Discipline Strategies for Middle School Choir! Classroom Management! Keeping the Folders Organized!

I am participating in Aileen Miracles Linky party, and we are sharing discipline strategies!

Part of classroom management in the middle school choral classroom is creating and TEACHING daily processes that work!  Systems....Patterns....Routines....whatever you want to call it.  I teach over 300 students daily in my room.  Four of my six classes have between 60 and 84 middle school children!  I have learned that In the chorus classroom, it is very important to have solid procedures in place because often, we have larger classes than other subject areas.  We must be proactive and attentive to detail when we create our routines.  Doing so will help us avoid so many discipline issues that can make our class a difficult place to learn.  Our goal is to create an atmosphere in which we are able devote as many minutes as possible on a daily basis to LEARNING....not dealing with discipline!

One of the most important daily routines/tasks that impacts our choral classrooms daily is how to distribute music.

Managing Music Folders well for this number of children is very important.  If done poorly, persistent problems can result that delay learning and cause bad energy in the classroom.  That is terrible for singing!

Here is what I do to keep order with music and folders when I have 84 children in one class period.

Assign numbers-
I create an excel file with all of the names of my kids.  I usually use our computer grading system called eSIS and export the files directly over.
I place the list by class period on the wall of the entrance to my class.  
I assign numbers to each child in each grade.
I write numbers on every folder.
I write numbers on every piece of music.  (Folder #1 only includes music labeled #1, for example.)

Storage guidelines-
I have two folder containers.  One of them contains the odd numbered music.  The other contains the even numbered music.  I do this only because I have classes of 84 at once.  It helps them be able to pick up and put away folders more quickly.  The containers aren't side by side to avoid traffic issues.
I even make every child place every song back into their folder by alphabetical order (song title) before placing it back into their slot.

Hold them accountable-
I have a student monitor in each period who randomly "back checks" a few folders daily after the children place them in the slots.  If there is a problem (folder out of order/folder turned wrong way in the slot/folder in wrong slot, for example), the student monitor marks the persons name.  If he placed it in the slot backward on Tuesday, a red mark goes on the Tuesday slot.  I keep the color coded key on the wall so the kids know what they did incorrectly.  
I make it a part of their daily grade.  

Classroom organization is key!
The sight singing program is bundled now!  Get the full program or get 5 lessons at once!
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The students who need us most

Let's call him Ivan.

It's the first day of school.

This extremely Autistic child walks into my classroom in August 2013.  With 65 6th graders in the room whom I am meeting for the first time, he yells inappropriate things at all the wrong times.  His designated para-pro does her best to control him, but she just met him too.   I have no idea what the correct procedure is, but I trust my instincts.

He's nervous...just like all the other 6th graders who are coming to a new, larger school with multiple teachers.  I must maintain my respect for him.

The majority of the students in the room have never met this child.  Who is he?  Why does he act this way?  Some snicker and are distracted from learning.

As we sing for the first time in the Sight Singing game, Forbidden Pattern, he sings inappropriately loudly...obnoxiously so.  Again...a few students snicker, but most are trying their best to stay focused.

On the third day of school, he had pulled the fire alarm while his mother stood right next to him.  All 1500 children were evacuated because of it.  So, he walks into my room later that day after the evacuation.  He's quiet at first.  Then, he stands up and walks to the center of my room filled with 65 new 6th graders and he yells to the very top of his lungs, "I pulled the fire alarm today!  It was MEEEEEEEEEE."

After that class, one of my students asked me, "Why is he in this class with us?  Shouldn't he be somewhere else?"

...and that is how the year started with my 6th period 6th grade students.

He was suspended for a day or two after he pulled the fire alarm.

After that, he slowly gained better self control and the para-pro and I learned to work together to protect the other 65 children in the room so they could sing and learn as a normal chorus class would, but it wasn't easy.  His mother and I met a few times, and she shared with me that he loved YouTube. So, we made these two videos for him as he strove to earn the honor of participating in the first concert of the year and of the most important concert of the year...the Georgia Music Educator's adjudicated festival.

