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When your students deliberately misinterpret your instructions

Today in class I spent a lot of time on music that my students have already learned and performed. We have an upcoming trip, where we will perform that music, and we can improve, but they have developed some bad habits. In working with those habits today, especially spread vowels and too much "r", I modeled many times for my students and asked them to repeat after me. Many were deliberately doing exactly the opposite of my instructions, to their delight and my frustration. As a first year teacher, I'm at a loss. What do I do?
on March 17, 2016 2:56am
Hi Brian -
Part of their delight is in getting your goat. It is not fair, but it is how students will act some days. Your goal is to correct the behavior without losing your cool - and without derailing rehearsal. One option would be having a clipboard listing the names of your choir students with you. When listening to them repeat your modeling, you look surprised that they are unable to do so. In the style of an evaluation, start placing a check after the name of the ringleaders while quietly saying their names to yourself as you do so. Return your attention to the class and say "Let's try this again." I'd guess you might have some concerned looks from students who think they are being evaluated on their responses. They don't have to know that the check marks aren't going to be used for anything. You get to stay calm (and also get to mess with their minds just a little) while you also focus their attention on responding in the correct style. Good luck!
Best wishes,
Mike
Applauded by an audience of 2
on March 17, 2016 3:11am
Brian,
 
This has happened to EVERYONE, and it makes my heart hurt and my blood boil to recall my moments of this.
 
1 - Set expectations.  If you do A, B will result.  This needs to be delivered with kind and caring reasons, or at the very least, without negative emotion. You are still a role model for students who act poorly.  Show them how to behave through your example, and reset expectations for them.  
2 - Follow Through on the expectations.  Have a penalty you can live with. If you have to tell them you will call parents, be ready to make 50 calls home.  If you are going to threaten their trip, be ready to actually pull kids from the trip.  It would be helpful to have a supportive adminitrator to involve in your plan, sometimes easier said than done.
 
The fact that you are posting about this says alot about how much you care for these students, and how much you want to be good for them.  It can be tough somedays, but you are just the kind of teacher we want in the classroom for our students.  Stay strong! 
Applauded by an audience of 1
on March 17, 2016 4:39am
Hi, Brian,
 
You didn't mention the level of your students, but I often find that close to an important concert (or competition), my students get crazy nuts!  The rehearsals drive me crazy, but it's amazing what they actually heard and then can apply.  First, don't lose your sense of humor or your sense of fun in music.  Music should be fun and exciting.  Our students spend hundreds (thousands?) of hours in class studying things that may be serious and not interesting to them.  Music may be the only place where they can find the creativity and laughter of life. When I'm frustrated because they aren't getting something, I often come up with a fun game and then have them analyze what the game taught them.  You can also do team "contests" where you break your chorus into two groups and have them "judge" the other based on specific criteria.  Finally, trust your students.  If you are attending a festival or competition with adjudicators, it will probably only take once for them to realize that the judging is serious and they need to make necessary changes.  Plus, they may well surprise you and actually do wonderfully!
 
Good luck!
Robin
Applauded by an audience of 1
on March 17, 2016 5:06am
Easy solution:  Cancel the trip (they don't deserve it) and find a job where teaching discipline is not required.   You'll be fine.   Teaching isn't for everyone.
More challenging solution: The great shock in encountering poor discipline is that good people are capable of horible behavior.   You can give up or you can fight it.   Colleges do not prepare us to be good disciplinarians.   Those who have mastered discipline respect themselves AND respect their students.   That respect is a given.  These teachers don't just demand it, they live it.  You are being tested by fire.  Follow your gut.   Be strong.  
 
There are two ways to train dogs, humans, and other life forms.   One is to punish bad behavior.   The other is to reward good behavior.   They both work.   Most teachers use a mix of both.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on March 17, 2016 6:33am
Get them working on some new repertoire right away!  Read the first sentance of your post again and think about that from their perspective. They're bored!  They feel like they know this music already and that it's pointless to keep rehearsing it . They may not be able to articulate that in words to you, but they'll find ways to sabotoge rehearsals now.  I used to have problems like this when I was a new and not particularly good teacher. I'm not a school teacher anymore but I work with children in a church choir now, and I've learned to keep rehearsals fast paced and work on a lot of repertoire.  Over rehearsing the same few pieces is a quick way to bring out boredom and behavior problems in kids. Even if you're not going to have a chance to perform the new rep, get it in their hands, choose something about it that will make them grow musically to work on, and once their brains are engaged and back in work mode, switch back to the piece you want to correct for less than 3 minutes at a time and work on it.  Then move on quickly before their brains check out again!
 
