Middle School Choir
Recently I was sitting in my classroom and thought of sixth-grade choir. I don’t know why I randomly thought of it- but I did. In my middle school, everyone had to take a music class but you elected which one you took. There was band, choir, and music appreciation. My parents said no to band because I quit the piano in fifth grade. Music appreciation was a lot of work with tests and quizzes and presentations. No thank you! In choir, you had to sing and perform one song (as a group) during the band concert. That seemed manageable to me. Middle School Natasha was all about doing the least amount of work as possible. So were many other students in my grade.
It was so obvious that choir was the easiest of the three choices. Our class was packed full of trouble makers looking for an easy out to music class. Since choir was the most popular option there were the most students in that class. I would say there were about 35 but I could be very off.
I don’t remember the name of the music teacher. She was quite small and even while standing could barely see over the top of the piano. She had a great voice and was a great singer but could not handle our class. I haven’t taught middle school in years (if student teaching a semester of middle school even counts) but I do know that if you give them an inch they take a mile. Let’s talk about why her classroom management fell apart.
A note on the term "Classroom Management"
I really don’t like it. I much prefer to think of my classroom as a community. A community where everyone is welcome and has a seat at the table. I don’t manage my students. Just today I was scolded by a student because I interrupted another student during a class conversation. It was true. I had gotten used to interrupting as a teacher and it was a bad habit I needed to break. She reminded me that it isn’t respectful to not let someone finish their idea. I apologized and worked on this as my goal for the rest of the day.
The term management makes it seem as though the teacher is working to control the students. As a teacher, I don’t have control of my students. Gasp! I explain to my students that they can only control themselves. They are just as important to our classroom community as I am. I follow a lot of Responsive Classroom’s practices and building a community of learners is one of them. I wouldn’t say I really have classroom management strategies I have relationship building strategies.
A 45 Minute Period
Let me just paint a picture of a 45-minute choir class just so you know what we’re working with. It was the last period of the day and kids arrived to class around 5-7 minutes late no matter what. To be honest, I even arrived to class late because it didn’t really matter if I showed up on time or not. It’s true!
After we all arrived our teacher would take attendance. This was a long process where she was trying to learn all of our names. I would say the first 15 minutes were settling in and taking attendance. That’s one third of our class time.
Once attendance finished we would warm up. She attempted to lead us through a vocal warm-up and some sassy kids would change the warm-up. They made everyone laugh and then we would all be in a bit of trouble.
During warm-ups, someone would ask to go to the bathroom. I will say that during middle school we had a very strict no bathroom during class time policy. Let’s talk about that one day because it is absurd! So we weren’t allowed to use the bathroom in class… yeah. Once one kid asked kids cycled in and out of class in groups of 2 or 3 for the duration of the class period.
After warm-ups, we would begin to sing. The songs we were singing weren’t particularly interesting to us middle schoolers. So we would change the words and sing silly nonsensical things. We would goof around and laugh and start talking with one another. Then came the yelling. Our teacher would start screaming at us and then we would straighten out for a few minutes only to start the chit-chat up again a little while later.
We might sing a few songs and then it was 5 minutes before the bell was to ring and we would pack up and wait at the door. Our teacher always yelled at us and we always pushed closer and closer to the door. The bell would ring and class would end. We ran out of the room talking very loudly.
Now, maybe your classes aren’t as catastrophic as this one was but let’s analyze where classroom management falls off the tracks
The Break Down
There was no teacher student relationship
Relationships are everything. I like to follow a Responsive Classroom approach to management. I have no idea what my choir teacher’s name was. I didn’t know anything about her. She knew absolutely nothing about me. I showed up to choir, she took attendance and then stood behind the piano and attempted to teach. There were no relationships. Kids who might be considered class clowns tried to form a relationship with her- not in the best of ways. Any questions about her life or who she was were not answered and were ignored. Kids don’t need to know everything about their teacher but they do need some sort of connection.
Figure out what you’re willing to share. So you don’t want to divulge your whole life story, that’s ok. My kids know very crafted bits about my life. They know about my sister and my love for Target. They know about my naughty dog in the US. They know the names of my childhood friends. I know things about them. I know who likes unicorns and who prefers Messi to Ronaldo, I know who likes to read fiction and who likes to read nonfiction. There has to be some sort of teacher/student relationship. Learning is built on relationships. The stronger the relationship between the students and the teacher the better. Teachers- you have to think that each child in your class can accomplish the impossible. They have to know that you care for them and respect them.
