Tuesday, October 14, 2014

S-Cubed Sight Singing Program Reaches Milestone on TPT!

Please go "like" and "comment" on the post about the recent TPT milestone for the S-Cubed Sight Singing Program for Middle School Beginners!  Share with your peers and district supervisors.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Faiz- The Boy from Afghanistan-Spiritual renewal...and Classroom Management

My specialty is sight singing. I teach it to my beginning middle school students from day 1 of sixth grade. By eighth grade, they are fluent and competent at a level higher than my own when I was a freshman in college. Scheduling limitations cause it to be impossible for me to have a beginners choir for 8th grade.

Inevitably, in a school of 1600 students, an issue will arise in which I must consider bending the rule that beginners can't join the advanced chorus during their 8th grade year. I've tried it. It doesn't work most of the time. They get frustrated. They never catch up, and they leave without the solid understanding of the material. It's simply too much for them to absorb.

When I'm asked to consider bending that rule by counselors, administrators or parents, I always say this: "Do you speak fluent French"? The answer is always "No!". So, then I say, "Joining chorus in 8th grade is like dropping off a 13 year old in France without parents and with no money and being told, 'Figure it out!' How do you think that will make him feel?"

The crystallizes it for everyone involved and leads to a productive conversation in which the parent, administrator and child either check in or check out. If they check in, the parent is on board to support the child in this major commitment of catching up. If they check out, fortunately, I share with them that our feeder high school has a beginning chorus program as well as an advanced one and their child can start there.

So, in walks Faiz who just moved to the USA from Afghanistan with his family of 7. This eager 14 year old boy with a changed voice walks into my room during the 4th week of school and he says in broken English, "I want to join chorus. I want to be a rapper." Well...you can imagine the thoughts that ran through my head. I thought to myself, "There isn't a snowballs chance in..." Well, you know the rest. I promptly created obstacles. "I need to talk to your mother and you at the same time before I'll even consider it. ...And we don't rap in here. Sorry. It's just not my thing." With his bright eyes, he said, "Ok". Well, long story short, it took it about 4 failed attempts (misunderstandings due to his poor English), but he got his mother, dressed in traditional Muslim clothing, into my room during my planning period.

I thought...Wow.  He really wants to do this.

His mother speaks no English at all. He told me that she understands it, but she cannot speak. So, I rattled off the difficulties he would face if I let him join 5 weeks into his 8th grade year.  I shared that he would be in a class of 85 children who were fluent sight singers and that I would not be able to help him or slow down for him. I told him that if he failed the quizzes, he would need to accept the grade.

He didn't flinch. He translated for his mother. She said something to him. He translated, "She says that she knows I really want to do this."

So, with 300 students in my program...and knowing that he would likely fall between the cracks....I relented and let him join. 

One of my top students volunteered to meet him each morning to tutor him. I thought to myself..."He'll never show up". ...and with each passing day for three weeks, he did.

He struggles. He isn't caught up...I mean...You can't possibly catch up on this much material and so many skills that are built with steady, daily work in just three weeks....but this child keeps coming and keeps working. It's amazing and it's inspirational. ...and he still wants to be a rapper. I told him that Atlanta is a great place for it. I may just have to start trying to help him connect some of those dots.

Here is this child...this child who has probably seen more horrors than I could ever see in my lifetime. He is 13. The US invaded Afghanistan 13 years ago. He has only known that life.

...Here is this child who is so excited to be in this country....the same way my ancestors were excited to be here...they wanted a new life free of something that they felt restricted them in the country from which they came....This young 13 year old who is pushing to better himself and take advantage of all of the opportunities that he has here.

Well...all I can say is that is renews me.

Faiz renews my spirit, and his story will help me continue to hold all of my students accountable. 

There are no excuses. If you want it, you will find a way. That's all.  Less talk. More do. ...and when you don't "do", consequences occurs.  By not implementing them, we are not doing our students a favor.  In fact, we are doing the opposite.

Should we encourage? Yes. Should be try positive solutions? Of course. They are middle school children! It's our job to try many types of solutions when we try to awaken them. But ultimately, consequences have to occur when our students, regardless of circumstance, don't meet a clearly stated criteria.