For Ivan for the first concert
For Ivan for the adjudicated festival

He responded beautifully to the YouTube videos that I sent.  He felt very special, and I saw a difference in his daily behavior immediately.  We came up with strategies for him to be successful in Concert #1, but he chose not to be in Concert #2.  I think he recognized the importance of the rating system for Georgia Music Educator's Association, and he pulled himself out of the event.  Other students were disappointed he wouldn't attend.  I had already placed a note into the adjudicated festival judges form notebooks to prepare them for the unknown.  He might sing extra loud and purposefully not blend.  However, when he pulled out, I thought...Wow....he gets how difficult this will be for him and the other students if he can't keep control, and he bowed out with dignity.

As is often the case in circumstances like this one, I think I learned more than Ivan did.  The students around him were nicer human beings, as was I.  They learned to help him.  They learned to understand him better.  Does he still yell out?  Yes.  Does he still make odd noises while we sing?  Yes.


I think we have to be flexible.  Willing to learn.  Willing to not have a perfect concert if that is what the universe has in store.  Willing to move with the flow of the energy of that particularly group in that moment in time.

....and that is what Ivan has taught me and so much more.

My sight singing 5-lesson bundle sale ends April 30, 2014.  It will never be this inexpensive again, so if you want to purchase a 21st century Sight Singing program to help you teach this difficult subject more effectively, now is the time to purchase it!

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The Bullseye! A tool you can use for teaching intonation!

Sliding your finger up and down this bullseye while singing is a great way to teach sharp and flat singing to your students!
Tell your students that the bullseye represents a single note.
Play a pitch on the piano.
Take a deep breath.
Sing the pitch on "doo" a capella in tune.
Point with your finger to the red portion of the bullseye.
Then, while holding the note, go flat just a little bit and drag your finger downward into the other colors.  The flatter you go, the further you drop your finger.  Obviously, you may have to sneak a breath, but try to keep it going as long as you can.
Do the same thing with sharp singing.
Then, refer to this bullseye often when your children demonstrate bad intonation by pointing to where you think they landed.
Great tool!  Enjoy!

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Can S-Cubed Sight Singing Program Be Successful with High School or Elementary Students? A Blog Post by Dale Duncan

Update from June 2017:  Click this link or click the picture below to watch a video I made about this commonly asked question:

"Does S-Cubed work for high school students?

Here is the latest review from a high school teacher who started using S-Cubed the first year that I offered it:

His response:

I wrote this response in April 2014 to a teacher who asked if S-Cubed would work in a High School setting-

First and foremost, S-Cubed is designed to be used in the Middle School classroom with middle school children.  However, that being said, teachers of older and younger children can glean lots of ideas from using S-Cubed and with some modifications based on your knowledge of your students, I believe it can be used with other age groups with success.  

S-Cubed is as much a teaching method specifically for teachers as it is a sight singing course for students.  In each lesson, I share with teachers numerous teaching approaches that I think can help teachers of all levels with their approach to teaching sight singing.  It is designed to help teachers solve the riddle of teaching this difficult subject.  I teach rhythm techniques, techniques to help with private practice time, hand-use techniques to improve results, ear training that will help you in your choral literature and much more.  

I have a theory that, without proper musical development, human beings stay at about a 6th grade level in their ability to harmonize, keep steady beat, and read the dots on the page with success.  I address all of that in S-Cubed.  No other method that I can find actually teaches the teacher how to teach sight singing in the way I've done using video instruction and video teaching examples of the method being used in real time.

I took 27 weeks (10-15 minutes daily/3-4 times per week) to teach Lessons 1-27.  A high school teacher may be able to move more quickly than that?  Just a thought.   You know your students best and can make the best decisions about how to modify the lessons if you choose to go forward with S-Cubed.

Also, until Tuesday of next week (April 30, 2014), I am selling the entire method for $50 if you buy the 5-lesson bundles sets.  Each bundle is $10.  It normally costs $81 if you buy the full set which just became available 3 weeks ago.   It won't be this inexpensive again because of a change I'm about to make to my store.  Now that I am finished creating and uploading the entire method, I am going to change the price structure starting May 1, 2014.  My goal all along has been to encourage people to use the entire method, rather than a single lesson, so, now that I've finished the huge undertaking of uploading everything I've taught this year, I am changing the pricing structure to encourage the use of the full method.  The cost of individual lessons will rise to $5 per lesson.  The 5 lesson bundles will be $4 per lesson.  The full 27 lesson package will stay at $3 per lesson for a total cost of $81.  No other full method of sight singing can be used forever with multitudes of students year after year at this cost.  Books have to be bought and replaced.  Once the teacher solidly learns these techniques, you simply print out the documents each year.  And if you classroom has a SmartBoard of some type, you don't even have to print.  You simply project each example on the board.  It's a big cost savings on the front end AND on the back end.
Here is a link to my store:

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Ideas on how to grow your Middle School Choral Program

Middle school years are unique.  They have to want to sing.   It is our job to inspire them to do so.
Here are several quick thoughts to guide you as you develop your teaching style:
1)  Use your personality to engage them. 
2)  Laugh every single day.
3)  Only sing songs and genres that YOU are passionate about.  They sense your passion and respond to it likewise...regardless of the type of music.  If you love it, they are more likely to share that love.
4)  Don't solely focus on technique 24/7.  Music is spiritual.  Connect to the spirit of the songs in your discussions.  It changes how they sing.
5)  Move.  We cannot expect them to sit still all the time...especially boys.  If you want to attract males, you will definitely need to learn to incorporate movement into rehearsals in various ways.
6)  Discover Music K-8 magazine.  It contains awesome pieces for this age group in every issue and the composers share great ideas about how to bring the songs to life for this age group.


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Creating Balance as Teachers

I wrote this in response to a teacher who is facing a classroom set up next year that could cause burnout:

Your classroom is your oasis.  You get to decide how difficult you make your job each and every day.  You get to decide how many outside festivals/solo ensembles/Allstate chorus/Honor's chorus groups and how many extra overnight field trips that you and your children participate in.  You get to decide the volume of the music you teach.  You can lighten your load without diminishing the impact of the education your children are receiving, and it is important to do so.  You can choose quality over quantity.  You can choose "working hard" over "over-working" regardless of your set up.  It's really up to you.

I know this because I've had to do it.

I run a middle school program of over 300 children.  When I began, there were 80 children in the program.  Easy-schmeasy.  

Over a very short time, my program grew exponentially.  I tried to make the class fun and the word spread.  I did musical revues they loved being a part of. and that I loved creating. I participated in Six Flags competitions.  I did our GMEA adjudicated festivals with all of my choirs.  I participated in Allstate Chorus. Quickly, as the program grew, my life was completely overwhelmed and out of balance, and I knew it wasn't healthy.  I also knew that the circumstances weren't going to change.  Occasionally, our district supplied money for an assistant for my classes that included more than 84 children in one class period, but that money came and went each year unexpectedly along with the assistant.  Since I realized I couldn't depend on the same funding each year for an assistant, I made a few difficult decisions to which I've stuck:  I stopped the Six Flags trips, and I rarely, if ever, sponsor children for some of the extra Honor's/Allstate events.  I didn't make a huge announcement about it.  I just did it.  When we make a big announcement ("This is the last time I am ever doing this"), the kids and parents get disappointed and they bad energy begins to creep in.  I continued to prepare the children for those events in class daily.  All of my students have the tools they need to make Allstate when they leave my classroom for high school, for example, if they decided to start doing that in high school and many of them do so.  All of my children still get an adjudicated festival experience through our GMEA Large Group Performance Evaluation.

I've kept doing the musical revue and participating in the GMEA large group performance evaluations and much more in my classroom.  The excitement and the learning continue for my students and my life is more in balance.

I am in my 22nd year teaching.  Making these important decisions has kept me sane, has kept me from becoming bitter, has kept my life in balance and has allowed me the opportunity to stay in this school at this job where I continue to teach over 300 children in chorus.  The chorus could be even larger.  It isn't necessary.  It isn't healthy.  My check doesn't rise if I teach 80 children in chorus or 380 children in chorus.  

As teachers, we forget that we are the CEO's of our classroom in so many ways.  So often, we get stuck on the approach of "My administrators say I have to do this".  Well, we all know there are many people telling us we have to do certain things.  As the leaders of our classrooms, there are many decisions that WE get to make ourselves.  Find them and make the decisions that will work  best for you.  If you are happy while you teach, your children will respond to that happiness.  If you are miserable, they respond to that too.  

If we run a strong program and serve the children, we will soon see that we don't have to do every single thing under the sun.  We can do a few of those things and do them really well.  The quality of the work is what will pay off for us.  