Rules were stated but never enforced
We knew the rules. Arrive on time. Listen while the teacher is talking. Sing the correct lyrics to the songs. Rules were stated but there was no enforcement of rules. I notice this a lot when I’m struggling with classroom community and when others are. If there are never redirections or logical consequences for breaking the rules the limits begin to be tested. If I sing the wrong word one time and nothing happens, I’ll do it again and again. If I mock the directions you’re giving and you don’t tell me to stop I will keep going. Kids are always looking for boundaries and when they can’t find them they continue to push the limits.
Instead of rules try building expectations together as a class. We do this in my first-grade classroom. We have three main rules that tie in with our school’s guiding statements be respectful, be responsible, strive for excellence. We also have other expectations. We set up expectations for the carpet, for the bathroom, for getting a drink. There are expectations and there are procedures. Just recently kids noticed that kids were throwing their paper towels on the ground instead of making sure they made it into the garbage can. They asked to hold a class meeting to talk about it. We did and it hasn’t been a problem since. Kids need ownership over their classroom and creating expectations (that are upheld all the time, not sometimes) together is a great way to start.
Behaviors were never dealt with until they were too extreme
15 kids all asking to go to the bathroom one right after the other wasn’t a problem until literally every kid in the class went to the bathroom and we just cycled in and out. True story- we had very strict bathroom rules in middle school. (I once peed my pants in 7th grade because of this policy and was denied going to the bathroom several times. This has stuck with me and I never ask kids to hold it. This is a story for another day. And, I wasn’t the only one that happened to. It was frequent in our middle school. Once the bathrooms were even locked… ok, saving it for later) Singing the wrong lyrics didn’t really matter until suddenly we were being yelled at. Small behavior problems were never stopped because they were small. Does it matter if one kid sings the wrong lyrics? Yes, it actually does.
Try dealing with little problems on a daily basis. Deal with problems right when they occur no matter how small. Dealing with problems when they are small and manageable is much preferred to waiting until they get out of control. Once behaviors are extreme they’re harder to rein in. Even though a student talking at the same time as the teacher seems like a small problem, if it isn’t dealt with right away, it is going to turn into a big problem. Set boundaries and stick to them. Enforce expectations consistently.
Students Talked At the Same Time As the Teacher
When students are talking at the same time as anyone no one’s really being heard. Teachers talk to share important information so if a student is talking at the same time they are missing something and so are other students. What may start as whispers will surely grow if it isn’t stopped. Students will then become frustrated with each other and could start suggesting classroom management strategies to deal with other students. No good will come from this.
Teach that only one person can speak at a time. Students need to listen to you but they also need to listen to each other. Deal with these small behaviors right when they happen. Don’t wait until it is too late to course correct. Sometimes simple redirection is needed. Sometimes I have class conversations around listening. We need to teach listening skills and expectations in the classroom. If it isn’t going well then teach it again.
Yelling was the Only Strategy For Anything
Yelling. Not the greatest tool to use. After some reflection on my own teaching, I realized that I yell when I am tired, when I am cranky, when I am unprepared, or when I need to take a break. Yelling doesn’t work. Maybe at the moment the first time you yell it works but not really. Did you notice that the situations when I yell were all because something was wrong with me not the students? We got screamed at for getting out of our seats.
Actually… I just remembered Freshman Year Chemistry. Our teacher was a chemist turned teacher with no teacher training. He yelled so much that we just tuned it out. Mr. C then resorted to bringing pots to throw at the ground to make a large bang to get our attention. It only worked for a little bit of time. Yelling and extreme actions only work for a short amount of time. They don’t fix the deeper issues.
Take a deep breath. Do a little reflecting and notice the times when you yell. I know I can get short with students when I am stressed or when I am not as prepared as I should be. In college, I realized not getting enough sleep made me a cranky teacher. Once you know what triggers you to yell do your best to avoid those things. I now go to sleep at a respectable hour. I plan my lessons in advance and when things go wrong I learn for next time. I step away from my classroom if needed when I am stressed. Take care of yourself. Whatever you need to take care of yourself and remind yourself yelling just creates more chaos it doesn’t create solutions.