We cannot be afraid to state it, expect that they will meet it and follow through when they don't.

It's up to us.

 Check out my blog!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Freebie for Publicity Part 2

Freebie for Publicity Part TWO! The first “Freebie for Free Publicity” was very successful. Lots of new folks heard about S-Cubed with your help. So, I’ve decided to do it again. The rules are a little bit different this time, so read carefully. For the new folks….here are the rules: I need your help spreading the word about S-Cubed. I don’t advertise in a traditional way. It’s all “word of mouth” and social media. To help spread the word, I am offering a “Freebie for Free Publicity Exchange-Part 2”.

Here is how it works:

Step One: You must have purchased and used at least one S-Cubed lesson in your classroom with success to be eligible for this offer.

Step Two: You share some of the links I’ve listed below on Facebook group pages. Groups such as I’m a Choir Director.   https://www.facebook.com/groups/128901670510020/   Direct link and Music Teachers. https://www.facebook.com/groups/musicpln/  Direct Link or some other large Facebook Group of Music Teachers.

Step Three: Share the link on one state website that includes at least 100 middle school music teachers from your city or state who can benefit from this offering. This can be posted on any social media (State Website, or Facebook Groups). The point is to use a strong social media platform that can help deliver the news about S-Cubed to large numbers of folks who can benefit from the materials.

It must be a MAIN PAGE link if you are using Facebook (not on the side in a small box that very few folks actually ready). Make sure to include a personal message on the links you provide about how the product has helped you or what you like about the offering. Be specific.

 To make it easy to share, here are some direct links from my product descriptions, YouTube videos and blog that might be helpful to share with your peers.

Just copy and paste the link and share your personal endorsement. http://inthemiddlewithmrd1.blogspot.com/p/about-s-cubed-successful-sight-singing.html

This is a link to my blog with a full description of what the program is all about. http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Back-to-School-S-Cubed-Complete-Bundle-How-to-Teach-Sight-Singing-1208701

Link to my YouTube Description:


Step Four: To say thank you for your support in this publicity endeavor, I’d like to email you a free product.

 a) Shoot me an email at dduncan158@gmail.com.

 b) Please include the link or links you’ve shared with your peers about S-Cubed, and I’ll send you this product if they meet the criteria above.

 c) In return, you will get a 5 lesson bundle of your choice. If you are in need of the final seven lesson bundle, you will get that! In your email that includes your links, please specifically tell me which bundle you want (Bundle #1, Bundle #2, Bundle #3, Bundle #4, Bundle #5). If you go far and above the criteria listed above, you may just get the full bundle free. I will have to evaluate the links before I can make the final decision, but at a minimum, you will get a 5 lesson bundle for free! The deadline for this offer is October 8, 2014. Many of you have purchased the first small bundle, and this is a chance to get some more of the program free of charge in exchange for your help in spreading the word. Make sure to include the links in your email to me!

• • Check out my blog!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Some more classroom management ideas! ..and a little guidance on Forbidden Pattern!

Many teachers say "Respect me.  I am the adult."  Well...I don't think it works that way.  Respect is a circle.  We get what we give.  We must always treat children with 100% respect.  If we do, we are in a position of power at all times when we need to make our point and change a behavior, and the children will be so willing and ready to work FOR us rather than AGAINST us.

Most of my middle school chorus students start with me in 6th grade.  This year, I have about 120 new, eager singers in 6th grade.  Most stay with me through 8th grade.

The first year they are with me is critical for so many reasons.  Of course, I am teaching them music literacy and singing technique, but I am, more importantly, teaching them what their job is in chorus class.  What are the daily rituals?  How do I get an "A"?  What are the expectations after hours?

6th graders are coming to us from elementary school where they often had music for only once or twice per week.  The expectations regarding commitment, work ethic and grading are completely different.  We have to teach it all to them carefully, one step at a time, without yelling or screaming and with as much positive recognition of the correct behaviors as possible.  

