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 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!

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  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!

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. 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" 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 to adult....child to 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? 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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Give them Chills?

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, 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. 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 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, 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:

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