 
Applauded by an audience of 3
on March 17, 2016 8:53am
Students reach a saturation point with their ability to keep reworking and improving the same piece of music. Its not that you can't think of ways to make it better, nor is it that they are incapable of learning those things. Its just that those pieces have hit saturation point. If you've already performed them, it will be really hard to make them better.  And its kind of a morale buster to say, 'You performed this in public already, but wow...you could do so much more.' Its an indirect way of saying, "That sure wasn't very good.' 
I had a similar situation at Christmas, a tough piece that in itself didn't require anything they couldn't do. But the multiple layers of things to work on outlasted their ability to focus and keep enjoying it. I'm still learning, too.
 
Applauded by an audience of 2
on March 17, 2016 12:21pm
Hi Brian --
I appreciate your sharing your concern with us. It is far too easy for those of us to teach to resort to punishment methods when what we, ourselves, are doing isn't working. Yet we all know how we, as individuals, react to punishment when it is meted out to groups to which we belong. There are a half dozen things wrong with punishment including the risk of having it backfire. We all know in our hearts and in our experiences thag positive  reinforcement works better -- in part because it feels better when teachers (or professors, directors, et al) praise us. And even the most recalcitrant members in any group enjoy praise (unless they have emotional or behavioral differences). I'd be happy to send you -- at no charge -- the first section of my work in progress that covers these points if you'll agree to provide me with feedback in return.
Stephen
on March 17, 2016 3:01pm
Oh, Brian, the lessons our students taught us, probably everyone here, during our first year of teaching. I learned the hard way that sometimes students push limits, not because they want to get away with something, but because they want to know where the line is and what happens if they cross it. They are often uncomfortable until that has been established. You didn't mention the age group or reason for the trip - choral competition or tour for performing experience. If it is for a choral competition you might want to acknowledge that the students have had their fun and then give a brief, emphasis on brief, rundown of how they will be judged. You tube is a gold mine. Perhaps you can find an example of a piece well performed and the same piece exceptionally performed (again, keep it short) or sections from pieces, maybe even the ones you are performing so they understand that they have done the pieces well, but that it's possible to take them to a new level. Or you might look for pieces where there are glaring examples of what you are hoping to eliminate. Another idea would be to give in to the fun, divide the choir, and have half the choir sing emphasizing the offending Rs or spread vowels while the other half listens, trade off, then challenge them to fix the sound. Again you could make this a competition between halves or you could involve the whole choir at this point. Who can reach the extremes of bad and good, with a good laugh at the bad examples?
 
Sometimes we don't realize the major difference fine tuning can make until we actually hear it. I once had a director ask for two volunteers before beginning the dress rehearsal for a concert without telling us what the volunteers would be doing. Everyone froze. I finally volunteered, along with another singer, so we could just get on with things. She had us go to the back of the church. She then had the choir sing the beginning of a piece with their folders up basically covering their faces. She then had them sing the same section with their folders held flat. The difference was shocking. I wish there had been time for every singer to experience it. I have been extrembly careful about how I hold my folder ever since.
 
Good luck! Don't give up your standards. You might not be able to achieve everything you want to during your first year, but keep picking the brains of teachers you respect, while trying new things yourself. And remember that students are most comfortable when they know where the line is and what the consequences for crossing it are. The best evaluations of my first year of teaching came from my students. The ones who pushed the hardest told me that I was too easy on them.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on March 18, 2016 10:01am
Hi, Brian:
Some ideas -
Change their standing arrangement - (stand in a circle - facing outward, stand all over the room, sing in quartets, in section circles.)  Have a student conductor while you act as adjudicator.  Have 2-3 students act as adjudicators. Bring in the principal or the class that the band director is teaching during the same period and let them adjudicate. Ask the band director to listen for vowels, etc. (or tell him what to say!)
Adding a different kind of performance pressure on them may expand their idea of how much more can be done with the song.
 
Have a good trip!
Barbara
on March 19, 2016
It sounds to me like your students feel like they own the music and do it perfectly. They also may be playing with it. If you're at a point where they are fine tuning, what if you used that desire to your advantage. Ask them to make a list of everything they can think of to do wrong except for sing wrong notes and rhythms. Once they have a list, ask them to perform the music exactly that way. Then, after they finish and you've all had a good laugh, ask them to perform it exactly the opposite of how they did it (except, of course that they still sing the right notes and rhythms). It might be a fun way to fix the problem and get buy in from your choral delinquents.
Applauded by an audience of 1
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