Nothing Was Consistent
Sometimes rules were enforced. Sometimes we had to sing the songs. Sometimes you could do whatever you want. Somedays we followed a structure to class and sometimes we didn’t. Inconsistency is a huge problem. My first year teaching I wasn’t consistent at all. I didn’t always follow the schedule, I sometimes laughed at bad behavior when I should not have, and sometimes I didn’t enforce expectations. Listen we’re all a little inconsistent from time to time but that creates unpredictability in students. If one day you’re using compliments to encourage students and the next day they’re earning tickets and then they’re earning points- the classroom management isn’t consistent. Kids can’t follow along to inconsistent strategies.
Create structure and stay consistent. Show your students that you are someone who is reliable. Someone who enforces every transgression in the same manner. If any kid shoves another kid the same thing happens. If any kids shout out in the middle of a lesson the same thing happens. Keep consistent and follow a structure. Providing your students with predictability is always a good thing. It allows them to focus on the task at hand and it helps them set boundaries to understand the class expectations.
No Follow Through
There has to be follow through. Seriously, if I say that we will have a quick chat after I give directions then we are going to have a quick chat. If I say we are writing an email to mom and dad then we are writing the email to mom and dad. If I say you have to spit out your gum then you have to spit out your gum. Follow through is essential. I know that if I don’t follow through I lose credibility and if I lose that then I have nothing left.
Make guarantees, not empty threats. In college, once I heard a campus safety officer explain to a woman that he doesn’t make empty promises, he makes guarantees. This needs to be the same motto for classroom management. Don’t tell a student something is going to happen and then not follow through. That creates inconsistencies. Follow through all the time, in similar ways, with every student. Don’t worry about being well liked. I’ve noticed that students like teachers who are reliable and fair. Be reliable and fair.
Whole class punished for some
As one of the “good kids” most of my life when the whole group is punished because of one or a few students it is the absolute worst. The bathroom policy I mentioned before came about because some kids were always going to the bathroom and the punishment resulted in several kids peeing their pants in middle school. Why was I not allowed to use the bathroom because some other students abused the privilege? We experience this as teachers too. A whole staff meeting about abusing sick days when really only 2 teachers are doing it. A whole email chain about postings students on social media when it is really one person. It’s frustrating and it isn’t fair.
Try natural and logical consequences for those involved. At a school, I worked at we were trained on Love and Logic. I didn’t like the whole premise but I did like the natural and logical consequences piece. This also ties into Responsive Classroom. The consequence needs to fit the offense. First, determine if a consequence is really necessary. Sometimes procedures need to be retaught and there needs to be a teaching moment, not a consequence. Sometimes consequences are needed. Taking away recess from a student who refused to tie their shoes doesn’t make sense. Having a student clean up all the water they spilled on the ground is a logical consequence. Having them miss PE because of it doesn’t make sense. Make sure the consequence is needed and matches the offense.
What are your biggest classroom management tips?
Where have you shown the most growth in classroom management? (For me, it’s consistency!)
Share your thoughts and experiences below and let’s grow together!
Life Without A Guidance Counselor
A few years ago I was teaching and there was no guidance counselor… well there was but she had many many other duties at my school and guidance, it just didn’t happen. I was used to weekly classes taught by the guidance counselor where my students learned about how to get along, how to deal with problems, how to stay healthy, how to study, and so much more. To say I was dying without a guidance counselor would be an understatement. I knew that I had to reach my students with these topics but I just wasn’t trained and didn’t have the language and knowledge to do so. My talks were falling flat and I didn’t know how to become a more effective makeshift guidance counselor. Then I remembered a resource another teacher shared with me the year before- School Tools TV. This is in no way a sponsored post. I just love School Tools TV and wanted to share it will all of my lovely followers.
Ok, So What is It?
School Tools TV is a website run by a man, who I swear is a genius, named Rusty. I believe Rusty is a former guidance counselor and is our virtual guidance counselor. He has a subscription website with quick little videos teaching social-emotional skills. He is the virtual guidance counselor we all need. Rusty is a real cool guy and the kids buy into him right away. He connects with them and speaks their language. Rusty has become another member of our classroom.