If we work hard to build relationships with our adminstrators and talk reasonably without defensive language, we can create the program that we want and the one that we need to educate out children to a high level, be proud of our work, yet take care of ourselves too.  We aren't good to anyone if we are sick all the time from overwork or, God forbid, if we are dead!

So, continue to work to find a solution.  There is one.

There is an Arts school in my district in which the entire school (grades 8-12) has the fewer students in the entire school than I teach in my chorus classroom each day by myself and most of the students at that Arts School are not even in chorus!  If I had that particular set up, I might decide to do more of the other activities I mentioned above, but in this setting that I currently have, I've decided to create balance that works for me and still educates my students at a level I'm very proud of! 

More teachers should do it.  Find solutions that educate and create balance at the same time.  

Teachers!  Remember!  On May 1st, I will offer Bundles for my Sight Singing program!  If you still need to buy individual lessons, please do so now!  On May 1st, the prices will rise on the individual lessons for future customers.  You will still be able to buy bundles at the $3 per lesson rate, but the individual lessons will be $5 per lesson!  I will definitely sell the bundles in "fives" with the final bundle being a seven lesson bundles, and each bundle will be at the $3 per lesson rate.  Thanks for your support!

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The Bundles are Coming! S-Cubed Sight Singing for Middle School Children!

I am sending this out to followers of my TPT store tonight!  

Note to Followers for April 2014 

Thank you so much for following my TPT store!  This has been an exciting 9 month journey for me, and I am so grateful for your support!  I still find it hard to believe that after 6 years of wanting to share my individual sight singing lessons with other teachers, I have finally done it!

Now it is time to take it to the next step!

For followers of the S-Cubed Sight Singing System…Per your request…

The bundles are coming, the bundles are coming!  

As you are all aware from the power point slides in the lessons, my vision from the beginning of the creation of S-Cubed has been to encourage teachers to use the full program starting with Lesson 1 and finishing with Lesson 27.

To work toward that goal when I officially offer the bundles, I will implement an important price structure change that could impact those of who’ve begun using S-Cubed with your children if we don’t plan carefully.  So, if you are in the middle of the S-Cubed process and you are planning to purchase some more individual lessons, you should definitely do so before the change is implemented.  The last day to purchase individual lessons at the current price will be April 30th.  

The new bundle pricing model will become effective May 1st.

Here are the highlights of the price structure change:

*On May 1st, I will offer the full 27-lesson bundle for $81 which reflects the current $3 price point that all of my customers have enjoyed until now.  If you bought all of the individual lessons for S-Cubed between the August 1, 2013 and the end of April, that is what it would cost.
*Also on May 1st, I will also offer other smaller bundles at $4 per lesson for teachers who only want to use a portion of the program.  I will offer them in the following bundles:
-Lessons 1-5
-Lessons 6-10
-Lessons 11-15
-Lessons 16-20
-Lessons 21-27
*Also on May 1st, the cost of the individual lessons will change to $5 per lesson.  

While I am excited to finally offer the lessons in the various bundles because it will makes things easier for future customers, I definitely am more concerned that my current customers who are in the middle of the S-Cubed process right now.  I want those folks to have ample opportunity to purchase the individual lessons at the $3 rate.  That is the main reason for this letter today!   Some of you have purchased 3 lessons.  Some have purchased 7 lessons.  Some have purchased 12, and so on.  So, I wanted to make sure that everyone was informed with plenty of time to spare before the new pricing structure is implemented.

I am so thankful for those of you who’ve begun using the S-Cubed program over these past several months, and I appreciate your business enormously.  I am getting emails about how some of your are sharing the news about this program with your peers because you are excited about the results you are seeing and hearing in your classes, and I am grateful the word is spreading.  Keep it up!  I truly believe in this system, and I know it works because I use it every day with my own beginners.

Remember, my new store price structure will be implemented on May 1!  So, if you want to purchase more of the individual lessons at the current $3 price point to finish out the program before the new pricing structure occurs, you should do so before between today and April 30th to get the best price.  

Please continue to leave feedback on the TPT website!  And feel free to contact me via email at dduncan158@gmail.com

Thanks for your support!