When my sixth graders leave me each day, I am definitely more exhausted than when the 8th graders leave because I want to make sure that I am on top of everything regarding daily rituals.  Doing so will serve me well for two more years!

Here are some examples:

Example #1:  I don't allow children to come into my room, put their books down and then leave to go to the bathroom.  They have to do it on their way to my class.  I go over the rule during the beginning of the year. 

Inevitably, a child will put this rule to the test.  When we are put to the test on one of our important daily rituals, we must remember this: Words are nothing.  Follow through is everything.  You can say something a million times ("You know my rule!  You have to go between classes!"), but if you don't actually hold them to this rule, it won't matter.   I always say "no" when someone tries to get me to bend this rule.  Other children are watching. 

Obviously, in regards to the restroom usage, there are emergencies, and we have to be smart enough and compassionate enough to know the difference.  Middle School children must know that we care about them and that we will listen to them.  They need structure.  They need follow-through and strength from us.  In fact, they thrive on it.  As we get more experienced, it becomes clearer to us some of the ways children can try to take advantage of us.  We cannot allow it.  When they know that we are serious about our rules and procedures, and that there are swift, fair consequences for behaviors, almost all middle school children respond...regardless of their economic background or any other factor.  

Example #2:  You have a child who isn't participating.  She is looking right at you and defiantly not participating.  

Never give her an "audience".  In other words, don't call her name out loud and insist that she fixes the behavior now or else!  She would LOVE for you to do that, and she will have a great time not giving 100% while the children watch her "perform".  You will lose!  All you will get is high blood pressure and a few new wrinkles.  

Do silent things.  Use your eyes and quiet physical gestures that indicate she needs to sit up and sing. You could also use proximity.  Go close to her and tell her quietly that she needs to participate. When she disrespectfully rolls her eyes at you, pull a "Frozen" and "Let it go!"   :)
Then, right before the end of class, go very close to her and ask her to stay after.

When you talk to her after class, start with this:  "Have I ever disrespected you?"  The answer should be "No".  

If the answer is yes, then you have some introspection to do.  Be prepared to listen and learn. Apologize if needed while you work to help the child understand the importance of working hard in your class and giving it her all.

Once the child says "No", you need to refer to the behavior (rolling of the eyes, or whatever it was) and tell her this is not respectful.  You must say, "I've never disrespected you, and I don't deserve to be treated the way you treated me.  Do I?"  If you've treated the child with respect previously, you will absolutely have her in the palm of your hands...that is one of the most important reasons that we must always treat our children with 100% respect. 

I've taught for 23 years in 3 states in varied economic situations, and my experience is that ALL of them understand this sort of leadership and respond in the best possible way.  

Forbidden Pattern from S-Cubed Sight Singing Program...a classroom management suggestion:  

In my Sight Singing game, Forbidden Pattern, one of the rules is:  In order for the class to win a point, there must be absolute silence when the teacher sings the forbidden pattern.    If you don't stick to that rule, the game will turn into a discipline nightmare for you...especially with the younger singers.  

When enforcing the rules, we don't have to be mean.  We don't have to yell.  Doing so will ruin the energy of the game.  So, when they test us on that rule, we must find ways to be clever or funny or silly while still driving home the point that they must be silent to win the point.  For example, a common thing that the kids want to do when the forbidden pattern is sung is to "Sh" each other or do some sort of physical gesture to remind people not to sing.  This is not allowed.  We want our students to be focused enough to simply be quiet in that moment.  I usually call the point "even" when they warn each other in some way....no one gets a point.   I do it in as "light-hearted" a way as possible, and I keep the pacing of the game going as fast as possible.  

I've spend hundreds of hours recording and uploading the teaching videos for S-Cubed.  There are so many classroom management ideas in those videos that can help you as you teach.   There are so many that I cannot possibly write them down in a blog entry or in a power point.   I urge you to watch those videos anytime you struggle with discipline or pacing of the game.  Nothing that I do in those videos is by accident.  The pacing is fast, ridiculous and  the over-acting and the humor are all on purpose!   As you play the game more and more over the years, you will get better and better at the intricacies of it, and you will find that it helps your relationships with the children and also makes you a better classroom manager!

