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Block Scheduling: Pacing a 73-minute middle school rehearsal

This is a compilation of all 5 replies I received on this subject. I plan to
implement some or all of the suggestions this school year. Perhaps others
will find their comments useful too.

The "original message" below is my first email. Under that, each reply is
numbered "Reply #1" through "Reply #5"

Thanks for everyone's help...

Mr. Jussi Doherty

Original Message-
From: Choralist [mailto:CHORALIST-L(a)LISTSERV.INDIANA.EDU] On Behalf Of Jussi
Sent: Tuesday, August 10, 2004 7:03 PM
Subject: [CHORALIST-L] Pacing a 73 minute MIDDLE SCHOOL chorus rehearsal

I am trying to find out how others pace their rehearsals while on a block
schedule (usually 70+ minutes). I know that stretching out a 50 minute
rehearsal into 73 minutes is not the answer... What SPECIFIC activities are
teachers doing to make full use of the extra time? If it's a listening
activity or some other written assignment, then please describe it!

The reason I make this request is because I will be teaching chorus in
MIDDLE SCHOOL, 73 minutes per period. I am used to teaching 50 minute
rehearsals, and I'm a little worried about making this work!

-Reply #1-
From: LYNDA313(a) [mailto:LYNDA313(a)]
Sent: Wednesday, August 11, 2004 9:58 AM
To: "Jussi Doherty"
Cc: lynda313(a)
Subject: RE: choral rehearsals - long ones

Hello again. I'm going to start with my opening activity, then go on to a
sample class schedule. I have a section of the chalkboard for each grade
level or class, listing what materials they need that day. This eliminates
the hundred or so questions as class begins. The first week of school, the
only thing I kept repeating was "read the board". By the second week, they
were routined and we can start class quickly. I keep class folders in a
labeled crate, and students know where to find them and other materials.

FOCUS activity when they come in room: a listening lesson (brief) nearly
every day. Exceptions: If I have a quiz for them, I might make 5 min. study
period their focus...or study a certain piece of music or sightreading.

Instructions for Listening Log: I have my students furnish a folder with
brads and pockets, and I created a "Music Listening Log" with columns for
title, composer, performer(s), then left about 3 lines for description, not
critique. I told them the first day that this exercise is to sharpen their
listening skills, and sometimes I direct that listening, other times I
don't. One example is that occasionally I will ask them specifically to
listen for instrumental accompaniment, or perhaps to give me some words
describing the tempo, or the mood, or the style. This begins to give them a
vocabulary for listening. I don't allow: this is cool, I hate this, etc.
Description only, not judgement. I try to vary the selections.

I do not allow any conversation during the music. This, in itself, is tough
for them, since music is background to so many things these days. After the
piece ends, I ask if anyone wishes to share their written comments, and we
have a brief discussion. Your 70+ minute periods will help you have the
luxury of this discussion time, which is great for middle-schoolers. Then
put away the folders under the chairs and begin your other activities.

Here is a sample class period:
FOCUS (listening log) - 10 minutes or so, including discussion
WARMUPS and solfege practice
Next can follow extended Sightreading practice as a large group, OR I divide
them up into sections or other groupings to do the following, rotating every
12 min. or so:
1. sightreading or writing in solfege on an exercise
2. sectionals on music we are rehearsing
3. music journal topic writing (am using some topics from MUSIC JOURNAL
TOPICS by Peggy Neal Klein Morton, 2001 McDonald Publishing Co., ISBN
4. research (this can be anything you like, from reading an article you
copy and then have them summarize, or whatever form you wish this to take)
Then, large group activities: put piece together that you have been
rehearsaing, OR introduce new pieces, OR do problem-solving on any of the
activities you are using.

CLOSING: announcements, reminders, clean up.

*I find that MS students need a great deal of organization, but that within
that form, you can let down a bit and show them how to enjoy the longer
class periods. I simple don't allow any disrespect, and I try my best to
model respect for each of them. I have told them that we are learning to
use our own voices in a healthy, expressive way, and how to deal with our
friends in choir, showing teamwork and respect for others. The toughest
part is working in groups and being able to focus on what is asked of them
in those groups.

*In addition, the reading/writing/comparison/summary activies will help you
to reinforce what they are learning in their other classes, and the language
arts folks will love that, too. Be certain to let your administrators know
that you are including all those types of learning!

I have no trouble filling 90 minutes, and today in my first period class, we
could have gone on for another half hour with no problems at all. I hope
you enjoy the "luxury" of long classes!

Good luck.

