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Help! New Teacher Seeks Advice!!!

I am a first year teacher right out of college.  This year, I took a job in a small school district not far from my hometown where I now teach K-12 vocal and general music.  The teacher before me was very lenient on what she allowed the students to do during class time, both in the elementary and secondary programs.  As a new teacher, this terrifies me!  In the high school, I feel that I have eliminated the kids who were just in choir to goof around.  However, elementary kids are all required to take general music.  What can I do to try and chage their behavior?  Any tricks or signals that you use in your classrooms would be welcomed; I'm completely out of ideas!
Also, I have a group of 3rd grade students for an hour of general music one day a week.  Because this time is so much longer, I feel that it will be difficult to keep the kids engaged the entire time.  I have thought of taking breaks periodically throughout the class and giving them one large break to use the restroom and get a drink, but I am unsure how to break everything up and still get the required lessons in! Yikes!  Any advice on that is welcome as well!
Replies (11): Threaded | Chronological
on August 22, 2013 4:40am
For management ideas, I highly recommend  . It's geared towards reg ed teachers, but can easily be adapted for music. You can google "whole brain music" to find blogs of music teachers who use it. 
Third graders don't need a bathroom break for an hour, but I would say they'll need lots of opportunities to move. I would plan at least 3-4 activities for that hour. Just like you'd never try to teach an entire song in a rehearsal, don't try to finish an entire lesson with kids. Do a hunk, find a good place to stop, move on to another thing and come back to it the next class. 
A good rule of thumb for activity length/attention span with young kids is 1 minute per year if age. Also, they NEED to move. If you don't provide acceptable ways for them to move, they'll find their own ways, so keep them moving and busy. I like to alternate seated and moving activities. 
Hope that helped somewhat!
on August 22, 2013 6:01am
     A "getting refocused" technique that I have used sucessfully in the past is a sustained "ss;" instruct students that when they hear it, they should do it, and look at you for further directions. When you have all students hissing and all eyes on you, give them a cut-off, teaching them to respond to conducting gestures. You can expand it by conducting quarter notes on cue, still on the "ss," varying the tempo that you conduct to further reinforce their following of conducting gestures, or do a crescendo and decrescendo before the cut-off.
     Use the word "focus" instead of "be quiet" or, heaven forbid, "shut up." You may have to explain what focus is in the music classroom or rehearsal context.
     For the third graders, use some movement activities to break up the lesson. About 15-20 years ago, John Jacobson put out a series of movement songs with book and CD that were favorites. The books included choreography that was easy for me to teach. I don't recall the books' titles, but some of the songs that were favorites were "Ants in my Pants," "Do the Hula," (I can't recall other titles; I left that job in 2004). 
on August 22, 2013 6:03am
For your elementary program, I suggest that you think about what skills (vocal, musical, etc.) you'd like to have them accomplish in each grade, keeping in mind their mental and motor development, so that you're not pushing them too far too fast.  For example, for some younger elementary kids, keeping a steady beat is a challenge.  (More and more districts are putting such program goals on their web sites, so a little web search may yield you some information.)  Then design FUN activities (not wild fun but organized fun) that will help to get these concepts across.  Teach them songs they enjoy, and only you'll know the reason you're doing the songs.  (If you have any knowledge in Orff, Kodaly or Dalcroze eurythmics, this will help a lot.)  Don't spend too much time on any one activity, as their attention spans are shorter.  Wait until upper el to show them actual musical notation, and again, tie it to a fun activity or game if possible.  Good luck.
on August 22, 2013 6:22am
Your teaching assignment is daunting. I have taught choral music since 1976, and it would be a challenge! Here are a couple things to think about:
The great thing about a small school is you watch students grow up. You have your own feeder program, so every year is easier, and you can build wonderful relationships. You are planting seeds this year. Be consistent in your expectations. Explain your procedures, then if students are not successful, break down into small components and  practice.