There are three levels of subscription. My school pays for level 1 for me- it costs $75 per teacher and it wasn’t that hard of a sell to my administrator. I did work at a school where everyone used it and it was pretty cool. With my level 1 subscription, I get access to daily videos. These videos are so cool! Since using Rusty’s videos I’ve seen a decrease in conflict in the classroom and an increase in effective communication skills. Since I currently teach grade 1 I watch the K-2 videos but I started out watching the 3- 7 videos and they are just as great.
How it Works in My Classroom
I decided to incorporate Rusty’s videos into my morning meeting. We start with a greeting, then we watch Rusty and for share, we discuss the prompt that Rusty has given us. Then we complete a class challenge and that’s our morning meeting!
Here’s how one of his videos goes! It only lasts about a minute but that minute is one of the most valuable ones of my day!
“Hi and welcome back little diamonds!” Oh yeah… he calls the K-2 kids little diamonds and I just find it so adorable. My kids identify as diamonds. This year they declared that they are not little, just diamonds. Last year one of my students shaved a diamond into his hair for Rusty. I mean that is how much the kids love him!
After greeting the little diamonds he gives a shout out to one of his classes. My classes have died when we’ve gotten a shout out. Once they tried to get me to email it to all teachers so everyone would know. One year I had to play it during an assembly so the whole elementary could know about Rusty and our shout out.
After the shout out Rusty shares the feeling word of the week. We made the feeling word part of our calendar and it is listed there along with a picture of the feeling. This has not only helped kids identify their feelings but it helped them as readers identifying character feelings.
Then Rusty gets down to business teaching a new skill. He might teach about not giving up when you’re frustrated, or why we walk in the halls at school, or how to notice when a friend is feeling sad. Then he gives a small piece of advice that kids can try out that day and he asks a question to push their thinking further.
His videos then end with a poem. A poem that is the first poem we glue into our poetry notebooks and one that my diamonds recite with him each and every morning.
After the poem, the question pops up on the screen and we move into a circle to share. Sometimes we make a quick anchor chart to remind us of Rusty’s words. Sometimes we set up a little challenge for ourselves based on what was said. We might even try to do something new depending on the topic of the video.
Student Engagement is Essential
Student engagement is key to learning. I know that if my readers aren’t engaged in the work of readers they aren’t going to grow. The same goes for my writers, scientists, mathematicians… if they aren’t engaged they’re not going to grow. Student engagement can be difficult to study. Every once in a while I complete an engagement survey with my students. To complete this survey I usually just use a blank piece of paper sitting next to me but I have attached a freebie engagement survey sheet at the end of this post.
Completing an Engagement Survey
Shown above is an example of an engagement survey. I keep mine simple. After all of my students have found spots to work I jot down their names along the left-hand side. I generally jot them down in the order they are sitting in. That makes it easy to do a quick sweep and record the information. Then I glance up about every 3-5 minutes and jot down what students are doing. This one I have detailed jots of what each child was doing. Sometimes I just use an x to mark off-task or a green crayon to mark on task. I switch it up depending on what I am looking for. In the made-up example above I was looking for engagement in the writing process. That’s why it is more detailed. During this time I’m not walking around and watching over all of my students I am carrying on business as usual. As I confer or lead small groups I look up and around and jot down what everyone is doing. Usually, I have a code for working with the teacher and take note of that too.
Analyzing the Data & Determining Next Steps
Now that you have all the data you have to analyze it. Right now I want my first graders to sketch before they write. It is how they plan their stories. I can note right away that 9 students (half of this class) didn’t start with sketching. Four of them started with writing. I might want to pull a small group and remind them why sketching and making a plan is so important for authors.
The last time I checked in on them all students were actively engaged in writing. Perhaps I notice that it takes some students 10 minutes before they engage in the work for the day. Maybe I am not setting them up for success at the end of my mini-lessons. Maybe I need to hold those students back at the carpet and send them off with a more concrete plan than the other students.
Sharing the Data
I explain very clearly to my students that I don’t take secret notes on them. If I complete an engagement survey with them I always offer to share the results with those who are curious. Sometimes I choose to share with everyone. Usually, everyone is quite curious to see. The next day I might hold mini-conferences with each student to discuss their data together and work together to create a more successfully engaged class.
Try It Out
This will help you complete your own engagement survey in your classroom. Pick a subject, maybe one where student engagement is lacking. You might notice something you hadn’t noticed before.
Let me know how it goes!
