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General Middle school strategies

Hi Listers,

This is the compilation of the replies I received from my question. I am
sorry this took so long. The day I tried to email this, our server was
having trouble staying online.

Thank you for everyone who replied. I currently teach the 6th Grade music
class, and my husband teaches the 7 & 8th Grade music class. This set up
has varied over the last couple of years and we are still looking into
different options. We are a small 1A school - with about 130 students in
6-12. We like the idea of offering electives, but have not figured out how
to make it work yet.

I summarized the main ideas of the replies at the beginning of the email,
and following that are the actual replies. I removed all names and cities
at the request of some people who replied. Thank you again for your help.

Kelly Ballard
USD 349 Stafford Schools
Stafford KS USA


I am looking for music/fine arts options at the middle school level.

Currently the class schedule is: 6th Grade vocal music, 7 & 8th Grade Boys
Vocal Music, 7 & 8th Grade Girls Vocal Music. We are having is discipline
problems (especially in 7 & 8th Grade classes) with students who do not like
music. There is no recourse for failing or repeated trips to see the
principal. Some students are on a behavior plan for special education and
after being sent out of the room for five days, they are pulled from the
music classroom, and are taking music from the resource room.

FYI - If students fail any course in Middle School, they are not required to
repeat and pass the class before moving to high school. For example:
students in 8th Grade who failed 7th grade language arts, repeat 7th Grade
language arts in the last year of middle school and never receive 8th grade
language arts.

Any and all options are welcome. Please respond privately and I will post a
compilation. Thank you in advance.

Strict and Creative Discipline
Rewards for good behavior: Food day, field trip to special performances,
or festivals
Electives to rotate throughout the year
Involving students when choosing music & hands on activities:
instruments (Orff, bells, guitars, keyboards), performing a musical,


Our school is 850 student grades 6-8.

6th grade students have a required class of 9 weeks of music - we use the
Yamaha MIE keyboard system/curriculum. Their is also a 6th grade choir (non
auditioned/optional) for interested students. Can range in size from 50-120
depending on the year.

7th/8th graders may participate in Band (65 students), Choir (175 students),
Orchestra (30 students)- again, optional, but a graded class. These students
do not have any required music class.

We have tried many options over the past years. Required general music at
all levels, elective music classes for 8th with required for 6 and 7, etc.
Our current set up seems to work the best for us, but again, that's just
what we have found to work.

I can't imagine having required vocal music classes at the 7th and 8th grade
level. If you are teaching it, you must be a saint!!!

Our students only need to accumulate a certain number of credits for
advancement to the next grade level. So the music grade has just as much
weight as the core classes, as long as the students earn the minimum number
of total credits.

I think one of the most difficult classes to teach is vocal music when even
few students don't wish to be there! It impedes the success of the entire

Those who don't wish to participate are often shy, in my experience, at
about their ability to sing in public. I have been able to win some kids
over by adding ethnic instruments and hand chimes (Malmark), which are
accessible to beginning musicians, or other instruments, as possible. If
have the budget for this, great (ethnic drums, shakers, etc. you can get one
at a time...a three-octave chromatic set of chimes costs about $1500 plus
and shipping). If you don't have a budget, maybe the kids and their parents
could help you raise the funds.

The other thing I notice about students this age is that they are more
to engage in projects rather than day to day routine, and more interested
when they are involved in choices. Only you will know how much of such
opportunity you can offer, but if you haven't had projects (like preparing a
small group of pieces from a musical, complete with dialogue), or a set of
pieces with choreography, or if the kids haven't had a chance to help choose
from the pieces you deem appropriate, you might give it a try.

Good luck to you! I have been there! It is so hard, isn't it?

