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!


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Monday, September 8, 2014

Give them Chills? Or Terrorize them?

We all know that the kids "in the middle" are special for sure.  The challenges of managing them and motivating them are immense to say the least.  As I often say about the early days of my career as a middle school teacher...I either had to figure it out or stop teaching.  

Thankfully, I figured some things out that have worked well for me, so here I am...23 three years later teaching middle school choral music and music theater.  They can't seem to chase me off.

The frustrations that can accompany teaching this unique age group in the large groups that we, as music educators, often encounter in our jobs can cause us to make decisions that ultimately hurt our programs and discourage the children.  I don't think people do it on purpose, but it's simple....this age group can be difficult, and we are simply trying to solve the problems.

So, today...as I was browsing through a Facebook page for middle school choral directors, I was alarmed by one of the posts.  The post went something like this:  

"My middle school choral class refuses to sing.  So, as punishment, I stand them up, one by one, and make them sing their part in front of the class, and I give them a grade.  What do you think about this practice?"

Wow.

Ok...at least he was searching for guidance.  In his gut, he already knows the answer.

There are so very many things wrong with this approach.   
In my experience, most of the children in this age group absolutely do NOT want to sing alone in front of others...especially while receiving a grade.  The thought of it terrorizes them.  There are certainly exceptions to that rule.  We all have our future Kathleen Battle's, Mariah Carey's and Kristin Chenoweth's in our classroom, for sure.  :)
 ...But for most of them, the thought of this is just awful. 

If we want to increase the numbers of students in our programs, we absolutely must avoid this kind of approach.  It will run children away from your program almost as fast as releasing a cage of snakes into the room during rehearsal.   It just doesn't make sense.  

Singing is so personal. 

Who wants to sing when they feel terrorized or afraid?

We must find ways to motivate our children daily.  We must laugh with them daily.  We must be silly.  We must make sure they understand how to interpret the dots off of the page so they can enjoy the process of singing. When we haven't helped them understand the "code" that is music, more often than not, they stop singing out of frustration...not out of lack of desire to learn it.  We must be clear in our instructions to them about what it is that we want, and we must have strategies in place to help them attain it.  We must engage them with our passion.  If you are singing songs with them that you hate, they will know.  

Tell them a story about the song you've picked.  Help them find the meaning....a meaning that THEY can relate to in THEIR lives.  

I'm not suggesting that you have to sing pop music with them.  That isn't it at all.  If you love baroque music more than life itself, then sing it with them.  You can absolutely have success singing Baroque with any middle school child in any socioeconomic background IF it stems from your deep passion for it.   I couldn't do it because it isn't my thing.   Whatever your true musical passion is, do it.  Share your passion...but find a way to relate it to their lives.   Bring it to life as only you can with your passion about that musical style, and they will sing...like crazy!

Nothing motivates our singers to sing better than when we find a way to connect to their spirits. Often, technical issues are corrected almost immediately.  They breathe differently.  Their eyes light up.  The tone has more energy.  The diction is clearer.  Their posture is better.

Of course, we have to cover technique, but we must also cover the interpretation of the piece with them starting with taking the flame from our own spiritual passions about the style of music we've chosen to teach and lighting theirs.

...and it's also pretty awesome to watch them get excited when that flame lights.  When they get an emotional reaction....when their singing first causes them to get the chill bumps, they are totally hooked.  

I think this approach will work a lot better than threats and humiliation, and you'll likely feel rejuvenated at the end of the day rather than spent.  Believe me...I know. I've tried it all!

Middle School children want us desperately to take them to the highest heights.  Most have never experienced it, but when they get a taste of it, they want to experience it again and again, and that is going to keep them singing.  

Social Media Sharing...

Please continue sharing your stories about your work with S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program.  It is as much a philosophical approach as a method, and the ideas I've shared above are in line with those approaches.   Send your pictures and videos of working with your children and your classrooms as well!  I am thrilled that so many teachers seem to be getting benefit from the ideas I've presented.  It makes the work absolutely worth while.  Thank you so much for your purchases.  Please use social media to spread the word to your peers and district supervisors.  Use Facebook pages and groups, twitter chats, Pinterest, district FB pages, email...whatever works.  Send me a note when you do it with the links you shared, and it's likely that I'll send a lesson to you for free!  Make sure to share something personal about why the system is working for you or why it is different than other things you've tried. Tell a bit of your personal story (I'm a band teacher who needed guidance for my chorus job this year, for example), and then share some of the links below. Send the links to dduncan158@gmail.com, and I will respond to you soon!

Here are some possible links to share on social media:

Click the picture below.  The picture will take them to my store to the Complete Bundle.  I've set the product descriptions up so they go on to tour from lesson to lesson in the description.  When they finish the "tour", they have a clear idea what this is all about!


Also try these links:

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

To get the latest and most updated versions of the S-Cubed lessons...

...you've purchased on TPT, go to the website, click "My Purchases", click recently revised, and the update will be there!
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When should you start over with S-Cubed?

Do I start over on S-Cubed when I get new students?  Do I start over each school year?   If I get some new students in January, should I begin again?

Lots of people ask me these questions, so I wanted to share a couple of ideas.

Here is some information to help you as you make that decision.

