Monday, November 16, 2015

Sixth Graders in your Chorus Classroom

Here in Georgia, I lead classes for all three grades of the middle school years-sixth, seventh and eighth.  I love getting to experience their growth during the three years, but my teaching improved a lot when I really this important fact:

6th, 7th and 8th graders are vastly different.  

For sixth graders, the world of middle school is new and exciting, but it is also incredibly frightening for many.   Most middle schools in my state include well over 1400 children.  Most of the elementary schools contain fewer than 400 children. 

There are so many new things for 6th graders to deal with.

Lockers...Teachers with many varied expectations...Accountability in ways they've never encountered before...Children from other schools who are from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds.   The list is long.

It's a huge transition.

Each year, I see the stress in their faces.  In the first weeks of school, I always encounter tears.  I almost always teach children who struggle to survive in this new world of middle school, and they start racking up absences as their mental and/or physical well-being take a hit from all of the stress.

When they walk into my room each day, I look into their faces and say hello and try to assess how they are feeling and what they've faced before walking through my door.  

I want my chorus classroom to bring some light into their day.  

Does that mean that I am easy on them? 

Oh no.

Far from it...We work bell-to-bell, and my expectations are high.

But, I work to make them smile and laugh with my silly humor at least once per day whenever I can.

They can be an energy-sucking challenge when we don't recognize how their brains work, so I want to share three strategies that have helped me.

They thrive on structure, and they need answers!

Routines are so important for them.  From the beginning of the year, I make sure I've set up my room in a very clear, functional way to help set them up for success.  I talk about it in this video.

"What will a 6th grader want to know that I have not covered?"
8th graders don't raise their hands to ask 15 questions, but 6th graders do.  It's just where they are in their learning curve, but if you are careful and thoughtful and clear, you can avoid lots of these issues.  

When I am explaining the procedures for concert night, for example, I try to think like a sixth grader.  In order to keep them from raising their hands before I finish explaining something and interrupting and delaying the work we are doing, I have to make sure I've thought of every single detail.  

I don't allow my 6th graders to ask questions until I'm finished explaining everything about whatever I'm talking about.  If they raise their hand to interrupt, I politely say, "Put the hands down." Then, when I've finished, I allow for a brief question/answer session.  I don't let it go too long because they lose focus quickly and inappropriate behaviors will begin or they'll start to ask questions about lunch or something else totally unrelated.  I cut off the question/answer session and allow them to come up to me after class to ask the remaining questions one-on-one as they are exiting the room.

They need a change of routine every few minutes

It is a bad idea to spend 15 minutes trying to get them to sing the DO-MI-SOL perfectly in tune in measure 31.  It's not going to happen today, so let it go.  :-)

When it comes to learning singing in the group setting, Sixth Graders cannot bear to sit in the same location doing the same thing for very long.  They need you to change it up way more frequently than their older peers. Get them up out of the chairs.  Find physical ways to do teach your lesson when you can, but do it in a very clear and structured way. 

Then, find a silent way to teach the next concept.  

The roller coaster ride keeps them interested.

When they get bored, they start tattling.

...and isn't that why we decided NOT to teach elementary school in the first place?  

Teach them how to listen while they sing

They don't know how when they arrive in your classroom.  They've only had music once per week in their previous school.  It is nearly impossible to develop great listening skills in a 30 minute music lesson once per week.  The elementary teacher did the best they could with the time they had to do it.

Ear-training is up to you.  You have to teach them how to listen while they sing, and it takes time.  Doing it while they are so young will serve you beautifully over the next two years, so make it happen! 

I cover a lot of listening skills in S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program for Beginners.  I designed the program not only to help my students sight sing, but to help them learn to hear themselves and correct themselves while they sing.

Some of the things I notice in my sixth graders regarding listening while they sing:
1)    They almost never sing DO in tune when they try to sing a scale.  They sing DO and 3/4.  We have to help them realize that. Don't ignore it.  It won't go away.  Give them DO when you want them to sing a scale and ask them to sing the DO back to you before they sing the scale.
2)  On the descending scale, TI is always a hot mess.  It sounds like chopsticks.  Teach them to hear it.  Sing it back to them the way you hear it...they'll laugh...
3)  And MI/FA?  Wow.  It's always going to be FA and 3/4 unless you fix it.

In their repertoire, if there is any passage that includes "MI/FA" or "TI/DO" or other chromatic, they are going to struggle with pitch, so teach it carefully!  I like to use a solfege preview before they actually try to sing the song that includes the tricky passages.  This helps to get them centered on the pitch before they get distracted by the words and symbols on the page of music.  

In S-Cubed, I have units on half steps and whole steps.  They also have to learn to sing a full ascending and descending chromatic scale during the program....in tune...along with many other ear-training exercises that help them develop their ears!  Here is a video/audio of my 8th graders singing their 3-part Chromatic scale. Fast forward to the 47 second mark.   In S-Cubed, we build the foundations for the 3-part Chromatic scale in the Original S-Cubed series, and we put it into practice regularly in Level 2.



Ear development takes time!  We didn't develop ours overnight either!  :-)

I am having some very large discounts for the rest of November on many of my S-Cubed Sight Singing Materials!  I'm calling it "9's in November!"  Simply click for more details!  It includes the 
S-Cubed Complete Middle School Sight Singing Bundle, Two Bundles from the Level 2 series of S-Cubed and several individual lessons in both series.  I am so grateful for the kind words people are sending me about how the program is working for them.


Have a great Thanksgiving and holiday season!

 Check out my blog!

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