I teach choir at an 850-student middle school on the central-California
coast. I'll describe our program for you in the hopes you'll find something

Because of our daily class schedule, the kids are only allowed one elective
each quarter, and they have about 8 to choose from. Each elective only
lasts a quarter (except band, which is year-long, and is divided into
beginning, intermediate, and advanced), so that we start with a new bunch of
kids every 10 weeks. The popular electives (woodshop, video, e.g.) fill up
right away, and the leftover kids are sent to other electives. I have two
periods of choir of 35 kids each every quarter, and about 1/3 of my students
have chosen to be there. Of that third, more than half are repeaters.

(By the way, the administration knows I'd like an advanced choir class, but
so far we haven't been able to make that happen.)

First period is a 7-8th grade mixed choir, and second period is a 6-7-8th
grade mixed choir. I teach singing as well as music theory (written work)
so that I can offer a variety of activities every day. I also give written
theory exams, three to six every 10 weeks, depending on the kids' progress.

At the start of the quarter I clearly spell out what I expect of them (do
your best, act responsibly and compassionately, don't talk during rehearsal,
etc.). I also tell them that we are a real choir, and that for the next 10
weeks they will get an idea of what choirs do. I assign voice parts (SAT),
and I choose music I think they'll enjoy (I'm getting more tolerant all the

For class discipline, this is constantly evolving for me. This class is an
elective, and I want it to be both fun and productive. These days, I do the

Expectations are on a chart on the wall in huge letters;
Talking kid gets name on board without a word from me -- that's the warning;
If kid still talks, gets check by name, which means lunch detention with me;
I also call parents that day during school.

These four steps seem to keep things running pretty smoothly. I typically
write no more than three detentions all quarter, and that's for 70 kids.

Please let me know if you'd like to know more, and good luck with your
current situation.

Seems like you need other options besides vocal music.
Can you offer guitar or keyboard classes?
Do you have Orff instruments available?
In Grade 6 all students take General Music which includes some singing, but
also a lot of hands-on activities. They play and compose songs using
keyboards, bells and computers. We do a lot of rhythm lessons using
percussion and even just drum sticks.

By the time kids reach 7th/8th grade, some like to sing and some don't. I
recruit the singers for chorus and all 7th/8th graders at my school select 3
related arts electives per year. (We are on trimester system.) Classes meet
2 times per week for 13 weeks. Electives are Art, Music, Woodworking,
Cooking, Rocketry and Silk Screening. We have found that when students
choose a class they like, behavior problems diminish.
Hope this is helpful.

I teach 6th grade, 7th and 8th grade music classes. The 6th grade come for
45 min once a week in groups of about 25 students each. The 7th grade choir
consists of 47 students with about 1/3 being boys and the 8th grade choir
consists of 30 with about 1/3 being boys.

The students seem to love choir. I do not credit that to myself. My
predecessor was a master at getting kids involved in the middle school and
the high school program is busting at its seams.

For behavior, I put up big quarter notes on the bulleting board for the 6th
grade. If their class behaves they get a flag added to the stem. When they
have 10 flags their class may have a party. We have nachos and karoke!!!
It seems to work well. I also try to do some kind of little musical with
each grade just for confidence and motivation to stay in choir. They seem
to love those. Our faculty helps by taking on parts of the musical.
Example: language teacher works with speaking parts, other teachers do
props, background etc. They can use the hours they put in for career
ladder. So everyone wins!

7th and 8th grade get paw prints for their good behavior! (We are
bulldogs!) Same thing....10 paw prints and they get a party. No one in
my classes makes below a B unless their is a major problem. Effort is the
majority of their grade. We sing, watch musicals, study composer and music
history, invite in outside performers and take trips. This year the 8th
grade went to KC to see the Phantom of the Opera. Students with behavior
problems don't get to go. I also try to find a middle school festival to
take students to. Again, behavior problems don't go. Pretty soon, those
students who are interested begin to sway the others because they enjoy what
they are getting to do. I don't really know if this is the kind of thing
you are asking for.