I hope the program is working for you!

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Surviving Back to School Night

Everyone is back in school!  Classroom processes have been taught and here we go!

Now...what about Back to School night?  Parents?!

I've heard my peers call them "Helicopter Parents".   I absolutely do not have the same view!

I teach chorus to over 300 children every single day, five days per week.   It would be impossible without the parents.  

What do they want?  How do we cope with a barrage of emails and contacts from parents?  How do we not get cornered at Back to School Night?

1)  Be pro-active!  They simply want information.  I create an email distribution list as soon as school starts, and I send emails about upcoming events, classroom expectations, due dates, etc.  You could refer them to your website.  You could use Remind.com.  Whatever works best for you, but if you give them information, they are grateful and less-stressed!  Therefore, they are less likely fill your inbox with questions or corner you at Back to School Night!
You can see a sample below.  This has worked wonders for me!

2)  Be empathetic!  I teach middle school.  The transition to 6th grade is huge.  Not only are the students stressed, but so are the parents!  Their children are growing up, and if this is their first child in middle school, they don't really know what to expect.  

3)  Be open to receiving help!  On my syllabus, I have a section requesting volunteers for specific tasks.  The more specific the tasks are, the more likely you are to receive volunteers.  I put my parents to work before the first week of school...sometimes sooner! Using parent volunteers builds trust in the community...and again...that relaxes them, keeps your inbox less full and allows you to leave before 9 PM on Back to School Night!
Here is a screenshot of the parent volunteer sheet on my syllabus.

Parents are your greatest allies.  Forge professional relationships with them from Day 1.  It helps you, and most importantly, it helps the children!

Music Teachers!  I am having a special 48 hour sale on the Complete S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Bundle starting September 24th!

Monday, September 15, 2014

Four Classroom Management ideas for the Middle School Chorus Classroom by Mr D

People change when the pain of staying the same is greater than the pain of change....whether they are children or adults.  Many people stop speeding (at least temporarily!) when they get a ticket. People are more likely to eat healthier foods and start exercising when the doctor tells them their cholesterol or blood pressure is too high, and they are in danger of having a heart attack or stroke. Smokers often stop smoking when they feel that nagging never-ending cough that is the first sign of cancer.

It's human nature.

Our students are no different.

When they aren't meeting our expectations, they have to be respectfully, compassionately and swiftly held accountable.  Note those adverbs...they are the key to the solutions....No matter which way you decide to solve the issues at hand, do so Respectfully, Compassionately, and Swiftly.

How does that look?  What does that mean?  How do we get there?  What foundations do we have to lay?

A few ideas...

Many people watch my S-Cubed Sight Singing Teaching Example videos on my YouTube Channel and see my approach to teaching, and they may think that it's all fun and games.  Well...as with life, it isn't quite that simple.  I certainly try to laugh with my students, have fun with them and motivate them, but ultimately, as middle school teachers, we will encounter behavior issues.  We have to be willing and committed to following through when it comes to discipline and grading.  

When we do so, ironically, it makes more laughter and fun possible in the classroom than when we don't.

These are middle school children.  They do what we allow.

Here is an example I've experienced recently.

An assignment was due.  I'd told the children that if they don't meet the deadline, they will get a "0". Student "A" doesn't meet the deadline.  I put the "0" in the electronic grade book immediately. 
No yelling.  No screaming.  No lecturing.  I simply followed through.  I allowed the child and the parent to see it online.  Voila...the child brings in the assignment.  The pain taught the lesson.  I changed the "0" to a "50"...giving some sort of credit for the late assignment to acknowledge that the child made an effort to turn it in.  Doing so shows compassion, but there is still some pain involved.  That pain is what teaches the lesson. Without it, change is less likely to occur.  

Whatever the behavior is (repeated talking while you teach, not bringing required materials to class, etc.), there must be a tangible consequence that is felt by the student.  We don't humiliate.   We don't repeat threats.  

We just follow through.  

It doesn't take them long to learn that you do.

Here are some questions to ask yourself?