Ugh... Class Parties
I used to despise class parties. When I taught second grade our team would show a movie for each party. We watched Matilda for Halloween. We watched The Polar Express for Christmas and we watched Little Rascals for Valentine’s Day. Our parties were actually pretty boring and usually during them the kids complained that they were bored! When I switched schools and taught third we followed the same plan for parties and the kids complained about it then too!
When I switched to a new school the room parents were in charge of planning the class parties. Seriously, what a relief! They planned such fun and engaging activities but they were a bit too fun and I ended up with out of control children! Like out of control. This behavior was encouraged by parent volunteers and I ended up with a classroom that was completely trashed after every party. Honestly?
This brings me to last year when I was hoping that there could be a different way to celebrate as a class. A way that not only engaged the kids and was fun but didn’t leave my classroom totally destroyed. Well, my room parents tried out one of the greatest things ever and I could not believe the shift in my class parties.
Here's The Secret!
Are you ready for it? Are you really ready to switch up your class parties in the simplest of ways? Here’s the secret. I’m willing to share it with you because it took away all the stress of party planning. Here it is….
Yup. That really is the secret. Those two little words up there were a game changer. Want to know why? Sandwich making is both a snack and an activity in one! Score! Kids love to eat and kids also love to play with their food. Why not let them?
Throwing A Sandwich Making Party
-Stuff to make sandwiches (bread, cheese, butter, meat, veggies, etc.)
-Themed cookie cutters (Halloween, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, whatever!)
-Chips & Cookies
Parents will also love this idea because instead of making some elaborate treat to bring in they can literally just send in a loaf of bread. Or a package of cheese. Seriously, so easy! And… If parents enjoy making Pinterest worthy treats they can bring one in as a dessert. To be honest, the kids are going to be more wrapped up in the sandwiches they make because it will be so fun!
Step One: Lay it Out
If I really was a good teacher blogger I would have taken photos of all the food nicely arranged on the table. The problem is I never remember that I could blog about things that happen in the classroom and then I never take pictures. Seriously! I need to get better at it but when I live my teacher life I forget about my teacher blog life sometimes! It happens. So imagine…
You arrange a few sandwich making stations. At the stations are cookie cutters and sandwich ingredients. You make sure that all kids wash their hands and know about these things called germs. We can’t have any nose pickers during sandwich making. That is a sure way to ruin the best party ever!
Step Two: teach the Kids
This might surprise you, this might not but… kids don’t usually know how to make sandwiches. You must show them. Show them by building your own sandwich and laying down clear ground rules.
“Ok, diamonds! (I call my firsties diamonds but that is a story for another day) I want to make a sandwich. First I get my bread and I put butter on it. Did you notice how after I put butter on my bread I put the knife right back by the butter? That way someone else can use it next. Then I take the ghost cookie cutter and cut it into the shape of a ghost. Next I want cheese so I grab a slice of cheese. Notice how I tried to only touch what I was going to eat? I turn the cheese into the ghost and put it on top of my ghost bread. Do you see how I am keeping all my sandwich supplies on my plate. That is so important! Now this is the cool part! I am going to actually make two sandwiches at once! Look at this, I can line up the outsides and there is going to be a ghost in the middle of this sandwich! Look!”
AHHH!!!! They are going to go crazy here! Two sandwiches! What?! This is essential for the success of your sandwich party. This step is optional and I do show my kids that I can either make two sandwiches or eat as I go. No one is allowed to eat their cute sandwich until they have eaten the scraps. You know your kids. Plan for what will work best for them.
After you go through all the steps show them again that they eat the outside before the inside. There should be no scraps if they are eating the middle. This also partially takes care of the my eyes are bigger than my head situation that might occur during a sandwich making party. If you make it, you must eat it.
Step Three: Let Them Loose
After you have answered all of the questions and reviewed the process several times let them go off to their sandwich making station. Now you get to walk around and monitor. I could not believe how quiet it was while the sandwich making was happening. We put on music and sang. Now, I don’t believe that parties need to be quiet but they were just so focused!
When the party was over the kids helped clean up. They actually ate all the food they took so we didn’t have huge amounts of waste at the end of the party. AND! They said it was the BEST PARTY EVER!!! I mean, what more do you want?
Even though I’m acting like I discovered the sandwich making party I have to give a shout out to my two excellent room parents who planned and executed the best class parties I’ve ever had. So thank you Nancy and Steffi. Those parties were amazing!