About 10 years ago, my administrator's made it possible for me to separate my children by gender for the 7th graders. I was enormously grateful! Ever since I started separating them, the boys have soared in achievement and in numbers.
Here are some numbers to shed some light: I teach 302 total students in chorus. 90 of those children are male. In 6th grade, my students are mixed by gender, and we sing treble music. In 7th grade, they are split by gender. The girls sing 2-part material (S/A). The boys sing T/B material. In 8th grade, I bring them back together, and they sing SAB, SSAB or SATB.
Having 90 boys in a choir of 302 students is very rare in middle school, and I attribute much of it to the gender split. When I started teaching, my numbers were more typical of middle school choirs....100 girls to 10 boys, for example.
Having a year to focus on teaching the boys about their changing voices and having the opportunity to sing men's literature has been awesome and has absolutely changed the makeup of my choral program.
Men's Choirs are a novelty at our Georgia Music Educator's Convention Large Group Performance Evaluation where I teach. My boys have become keenly aware of the fact that there aren't any other men's ensembles going to adjudicated festivals, and the experience builds tremendous confidence and pride within them. The judges always write wonderful comments about that fact, and the boys love it.
Boys in general, are quite competitive, and even though I don't present our adjudicated festivals as a competition, the fact that they are getting a rating that applies only to them makes them more focused. As the adjudicated festival date approaches, the boys are willing to squeeze the most out of rehearsal time so they can do their very best at the event.
Before I separated by gender, my boys barely sang. They were embarrassed to explore their new voices in front of their female peers. The boys were often embarrassed if I focused on them too much when the girls were in the room, so I tended to ignore their needs as a result. When we take the time to help them understand the change of their voices, they thrive. Male voice change is huge and, as we all know, can be quite difficult. It is imperative that we teach them how to deal with it. Knowledge is power.
I like to separate in 7th grade, rather than 8th grade, because most of their voices haven't done the 'big drop' yet, and we can help them through as it occurs. If you wait until 8th grade to separate by gender, it can be difficult to pull the boys out of the dungeon if their voices drop suddenly and significantly when it changed. The muscle memory and ear development you can teach in the 7th grade year as the change occurs for many of them makes a huge difference and will serve you well in 8th grade once you put them back together, if you choose to do that.
While the benefits of gender separation in the middle school choral music classroom far outweigh the drawbacks, there are two things to consider.
a) The difference in emotional maturity in 7th grade girls compared to 7th grade boys, in my experience, is immense. When boys at this age have a class of their own, their immaturity is magnified. You have to learn how to handle it quickly and simply understand that their needs are different.
The "baseness" and silliness of their humor comes out (passing gas, for example...sorry...just being honest). They do things they would NEVER do with a female in the room.
b) Boys need to move more. They are definitely more kinesthetic.
The musical benefits of having a gender split at this critical age are amazing. Once I split by gender, I felt so much more satisfied in the musical results I was able to help them achieve. In 8th grade, when I have them come back together, they are smarter about how to use their voices and much more confident than they were before I started splitting by gender in 7th grade. It improved their experience as choral music students and my experience as their teacher as well!
Here are a couple of videos of my various groups sight singing at the adjudicated festival in March of 2014:
7th grade Men's Choir
7th Grade Women's Choir
6th grade Beginning Choir
8th grade Mixed Choir
Here is a link to my full sight singing program designed specifically for Middle School beginners:
It's called "S-Cubed: Successful Sight Singing for Middle School Teachers and their Students".
It is a complete guide on how to teach sight singing to this age group. It's designed to be fun, progressive and systematic. It includes videos with teaching tips, actual teaching examples, and, of course, sight singing examples, rhythm examples, assessments and more. It is the 21st Century way to learn how to teach sight singing to this age group. Click the picture to learn more.
Check out my blog!