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65 6th graders and 1 adult, management tips needed!

I am in my second year of teaching and am struggling with my 6th grade chorus section.  There are 65 students, some of them are great, and some of them are disruptive.  There are so many that I can't keep track of who is doing what and when while trying to run rehearsal.  I've already had a student complain to their parent about how they aren't enjoying chorus yet because of the disruptions.  They sound great when they sing, but I feel it takes a very long time to get them all to participate.  I am still in the process of learning all of their names...  I would love some tips/advice on how to manage this many students in a performance based class.
Thank you!!
Replies (11): Threaded | Chronological
on September 17, 2015 3:24am
Hello!  We've all been in your shoes, and it isn't easy!  ...Especially for a 2nd year teacher to have that many in one class!
I've been teaching for 24 years, and I have 70 in a class.  I couldn't have done it in the early years!
They need structure and fun.
Here are some things I've written and some videos too:
All of the videos you see of me teaching included only 6th graders.
Good luck!
Dale Duncan
Creator of S-Cubed Middle School Sight Singing Program for Beginners
In the search are of my blog and my youtube channel, write "classroom management", and you'll find more ideas.  There are also many teaching examples for you to see.  
on September 17, 2015 6:37am
Hi Rachel,
Whew! Been there, done that! Let's see...
I set up the chairs in 3 sections with aisles in between. This helps with "divide and conquer" and also sets up some friendly competition: which section uses the best posture? Which section/row holds their book up. Little attendance chart stickers can be given out as rewards. 
Get them in a seating chart, alphabetically, in order to learn names (you can do this first name or last name, but I like it by last name so that I don't have to eat up rehearsal time taking roll. An empty chair means you're not there). Make it a game at the end of class to see how many in a row you can name without being stumped. I would give myself a deadline to be able to identify them in their assigned seats by a particular day... if I lost, I gave them all a music pencil (then if I lose, no one has an excuse for not having a pencil in rehearsal). If I got everyone right, then I won, and I knew all their names. After you've gotten their names learned, then you can rearrange seats and know which ones not to sit together, or seat them by voice (and still adjust for talking). 
Establish routines and do them every day. We practice each one: how to walk into the room, where the bags/binders/purses go, how dismissal will work, how music is handed out. 
Times to talk, times to listen, times to sing... Kids in choir need them all. We forget, as college students, what it was like to have to say something "really important right then!" I teach the students to finish singing and listen for feedback. They need to establish the habit of sing then listen. We talk about the need for feedback, and how we can get so much done if I can tell them what they did well, and what we can do better, and then try it again. I assure them, too, that there is time to chat, and that is during "transition" times... switching from one piece of music to the next, handing out music, handing in music, etc. This is a great time to chat with your neighbor, or ask for a drink of water, but please stay in your seat unless you have permission to be up. They don't have the attention span that we do, but it can be taught, just give them time to learn. As we run rehearsals, I listen closely for things to compliment them, and when we stop at the end of a section, if the talking starts I say something to the effect of "Wait, I was going to tell you something awesome that you just did, but you're talking. Can we save the talking for transition times? Let me tell you what you did so well." It takes time, but they can be trained. 
By the way, you may not get all of this accomplished in one or two weeks. It will take time and repetition, and catching them doing the right things more often than you call out the wrong things. 
Speaking of wrong things, talking while the group (your group in particular) is singing makes me CRAZY! I haven't tried this, but you could try a feedback system for parents to be informed as well.  You could make up a form that says something about "I was talking in chorus instead of singing today. My teacher tried to correct me, but I didn't stop. I am going to do better the next time." Then parents have to sign and it gets returned by the next class. This also works for accountability, and parent contact, and documentation, which administrators LOVE. At three cards, call home to make sure the parents have actually seen the notes. At four cards, you could assign an alternative assignment, and at five cards, you could involve the administration (go to your main administrator before you start all this to make sure they're on board, so they don't get surprised later).  
Pick a "singing star" from each section or row every week, and display their name on the wall. And watch for your talkers to start to make small improvements, and recognize it (maybe not in front of the whole class, maybe a private conversation at the end or at a transition time). Those "come see me at the piano" conversations are great, as is walking around the room to get to a kid for a quiet conversation, either in correction or in praise. Let them know that you see them. 
Good luck! Send me a PM if you want more ideas, or just want to brainstorm or vent. 
Elizabeth Eaker
Knoxville, TN
Applauded by an audience of 5
on September 17, 2015 6:57am
Bribery will really help . Spontaneously reward hard working students with a treat, (a mini bag of pretzels, for example, or some Mardi Gras beads from Oriental Trading) as you catch the good behaviors. Ask the student to come and choose from your treat bag as a thank you for " your excellent posture" or "following along so well."