Lynda Boltz
Durant Rd. Middle School (a multi-track, year-round school)
Raleigh NC

-Reply #2-
From: Brooks Grantier [mailto:bgrantier(a)]
Sent: Wednesday, August 11, 2004 1:33 PM
To: juse(a)EMAIL.COM
Subject: Re: [CHORALIST-L] Pacing a 73 minute MIDDLE SCHOOL chorusrehearsal

I direct a choir of boys, ages 8-14. Our performihng-group rehearwsals
range from 90 to 120 minutes, twice weekly. There are several models we
use, depending upon the group. Here are some samples:
SCHEME 1: 120 Minute rehearsal.
Vocalise (breathing, vocalizing) 15 minutes.
Sight-Singing Drill (NEVER omit this). 12 - 15 minutes
Rehearsal of new music balance of 60 minutes
Break at 1-hor point, 10 min.
Rhythm drill (clap/count) 10 min.
Scales & intervals drill (ear-training), 5 mintues
Finish new music agenda, then review of music in process.
END the rehearsal 3-5 minutes before stated time, to wllow for annc'ts
and clean-up chores.
SCHEME 2: 90 Minute rehearsal, for young singers, involving some singing,
some "music-skills" work. We do this rehearsal scheme ONCE per week, and a
full music rehearsal the other time.
Vocalise (12 minutes)
Divide into groups for "class" work on notation, rhythm, sight-singing,
key-signatures, diction, etc.40 minutes)
Break * 7 mjinutes, at the 50-minute point
Rhythm drill and ear drill 10 mintues
Rehearse new and old music
NOTE: This scheme is ONLY for the younger singers, and becuase of the time
spenct in learning "music-skills," they don't learn quite as much
repertoire. But due to the gourndwork laid, they will be ready to take on
much more reapertoire later on.

Hope that this may be of value.
Brooks Grantier, The Battle Creek Boychoir, Battle Creek, MI

-Reply #3-
From: kimberlee bratton [mailto:bratton(a)]
Sent: Tuesday, August 10, 2004 10:51 PM
To: Jussi Doherty
Subject: Re: [CHORALIST-L] Pacing a 73 minute MIDDLE SCHOOL chorus rehearsal

I taugh HS choir on blcok for the fir time last year and now this year my MS
is moving to bloack as well....yikes! I teach 4th-12th.

I had 50 kids in one of my HS chorus classes and in the beginning the 90
MINUTES killed me and them.

I worked on for a while and then came up with something that worked for the
kids and I.

We start rehearsal with warm-ups, sight-reading and regular rehearsal time.
Then, I give them a 10 minute stretch and water drink break and time to talk
w/each other.

When we come back, I do sectionals and sometimes solo-work. I usually work
with Alto's and soprano's and then I'll work with the men. The other
group)men or women) then have time to sit quietly and work on homework or
work on their parts. Sometimes I do a theory or history assignemnt after the
break as well.

I think it's best to start right off with a regular rehearsal....before
their brains get tired!

Good luck! It's hard at first, but you'll get used to it. I now have to get
used to doing the middle school for 90 minutes at a time! My Middle school
kids really love MUSIC BINGO, and othe theory and history games I have.
So...I'll probably do a little of that with them during the second half of

Kim :-)

-Reply #4-
From: Lanny McManus [mailto:lmcmanus(a)]
Sent: Wednesday, August 11, 2004 11:56 AM
To: Jussi Doherty
Subject: RE: [CHORALIST-L] Pacing a 73 minute MIDDLE SCHOOL chorus rehearsal

When I had to deal with a block schedule, I inserted a theory, reading,
music history segment when they seemed to be losing concentration. This
usually occurred at 45 or 50 minutes. I tried to keep the activities active
and not to heavy. Then for the last 10 or 15 minutes return to singing
something that was not to difficult or was very well known and liked. That
way they had a break that allowed a change of focus and ended with singing.

Of course basic reading exercises were my first activities, especially the
game type exercises. After the reading was reasonable, I helped them
construct a pentatonic tone row and aleatoric system based on a game of
spades (their favorite card game). Once we had decided what instruments
represented what players and which form of our tone row would be called for
by which cards, we played the game and recorded the order of events. Then I
had them put the results into Finale. I let Finale play it since we did not
have a band. I would have brought in live musicians if possible. This was
the end of the year project.

Lanny R. McManus, D.M.A.
Director of Choral Activities
Central Baptist College
1501 College Ave
Conway, AR 72034
(501)329-6872 ext. 150

-Reply #5-
From: McKee-Alexander, Bethany - West Port High School
Sent: Wednesday, August 11, 2004 7:31 AM
To: Jussi Doherty
Subject: RE: [CHORALIST-L] Pacing a 73 minute MIDDLE SCHOOL chorus rehearsal

I got this great idea from another teacher in my county. I have my students
keep a listening journal. In this journal they describe different pieces
that I play for them (recordings). I tell them that they need to describe
in such a way that they could use their journal to recognize the piece
again. Then ever so often I will have a listening quiz and the students can
use their journals to identify the pieces on the Quiz. We listen to
everything from Beethoven to Billy Joel, instrumental to rap. The kids get
exposed to all kinds of music and they love the activity. If a student is
absent, I tell them they need to copy the description from another
studentthat way they can still be held accountable. I hope this helps take
up some time. I have block scheduling also, it can be a challenge!

Bethany McKee-Alexander
Choral Director
West Port Middle/High
on January 6, 2008 10:00pm
Can anyone supply me we a varied list of listening examples to use in a 5x5 block schedule? We are going to between a 70 and 80 minute class daily after having taught for 28 years on a 42 minute schedule. I could use a good comprehensive list that would get me through the year as a daily or almost daily activity. This is a high school group with no feeder system in an urban rural mixed area. We are an ethnic melting pot with kids from the 'hood' mixed in with the total opposite.

Also, any recommendations for a good sight reading method that starts at the very beginning, assumes no musical background and would be interesting enough for both high school kids with no background as well as kids who have some reading skills.