"Kristen does a great job of engaging the kids balanced with a command of the group. She incorporates educational aspects of music that are particularly appropriate for PreK kids - it's very exciting to watch! She uses active and quality songs that kids continued to sing, even after the class is over. The children are SO excited when they realize it is Ms. Kristen (music) day! I think she provides a balanced and exciting musical experience for the kids and is an asset to The Chapel's preschool program."
Chorus pet peeves? I have...two. 1) Incessant talking the second the last note stops resonating. 2) Unpreparedness for rehearsals. That's it, really!
As I explain to my students, my job is to guide them into sounding amazing in performance. Their jobs are to listen, audiate, memorize lyrics and apply musicianship. Since I only see my kids for 40 minutes once per week, that means they have a lot of work to do ON THEIR OWN (gasp) and I have the monumental task of preparing them for home study while still incorporating important concepts of choral pedagogy such as breathing, whole body musicality, reading, phrasing, articulation, understanding/connecting to the music, pitch precision, music history, music theory and more.
You know, just everything there is to accomplish when teaching kids to sing.
Like many other teachers in our state, I was fortunate to have grown up in a successful, well-established music program run by two revered music educators. Given my band and orchestra upbringing, I had no idea how much work went into establishing such a well-oiled machine! Nor did I have any clue what planning went into each rehearsal. College prepared me for much of running a class, however, actually 'doing' it is completely different.
Long story short, I was bewildered when not all students were on task, and some were not even interested in singing! What?!?! This is chorus! Who doesn't like singing? Rehearsals felt like coffee hour...with a guest music artist, thanks to the beat-boxer sitting in the last row by the door. Humphs. I was quite disgruntled.
After 16 years honing my game plan, here is what my rehearsal now looks like:
•10 minutes: Stretching, breathing and vocal warm-ups, and solfège drills
•10–15 minutes: Theory (musical terms, sight-reading, rhythm lesson, etc.)
•10–15 minutes: Literature work (singing, marking scores, diction, etc.)
•1 minute or less: End-of-class routine (dismissed one row at a time)
There isn't much down time for students in that schedule...and yet...there is STILL talking. WHY.
Here's what I've determined works for my students, and I bet these tools can work for you also! I truly pray they do because I totally get your frustration. These tools have worked when I taught in an inner city district and in suburbia and a private Christian school.
Practice good behavior. You might need to spend 30–40 minutes of each class for several days in a row entering the classroom or putting away binders and leaving the classroom. I don’t believe this is excessive. Do not compromise, even if just one or two students aren’t complying; we all know those students can continue to disrupt the environment for the entire school year. Plan for the first several weeks of each year to be centered on establishing and practicing classroom procedure.
Feel out and elect student section leaders. This takes time and planning on your part. Even if you teach elementary chorus, dividing your group into two or more sections will create a smaller tribe for your students to belong, which creates a more intimate sense of responsibility. And peer pressure still works. It's often more effective than teacher pressure. Elect one student to take responsibility as section leader for their tribe. Address the section as a whole (instead of singling out the poorly behaved student.) And then move on. Usually, the student needing to fix their behavior will take the hint but won't feel penalized in front of their mates. Create a team spirit!
Seek the Positive. Happiness is an active choice. We all have baggage, every single day. Do the work and help your students seek the positive in each situation. Doing so will garner their respect for you as you teach them how to apply this tool to their daily encounters.
Attention Grabbers. These are wide-spread and fun! I like to refocus attention using two specific tools. 1) Sing on a neutral syllable (ooo or ooooh works well) simple solfege patterns found within your concert repertoire. This gives extra practice on audiation, pitch placement and patterned singing. 2) Clap specific rhythms found within your concert repertoire. Remember your elementary school days (clap clap clap-clap clap)? Kick it up a notch and interchange rhythms for clapping/echoing. Students are more likely to hear and identify rhythms that are either unfamiliar or more intricate to them than the generic rhythm mentioned previously. Because I'm pretty certain every American student over the age of 6 can clap that one rhythm. (Boring...) Practice this skill several times throughout the class periods at the beginning of the year and you will be extremely thankful for its lasting impact. Other attention grabbers include vocalized catch phrases (use a varied repertoire of cultural accents!), candy/non-edible treats (toss them to students who are towing the line), Chorus Karate program (more on that later)...use your imagination!
Authoritative Presentation (not Authoritarian) Finally, being a stern authoritarian will not work for many choir directors. But we shouldn't shy away from an authoritative demeanor. This means establishing unbending eye contact, confident posture, proximity to students throughout rehearsals, expecting your students to exceed the high bar you have set for them. It means being socially appropriate and presenting yourself as the authority on given repertoire and application of pedagogy. Some teachers balk at the word authority, thinking it means strict and unfriendly demeanor. I would argue that establishing a structured classroom environment with clearly defined boundaries allows for strong choir bonds, plentiful laughter, and maximized learning.
The Take Away.
Your students will still find opportunities to chat off-topic. Even adult choirs run into this problem, it's human nature. However, once they realize the immense work they need to do and once mutual respect is established, there will be a vast improvement within your group.
I've put together a crash course guide including many more tools than listed above - for you to add to your arsenal of teaching tools for better learning. Find it here --------->