Monday, September 14, 2015

Classroom Management in the Music Classroom

Classroom management, I think, is something we can ALL always improve on.  This summer I read Classroom Management for Art, Music, and PE Teachers by Michael Linsin and LOVED it! Get it HERE. Some of the things he mentioned I was already doing, but I got many new tips specifically for a "specials area" classroom- as my school calls it.  As specials teachers, we are in a unique situation because we see so many students in a week and each class comes from a different management backgrounds. 
Before I get started with tips, I will say that my school is WONDERFUL and usually discipline problems for me are chattiness, back-talk, or just being silly when students decide the particular activity is boring- there is nothing too extreme that happens.  I would say the "worst" was last year when a student decided to roll himself up in my door mat and make fart noises.  It was hilarious, but definitely inappropriate. 

All of Michael Linsin's tips work together seamlessly.  There is class wide discipline where classes can earn points towards whole class prizes as well as individual discipline where each student is held accountable for his or her own actions. 

I will start with the class system, which was VERY similar to what I was already doing but it is now much more specific and effective.  In the book, classes can earn points for 4 things each week:
           1 point for walking in quietly
           1 point for listening attentively
           1 point for good effort
           1 point for leaving quietly

I have adapted this to 5 points each week to follow our school wide "Wilson Way"
           1 point for walking in quietly
           1 point for Taking Care of Ourselves
           1 point for Taking Care of Others
           1 point for Taking Care of the Music Room and Equipment
           1 point for leaving quietly

Each week at the end of class while students are in line ready to go we have a brief discussion about how they did.  I will say "You get a 4 today, because while you were following the Wilson Way during class, you did not line up the way that is expected- how can we fix that for next week?" I usually even ask "Were MOST of you taking care of yourselves?? Others? Wilson? Did you walk in as expected?"  Students usually are actually more critical of themselves than I am! After we discuss I have a student at the end of the line draw a music note on their classes chart. If I don't have a student do it right then, I often forget- though they will remind me the next week for sure!

If students get 4 or 5 points in a week (at the beginning of the year- eventually it will be ALL 5) they earn a music note on the class behavior tracker I call "HIT THE HIGH NOTE".  Once a class get 4 notes (a month of classes) they get a prize.  Prizes range from a Gold Card (a school wide class recognition system), to sitting where they want for a day to playing a favorite game, and more.  I love the behavior chart I have because once we are past the first month it is impossible for classes to tell who is "ahead" or "behind" other classes because the chart is erased once a class gets 4 notes.  This alleviates classes not trying any more because they only have 1 note while other classes have 3 which was a problem I have seen in the past. 
This points system has worked really great, especially with taking the time to teach and discuss what is expected with each class (yes, even the 6th graders).  I have taken time each week to really focus on one of the ways a class can earn points.  The first week we practiced walking in the room quickly and quietly as well as linin up, etc.  Students were told what was expected, and individual demonstrated the correct way and we discussed.  Then, just for fun a few individuals got to demonstrate the "wrong way" to enter or exit the room and students said what would need to be fixed for it to be the correct way.  Finally the WHOLE class practiced and if they did awesome they got an automatic Gold Card.  This process has been followed each week since with the rest of the "rules"- how to Take Care of Ourselves, Others, and the Equipment in the music room.  I will probably do a small review when I get back from Maternity leave later in the year as well.  Students LOVE demonstrating for the class, so even though it takes time for the first 4 weeks of school it is definitely worth it to be SUPER CLEAR with exactly what is expected.

Now, each day of school I meet each class outside my door and give them a preview of the day as well as remind them how to enter the room, and that I expect we are following the Wilson Way. We then walk in and start class and they are earning points right away.  Most classes have gotten at least 4 points these first few weeks of school but they know that soon they will have to get ALL 5 to get their note on the chart.   Anytime a new routine is in a lesson we take time to practice it so they know expectations going forward.  This can include transitions from row seats to a circle, getting supplies for using manipulatives or filling out worksheets, using the SMART-board etc.  If in another week something is not done correctly, I calmly have the class try one more time, reminding them of expectations.  If it is not done correctly again it may mean that the next activity is skipped (especially if it is a fun game that is not integral to the lesson).  This does NOT mean that later they will not be able to play another game or do another similar activity in the lesson, just that they were not ready for this particular one.

Sometimes, if a class is having trouble with a procedure, all it takes is a few practice directions to get them focused again.  If students are standing up loudly and they have tried 2x already, make a "game" out of it, without them knowing.  Have them stand and sit a few times, and even throw in other directions like "put a hand on your head" or "clap twice", eventually asking students to do 2 or 3 simple directions at once like "put your hands at your sides, sit down, and look at me" etc.  Once you notice that all are focused in on what you are saying you can move on with the lesson easily.

When giving more complicated directions be sure you, as the teacher, are VERY clear and precise. My favorite tip from Classroom Management for Art, Music and PE Teachers is always start with the words "In a Moment..." and end with a "go signal".  My students are always eager to get an activity started and want to get up as soon as the first words are out of my mouth.  If they know that they are to listen carefully to ALL directions and not move until a "go signal" is given, things run much smoother.  This has worked really well for me so far this year! 

Now, what about when things DON'T go smoothly? What if there is only 1 student, or even just a few, who are NOT following directions- listening, participating, or as my school would say- when they are NOT following the Wilson Way?  A 3 step consequence system (3 strikes and you're out)  is suggested in the book and I have been following this so far this year.  Strikes start over each week (just like they start over for each at-bat) but students know that if they are getting 2 strike many weeks in a row, I may still contact parents. I have been really strict about strikes so far and have contacted a lot of parents for seemingly small things (call outs, etc.), but students are really learning expectations and over all music is more fun and enjoyable for ALL students so far this year.