Here are my circumstances:

1)  6th graders come to me as beginners.  I usually have about 100-120 total.  They've had good elementary training, for sure, but this is their first experience with such rigorous reading expectations.
2)  In 7th grade, my program grows a bit as I get about 15-20 new children in August who didn't take it the previous year.
3)  In 8th grade, I have only an advanced choir.  The maximum I can have is 84.  I very rarely allow any new children into chorus because my students are so fluent at reading.  I am not able to have a beginning choir due to scheduling issues beyond my control.  If I could, I would, and if I did, I would have a beginning Mixed Choir and an Advanced Mixed Choir. I would start from Lesson 1 with the beginners.
4)  I have all of my students all year.
5)  My classes are 50 minutes long, and I see them daily.

With my 6th graders, I start with Lesson 1 and plow through to Lesson 27 in 27 weeks.

With my 7th graders, I almost always start over.  The reason I do this is because the "old" kids need review, and the new kids need to build the skill sets to catch up in their reading ability.  I usually go faster in 7th grade.  I usually do more advanced "Follow the Hand" activities to give them better ability to find skips.

In gymnastics, they use the "level" system.  To advance from Level 1 to Level 2, for example, you must master certain skills.  The best coaches in the sport do not allow their children to advance to Level 2 until they have thoroughly, consistently and cleanly shown that they can master the skills required.  They must be "masters". This helps tremendously because they learn solid form and technique before they try to learn more difficult skills.  Coaches who allow them to move on to the next level before they are truly ready end up with frustrated athletes with bad technique.

This is the same way I approach S-Cubed.

I haven't shared with other teachers what I do with my 8th graders, but it is much more advanced.  We put all of the skills to work at a very high level, and we do it as soon as the school year begins.

I suppose if you were gaining only a few new children in January or some other midpoint during the year, you may not want to start over.  The majority of your students would carry the weight of the skill execution, and the new students would strive to catch up.

You have to consider your circumstances and make the decision that is best for you and your students!

Thank you for using S-Cubed!





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Thursday, August 21, 2014

Special "Freebie for Free Publicity" Exchange! Social Media Promo!

Freebie for Free Publicity Exchange!  Offer good until September 1, 2014!
Offer for people who are using my products in their classrooms!
 Many of us are back to school, and I hope your new year is off to a great start!
This summer has been an amazing one for me.  Many people purchased the Complete S-Cubed program and are implementing it this fall and many of you have taken the time to leave comments and ratings.  Some have even sent pictures and video of their work!  Thank you for sharing it!   I am humbled and grateful.  It definitely makes all of the work last year worth it!  Some have even asked for S-Cubed 2!  Well…let’s see if S-Cubed #1 continues to be useful for teachers!  :)
I want you to know that I am teaching the program to my beginners right now, and I am improving the offering in each lesson to make it as easy as possible to work with!  Please make sure to check TPT for updates.  Each time I upload an improved product, I want you to get your hands on it!  Each time I update, you should receive a notice.  If I update it 10 more times, you get them all as part of your original purchase…and I plan to keep making it better and better for the next 2 years.
The common theme of the feedback has been “I’ve needed something like this for years”, and “I love the accompanying video links”.  Please keep me posted via email about how it is going as you implement it.  I want to share your stories and work to improve the product throughout this year for you and for future buyers.   
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” Here is how it works:  
Step one:  You share some of the links I’ve listed below on Facebook group pages.  Groups such as I’m a Choir Director:  Link to "I'm a Choir Director" on FB. and Music Teachers:  Link to Music Teacher Page on FB. ...and any other local or state website that includes large numbers of music teachers who can benefit from this offering.  Use any other social media format as well that can help deliver the news about S-Cubed to folks who can benefit from the materials.  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.  To make it easy to share, here are some direct links that might be helpful to share with your peers.  Just copy and paste with your own word about the system:
Step two:  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.  Place "Social Media Promo" in the title.
b)  Please include the link or links you’ve shared with your peers about S-Cubed, and I’ll send you a product.   
*If you share one link with your peers, you get a lesson that costs $10 - $20 from my store for free.
*If you share 3-5 links, you get one of the small bundles in my store for free.  
*If you share 6 or more links, I will send you the complete bundle for free.
The deadline for this offer is September 1, 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!
Make sure you’ve subscribed to my YouTube Channel!  I plan to create new material this year that might help you as you implement S-Cubed!
Thank you so much for following my store, and have a great school year!  Dale

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

One Day BOOST Site Wide Back to School Sale on TPT




Since lots of schools don't start back until after Labor Day, TPT has decided to have a special one day back to school sale tomorrow, August 20th!  I am participating by marking my entire store down by 20%.  Use the TPT code BOOST when you purchase, and you will get an extra 8% for a total of 28% off of everything.

It is a great time to buy your next set of bundles!  Some of you have purchased the small bundle with Lessons 1 through 5.  Now is a great time to stock up on the next bundle that includes Lessons 6-10.

Or, if you want to take the big plunge and get the best deal, buy the Complete 27-lesson bundle-How to Teach Sight Singing to Middle School Students!

I am updating my lessons all year as I teach them, so make sure to check back on TPT to get your updated PowerPoints.  I am working to make them easier and easier to use.

...and check out all of the products from my music teacher colleagues on TPT.  They are an awesome group with lots of great products to enhance your classroom and teaching experience!  

...One day only!



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