I don't teach general music at this time, but the talented woman in my district uses centers with her hour long classes, and it looks really fun on those days.
In high school, my thought is that if a student joins choir to "goof around" then I have a chance to convince him/her that singing is amazing when you want to be successful. If they are not in choir, I can't teach anything. Passion is contagious. Music is fun. Good luck!
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on August 23, 2013 5:15am
Do you have any additional information on what types of activities she does in her centers?  This sounds like fun, but I can't quite picture how it would work.
on August 22, 2013 7:20am
Hi Devin - Fear not. Help is on the way. I've spent most of my 40 plus years in education at the middle level, but the lessons are transferable. Establish your expectations - the battles you are willing to fight - then explain them. To your students and do not waver from your goals. The kids will adjust as long as you remain fair and consistent.   The most important lesson to remember is that your students are not your friends. They actually crave structure and discipline in the classroom. Don't get me wrong. There will be battles. Be consistent. Be fair. But be firm. They will come around. Good luck.
Rich Nutting
Colorado Springs, co
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on August 22, 2013 9:27am
Dear Devin,
This sounds like a challengins situation.  I taught in a K-12 school for ten years and found that the longer I was there, the better things got because I was able establish consistent quality through all the grades.  I made sure that the elementary students had quality music experiences and then when they got to junior high, they were much more accepting of quality music becuase of their elementary experiences.  This eventually paid of in the high school choir as well.  At the beginning, you will need to establish your expectations and be consistent.  The students will soon learn that you are in charge.  As for the 3rd grade, I would vary the activities so that they are not doing the same type of thing all period. 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on August 22, 2013 6:26pm
Thanks for all the great ideas, everyone!  I can't wait to try out some of them.  It is especially helpful to hear about all of your experiences in your own careers.  Thank you so much!!
on August 24, 2013 3:30am
I second the Whole Brain Teaching info.  5 very specific rules, easy to remember and organize.  Know what you expect and then enforce it.  Be enthusiastic (and goofy) every day to keep their attention.  Contact parents when needed, but try to start with something positive.  Good organization and structure for your lessons and lots of small activities.  I'm not to the point where I'm confident that everything will work, but when I keep up the energy, it helps.  I remind the kids that if they like me "goofy," that they have to keep me that way.  Discipline robs me of energy.  Check out Love & Logic, too.  I has some great ideas.  There are good videos on YouTube and books to purchase & read on their website.  Truly, get a humongous bag of tricks; you'll need them all!  I've heard that Choral Charisma is good, too, but I'm not very familiar with it.
on August 24, 2013 7:09am
Hi Devin,
I would suggest that you combine lots of Drama activities with your music teaching for both your younger and older students. My background is music and drama and I was a teacher at a school for the arts for many years and then the principal at that same school for nine years.  Drama and role play can be extremely engaging for young children as they have a chance to see the world through someone else's eyes.  Give the younger students lots of opportunities to move to music (spacial games, making high, medium and low shapes) and introduce them to the sound of a drum. I use the drum beat for the "stop and freeze" signal (which they love) and then you can give them the next instruction while they are quiet.
Children love to create stories. Have them listen to a piece of music and then let them tell you what they think is happening. The Romeo and Juliet overture, for example, often sounds like a scary forest story to them so let them make one up...with your help. Then, play the music again and have them move to the music, thinking about the story they have created. Just one idea...
What a wonderful teaching opportunity you have been given! They can learn about music while learning about themselves.
Look for a series of drama activity books by Larry Swartz called Drama Themes.  Dr. Swartz is a professor at the University of Toronto in Education and a drama expert. He taught grade 3 for many years! Good luck.
on August 24, 2013 7:15am
I second Laura's suggestion of "love and logic". Jim Fay and Foster Cline developed a program for both classroom discipline and parenting that worked will for me in both arenas. The concept is surprising simple, and the steps are logical and easy to adapt to changing situations. Again - good luck.
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