Music in the Middle with Mr D
Dale Duncan

S-Cubed Sight Singing System

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Teaching your beginning Middle School Singers to sing with overtones

Training my middle school singers to listen for and work to produce overtones as they sing changed the tone quality my singers produced in magnificent ways, but it also had an awesome and unexpected result.

Students who suffer from ADHD and other attention deficit issues suddenly pop to attention when they hear the overtone.  Once they've achieved it for the first time, all I have to do is to remind them to listen for them and work for them in future lessons.  It's truly amazing to watch.  Choral singing improves, but even better, behavior improves.  ...And we all know that, in the choral music classroom, we will take all of that sort of result that we can get!  

The overtones are difficult to accomplish with inexperienced singers, but here are three of the ways I help my singers achieve them:

a)  I use solfege for all sight singing.  The vowel work that you achieve with solfege is awesome.  You can correct so many things through it.
b)  I talk constantly about using the "tall mouth".  I say things like "North and south with your mouth.  East and West is not the best."  
c)  I use the vowel "oo" when I am trying to achieve overtones for the first time.  Once they know a particular melody really well, I ask them to sing the melody on "oo".  Make sure they are completely confident with the rhythms and the pitches before you try this with young singers.

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Classroom Management

Scenario:  You have an alto in your chorus class who talks too much and doesn't stop.
Here are a couple of ideas on how to handle it:
Overall most important factor:  Mutual respect that starts with you.  You are the adult.  If they sense you don't respect them or that you simply expect respect because you are an adult, you will lose them.  We have to be the leaders in the mututal respect circle.  It is KEY to our success as classroom managers.  If we don't model respect for the students, then none of the solutions I've written below will help.
1)  When they are talking, simply stand in front of them and wait.  Watch the talkers.  ...Careful not to use the evil eye...Just watch and wait.  Don't complain.  Don't call their names.  Don't humiliate or embarrass....simply watch.  Usually, other students will "shush" them as you wait.  The positive peer pressure is helpful.
2)  As you watch them, you should be documenting in your head exactly what is occurring.  Who is talking?  Where are the real issues?  When class is over, write down exactly what you saw.  "Jenny was turned around in her seat talking to Elizabeth while I was teaching.  When I stopped to wait for her to stop talking, it took 30 seconds"...for example.  Unemotional documenting...Just the facts.  Avoid things like "She is disrespectful and rude."  Be specific.
3)  Once you've gathered two or three specific non-emotional descriptions, pull Jenny aside.  When you pull her aside, do not make it a big deal about the fact that you are going to talk to Jenny by saying in front of the whole class "Jenny, I need to see you after class".  This will not set you up for success.  Instead, it will pit you against Jenny AND the class as a whole.  You should discreetly ask her to stay after.  Then, read the unemotional, clear descriptions to her.  "Jenny, these are some behaviors I've observed from you...."  Tell her it's not ok and that we need to find a solution together.  Tell her that her class participation grade has been lowered, and tell her that you are hopeful to be able to solve the issue with her so that you don't have to contact her parents, so it is important that we find the right solution.  "Would you like me to move your seat?", for example?  Get her invested in the solution.  Then, take the action you've decided upon.
4)  If the behavior continues, follow through by contacting the parents.  Again, be unemotionally specific when you speak to the parents. 
Parents are key.  So many teachers skip this step and jump to administrators.  This is a bad idea.  We must establish relationships first with the student and then with the parent.
Overall, what I've described above is a negative approach, but it is sometimes necessary.  More often, I use positive, public recognition in my classroom. For example, when I see a child sitting up straight, listening to every word, I throw a Starburst at the child and thank him publicly for his great posture or his attention.  Everyone around him jumps to attention.  
Establishing good, positive relationships with your students makes your classroom a much better place for learning.
These are just a few ideas.  Over the last year, I have written many more ideas on my blog and recorded classroom management videos on my YouTube Channel.  In them, I've tried to relay my philosophies to help other teachers who struggle with classroom management.
Also, my YouTube Channel with Sight Singing tips and Classroom Management ideas:
It takes a while to find our own personal classroom management style, but you can absolutely do it!   Be patient and don't beat yourself up when you don't get it right!  Just grow from it and move forward!
Dale Duncan
Find my step by step Sight Singing lessons for choirs with direct links to actual teaching examples and teaching tips:
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