being squirmy, let alone talking. Let’s be honest, who hasn’t had that feeling during really long staff meetings, especially when hearing about subjects that don’t pertain to music, try as you might to find a connection?
So how do we fix this? How do we get kids to not talk in chorus?

Simple: by letting them talk.

It’s a farfetched idea, I know. I came up with a plan and wasn’t sure how it would work. But, it does. It works so much better than anything I’ve ever attempted before. And here it is.


Write out the schedule of the day TO THE T. I mean it. Include all the times, write out the goal for each song you are working on, etc.
An example of my lesson plans are the following:
       9:55-10:03..Theory Worksheet/Solfege Training
       10:04-10:10…Warmups
       10:11-10:25…Song
       10:26-10:36…Song
       10:37-10:40…Exit Worksheet/Announcements

Now, you may have noticed that the start times of the next activity and the end times of the previous activities are a little bit off. It’s because that’s where the talking comes in. I give kids about a minute (usually, it’s less than that, but the kids don’t know) to transition from one activity to the next. Then, I do some attention grabbers.

1)   Play a descending scale on the piano where they sing along using solfege as soon as they hear it
2)   Create a breathing pattern where they join along
3)   I hold up three fingers, one for stop, two for look at the teacher, three for listen

This works because I give them a compromise beforehand. For a month’s worth of good, solid rehearsal work, I will give them the chance to sit with their friends during chorus rehearsal and see how it goes. I take into consideration the apples that may spoil the whole bunch (if a student is non-compliant, I go over to them to give them a warning and mark their name down in a book), but overall, I have found that this method works great. The kids keep themselves and everyone around them accountable, so it cuts down on me saying “stop talking, please stop talking, quit talking, etc.”. Not only that, but it’s assistant-principal approved (and she has known my struggles with getting the kids to do their work), so I mean, if that doesn’t boost the confidence, I’m not sure what can.

If you like this method and think it might work, try it out. If it works instantly, great! But, if it doesn’t, DON’T GIVE UP! It took my choruses a couple of weeks to latch onto it. Don’t write it off as another failed attempt to get your choruses to be quiet. I mean, we never got better at our instruments without practice, right? It’s the same for us as educators. We need to practice out the management techniques daily in order for any sort of progress to be made.

Thanks for taking the time to read this article! I hope that what I provided helps you. For those of you who have other suggestions, I encourage you to reply to the article and say what’s worked for you and what totally doesn’t work for you

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Moving forward,
Samantha
Samantha Prindiville is a preschool music and movement teacher, first grade music specialist and a middle school choral director for the Reading Public Schools in Reading, MA. Her goal is to instill a love, understanding and appreciation of all music in the students she teaches, just the way she was inspired when in school. When not teaching, she serves as the music coordinator for the St. James Episcopal Church in Groveland, MA, music director and accompanist for various theater companies in the Boston, MA area and a voice teacher in Burlington, MA. Her education web-site is samanthaprindiville.weebly.com and her choral blog for her students is coolidgeadvancedchorus.wordpress.com.