1)  Have you TAUGHT your daily procedures effectively?  Do they understand the daily routines?  They thrive with structure, and we must TEACH it the same way we teach how long to hold a whole note.

2)  Are you using positive reinforcement with the children?  Are you publicly acknowledging and praising the children who are doing things correctly.  This solves so many issues and saves enormous energy.

3)  Are you treating your children with respect? Some teachers balk at this.  They have the attitude that "I am the adult, so I deserve respect."  Forgive me for this...but you don't.  Respect is a circle in every relationship...adult to adult....child to child....adult to child.  We are the adults, and it is up to us to set the tone.  When we don't set that tone, we set ourselves up for disaster.  When we DO set it up well, we get to ask the question to the child whose just disrespected us in some way, "Have I ever treated you poorly or without respect?"   When they have to say "No", you are in a position of strength to move toward good results with that child.  If they answer "Yes", then you've got some introspective work to do.

Always treat them with respect. Do not call them out and embarrass them in front of other children. Find discreet ways to handle behavior issues while you are teaching (proximity, a "look"), but never publicly embarrass.  It won't turn out well.

4)  Have you set up strong communication systems that are very easy to use to help you communicate better with parents and students? Remind.com is an easy to use tool for quick short messages.  I don't use this, but lots of my peers do, and they love it.

I cannot emphasize how important #4 is.  When we have an easy ability to reach out to our parents when we need support, it makes everything easier...from getting chaperones for a trip, to making costumes, to partnering with you to help their child.  When we have to take the time to dig around to find an email address, it diminishes the chances we will communicate and that hurts everyone.  I use our school email system.  I request all of the parents email addresses on the syllabus they sign.  Using that document, I create a contact that says "Parent of Jane Doe".  I place the contact into a list of all of the students in that particular class period.  I also add it to an "All Chorus" list so that I can send an email to all chorus parents at once.  This gives me three ways to easily access and use the information in a variety of circumstances that help me communicate with groups of people as well as individual people.  

This way, when Jane Doe misbehaves, and my strategies haven't worked with her, I can immediately go pop an email out to her.  Every communication is documented.  

Personally, I don't like phone calls.  If you get into a difficult situation with a parent, it becomes "he said/she said".  With email, it's all there in black and white.  Sometimes, phone calls are necessary, but 99% of the time, I handle everything with an email.

In the emails, I start and end with something positive.  When I state the issue that precipitated the email, I do so 100% objectively.  I do not accuse.  I simply state, unemotionally, the behaviors that led us to this point along with any strategies I used with the parent, and I ask for ideas from the parent about how to get better results with that child.  We are partners.

For me, this solves the issue 95% of the time.  No administrative referrals needed.

If it doesn't solve the issue, I call the parent in for a meeting with the child present.  By then, I've taken meticulous, clear, non-judgmental notes about specific behaviors the child has exhibited in my room.  In the meeting, I state those.  I usually offer to do a daily contract of some sort that perhaps results in something positive for the child if he upholds the contract.  I get the parent to sign the contract daily.  It is returned to me daily.  It becomes a log.  I give a score of 10 if the child was perfect in the behavior that day.  The score is lower if he failed to meet expectations.  

Middle School children enjoy immediate feedback.  

I prefer not to deal with administration.  It's just too cumbersome.  I make sure my work is focused, first, on helping the child.  It helps us form a relationship with the person who matters most.  When it becomes clear that he cannot do it alone with me, I reach to the parent.  

The goal is a better behaved child who feels successful and begins to take pride in doing the right thing.  

They are just children who are trying to find their way.  We have to help them.

I hope that this gives you some ideas that can help you in your classroom!

Hundreds of teachers all over the world are using S-Cubed: How to Teach Sight Singing to Middle School Beginners.  I am grateful that it seems to be helping teachers with far more than just sight singing.  If you are using it, please share the news of it on social media sites in your home states and countries as well as the large group Facebook Pages like Music Teachers and I'm a Choir Director.  I do not advertise in a traditional way. I'm just a teacher like the rest of us!

Check out my blog!

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