Two years I was the accompanist for the middle school and the high school.
The teacher became very ill and had to quit working . We could not find a
replacement for her so they hired me to teach and hired me an accompanist.
A very fine accompanist and teacher. By December we had decided to switch
places. He took on the teaching duties of the high school and is the
accompanist for my classes. I teach the middle school classes and do the
accompaniments for his classes. It is a dream situation.

I've taught with a number of configurations and my best solutions were when
there was a general music course for all that is not as time intensive and
can fit around the chorus offering and have chorus just for those who are
willing and situated to kick in. A half year course twice a week opposite PE
or something (my classes sometimes operated opposite Foreign Language,
sometimes computer, home ec etc) starting with the course for 7th graders
and make it very active, emphasis on drumming or keyboard participation in
classes with all. The situations where only the non-performance group kids
have general music in effect concentrate the students who have aversion to
the subject or have difficulty cooperating (a need for performance groups).
Lots of creative work, energy releasing and productive fun is the order.

I have seen a beginning guitar course added in several middle schools,
even some schools with behavior issues. Many of those issues fade away once
the students are engaged- especially with something they feel is immediately
interesting and useful. Most of the schools have bought a few uitars (8-10)
and received excellent deals from local shops. Good luck

Students want the control. I remember when I was teaching younger kids this
past year that it was all about 3 strikes and your out and I was kind of
about it. If you demonstrate a strong attitude from day one your year will
so much better. That is if you demonstrate control from day one. Remember
are the one in charge. Also a rewards program for the students that do
well or if you have the class divided into levels then you can say well we
going to have a pizza party if we get to this level or a popcorn and soda
party if we get this far.

At the Middle School level it is imperative to pick music that the students
will love and you should of course have two that are a bit more classical.
But the funner pieces will definitely benefit you, especially if you could
do some funny choralography. If it makes you laugh and them then it is all
worth it. If you have to get rid of a few students to improve your teaching
then work with it, but use that as a last resort. Try not to take away from
that experience.
You may want to have the school re-think that failing policy. Well I must
run and get back to working. Have fun on your search.

Are there other elective options available for students? If so, then
possibly discipline problems could be resolved by allowing more choices
through more elective opportunities. At our school, the 6th grade rotate
through a new elective every 6 weeks. Though this could seem problematic,
it actually works well. The music courses for the 6th grade is called
"general music." This course is a basic introduction to singing, theory,
instruments... However, the students could opt to take a band course which
would last for the entire year. Therefore, they could not rotate through
the elective wheel. After the sixth graders moved forward in the school,
the seventh and eighth grade courses could actually be a semester long or
the entire year long.
This is extremely sketchy, but I think the general idea is clear. The
whole point would be exposure to multiple electives so the students are not
having to take something they didn't like, therefore possible reducing
behavior problems (fingers crossed...)

It sounds like you administrators need to grow a backbone and
hold kids accountable in both behavior and academics.

The buck stops with you. You must get tough and creative and do so

The best kids for your classes are the one nobody else wants. I started
with a chorus like that...8 boys.... We grew to over in 2 years. Why?
Because I was strict and I loved them to death and they knew it.

You have a perfect set up. Be tough and sports-talk the guys into
singing well.

Sounds easy from a distance but tough to face each day. Don't give up,
use the right literature and in a year -- things will be a lot better.

on May 7, 2002 10:00pm
I am looking for other middle schools who use seperate boys and girl chorus.
Next year will be my second year in a middle school with 1200 students, with about
360 involved in chorus.

My wish is to split the classes so all the boys are together in the same class
so I can better hear their voices and work with as a male ensemble. This, I
hope will develop a stronger mens section and more confidence.

Does anybody have any suggestions?
on May 7, 2002 10:00pm
I am looking for other middle schools who use seperate boys and girl chorus.
Next year will be my second year in a middle school with 1200 students, with about
360 involved in chorus.

My wish is to split the classes so all the boys are together in the same class
so I can better hear their voices and work with as a male ensemble. This, I
hope will develop a stronger mens section and more confidence.

Does anybody have any suggestions?