The first strike is just a warning to the student who is not following directions. Be sure to say "this is a warning" otherwise younger students may not realize that they have gotten their first strike. Be sure students know that a warning is just an opportunity for redirection.  It does NOT mean they are in trouble, but rather they are 1 step away from a time-out and now have a chance to take responsibility for their actions and make better choices.  Students will only see it this way, however, if you remember to stay calm and NOT lecture or cause friction in another way. 

The second strike- whether it is for not following the same direction OR a different one- is time out.  I have a rest area in my music room where students go to reflect on behavior.  They are to flip over a timer (I tell them the color which corresponds to a number of minutes) and then fill out a paper which asks "what happened?" and "what can I do better next time?" When the timer is up they are allowed to rejoin class UNLESS I have had to talk to them again.  Arguing on the way to the rest area is an automatic third strike.
The third strike is an automatic communication home.  Usually I fill out a form which lists which directions were not followed and hand it to the student.  They are then asked to have it signed and return it to me the next week.  If the strikes that day weren't too bad (just called out a few times) then I may just email home.  If the strikes were violent, etc. then it is a phone call home AND a discipline form given to the principal.  If a student gets 3 strikes two weeks in a row then they have to come for recess.

The only time I would ask a student to leave the room is if they are being so distracting, even while in the "rest area" that other students cannot concentrate.  In this case, because I am in a modular classroom it is an automatic walk to the principal. I radio to the office that a student is coming and then ask the student to see me at recess as well. 

I have also started "errands" for those kids who just need a break every now and then.  I have a deal with a few teachers that if a student is starting to show signs of restlessness I will ask them to "run an errand" for me.  In this case, they take a sealed envelope to the designated teacher just to get them out of the room for a bit.  All they do is hand the envelope off and come right back. This works GREAT for those kids who just have some extra energy to burn and cannot sit still!  They don't feel attacked but rather they feel important because they are delivering something for you.  I usually start this in about 3rd grade. 

Some students have frequent behavior problems in music so we have moved to a "tier 2" interventions and they have a weekly behavior chart where they earn points for listening, participating, and following the Wilson Way.  Once they earn a certain number of points (I start low and gradually increase throughout the year) they earn a prize- usually a "blue card" which is a school wide individual positive behavior tool.  This works really well for those students who need that extra motivation to stay on task. 

One thing I need to remember when giving strikes is to stay calm and not lecture.  Each strike needs to be given quick. As Michale Linsin says in his book, keep the communication brief- "You have a warning." or "Please walk to the Rest Area because you broke rule number 3 and were not taking care of the instruments."  This helps the student to realize that only they have the power to change their behavior.

                     "They are left with no one to blame, no one to get angry at, and nowhere
                     else to point the finger but at themselves. They may not be happy about
                     going to time-out or getting a letter to take home, but in their heart they
                     will know it's because of what they did, not what you did. And this makes
                     all the difference (pg. 113)."

Class will stay much more on track with this system as well.  It is not fair to other students when you lecture one (or a small group) for 5 minutes.  This was a habit I got into last year because I was so frustrated with certain students each week- even though I had sent letters home, and had them come in for recess, etc. there were still problems.  It is probably because they thought I hated them rather than me giving the responsibility of their behavior to them and ONLY them.  Already this year with this new, more specific, system in place many of the students who were frustrating (and frustrated) last year are leaders in class this year!

Speaking of leaders- what do I do with those who are on task and showing leadership in class?  I love to "catch kids being good" and praise leadership behavior.  I will often redirect off-task students by calling attention to those who are doing it RIGHT.  I say things like "I love how Jane is holding up a quiet signal" or "if it was a contest, row 2 would win because they are ALL doing hand-signs", etc.  I also give out blue cards if a student is going above and beyond to be helpful or follow directions.  Blue cards are a school wide system and if students earn 10 blue cards they get a prize such as eating lunch with the teacher (or music teacher), a small trinket, helping in the cafeteria, etc.  I also use blue cards to help those who need extra practice to follow a specific direction.  If a student who often calls out goes a whole class without forgetting to raise his or her hand they will get a blue card.  Students love the challenge of earning 10 and the prizes are all so fun they work really hard to show the Wilson Way and be leaders around school.

Overall the tips and tricks I got from Classroom Management for Art, Music and PE Teachers have been super helpful this year.  Seriously check out this book. There is so much more to it than the small preview I have given here. It was a fast read and so worth it!


  1. Hi Emily,
    Liked your idea about the top note although not entirely clear looking at the picture if the weird names are actually names of classes? And the stars, which one goes where and when? I don't have my own room and having to commute creates a real problem for such things, thinking about an online thing like class dojo. Any recommendations?

    1. Yes- the weird names are teachers names. I have one for each class. As for the stars, I was putting them in the spaces, starting with F. When they got 4 I would erase and start again. I have no experience with Dojo- but I think it would be a great system for a traveling teacher. I am thinking of trying it out this year.

  2. Hi would you mind stating which blog platform you're working with?
    I'm looking to start my own blog soon but I'm having a tough time selecting between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal.
    The reason I ask is because your design seems
    different then most blogs and I'm looking for something completely unique.
    P.S Sorry for being off-topic but I had to ask!

    1. I use blogger. It is connected to my Gmail and super easy.

  3. Where did you get your reflection sheets?

    1. On Teachers Pay Teachers. Here is a link to the set that is kind of pictured.