Think about which section, or part of the room was the least disruptive and occasionally reward the whole section at the end of class for their terrific efforts that day. Always announce exactly what their achievement was, even if you have to make something up. 
Acknowledgement of positive behavior, even if it's something very slight, takes the focus off the negative behavior. 
Be sure that your warm ups are engaging, in order to start each class on a happy, enthusiastic note. Rhythmic body percussion in echo and canon forms is a good start for students who need physical input. Solfege games provide ear training and fun as you, the teacher competes against the student team. If you are permitted, celebrate holidays during your warm up time by some unison singing of familiar Halloween songs, for example. 
Good luck, laugh often with the your students, have fun. 
on September 17, 2015 7:00am
First of all with that many students you need an accompanist.  I hope you just forgot to mention that.  If you don't have an accompanist start lobbying now for one.  It will completely change the dynamics if you are able to stnad in front of them all the time instead sitting behind a piano.  With that said, the more physical you can make choir the better.  Put movements to the warm-ups.  Whenever there is a tough passage put a movement to it so that it sinks into their brains. Create some sort of fun competition between the sections to break things up.  Change their positions on the risers.  Bring the back row to the front and so on.  I taught middle school choir for 13 years.  I love that age group.
Applauded by an audience of 3
on September 17, 2015 7:47am
I taught Middle School Chorus for years and it is challenging but big class numbers go with the job.  The words of advice I have were passed on to me by a mentor that I respect very much. Middle School students, especially in large groups, are going to do dumb things; it's just their nature.  You have to let them know, in no uncertain terms,  how much "dumb" you are willing to accept or tolerate.  Keep them busy and don't give them much "down time". Have one-part 'mentally' sing their part while you work with the other; switch between parts at a seconds notice; add the other part suddenly.  This works very well if teaching from the piano.  Also, use a higher stool at the piano so the students can see you; sometimes eye contact and the old faithful "teacher's look" are all you need.  Most of all, remember that you get the respect you give; my rules are very simple: show and use proper manners at all times and respect everyone and everything in the room.  This basic philosophy hasn't failed me in 29 years and is still working.
Applauded by an audience of 3
on September 18, 2015 6:41am
14 years with middle school groups ranging from 30 in a class to 90 in a class.  I haven't had an aide for years, aside from some fabulous student teachers, and I've never had an accompanist except for concerts, though I do have a digital piano and can program in accompaniments.  
What works for me aside from engaging lessons and giving them as little down time as possible.
Established procedures - Class begins with stretches led by a student, freeing me up for individual start of class issues (I also have a 'Mrs. Enyeart, I need...' slip that cuts down on some of these issues), and attendance taken by folder number count-off also led and entered by a student.
Sweat the small stuff - don't ever talk over them, if you ask them to stop talking require it.  If a student can't manage their self control that day, give them an opportunity to take a break and return to the group when they have calmed (this is patterned after the developmental design by Origins approach).  If they continue to have issues with self-control, talk to them one on one - try to determine the cause of the issue (perhaps a seating change, perhaps simply understanding that choir is a class and there are expectations).  If you aren't familiar with Love and Logic, check it out - they have great classroom ideas.  Sometimes calling home works wonders. Sweat the small victories as well - when they are being great, let them know and give them high praise.  Once you have them hooked on choir and you, they will work for your praise (this also means avoid generic praise, or praise when they didn't really deserve it)
Most importantly - get to know them!  Be in the lunch room or the hallways before and after school and talk to your kids, go to their games - find out what makes them tick, their interests, their personalities.  When they act up in class a simple 'nice job at your game last night Joey' can work wonders to get them back with you.  An activity like Rare Birds can help with this (  I have the kids fill out their cards, and then we do 2-3 a class after warmups/literacy work and before rep.  The students love trying to guess who, and if a student isn't guessed after all three clues and one hint from me, I give the student a prize (usually a jolly rancher...).  If you have any opportunity for lessons, use this time to get to know them and have fun with them. 
Bribery can work, so long as it is inconsistent - don't always reward students for doing what should be expected.  Random rewards are actually more effective than consistent rewards.  
Finally - there are occasions where one or two personalities are toxic to a group- their presence either discourages others from singing or they prevent others from being able to be fully present in the rehearsal.  This will be particularly obvious when they are absent for a day.  Much as we would love to save them from themselves, sometimes a schedule change is in the best interest of the group - talk to the student about whether they want to be in class, and if so ask them what they can do to improve their behavior to make this happen and how you can help keep them on track, or talk to the parent/counselor about a schedule change.  
I've long thought that managing middle school classes often feels like the iron fist in the velvet glove - Let them know you care about them, both as a group and as individuals while also having high unwavering expectations for behavior and music.  
Best Wishes - you can do this!
Applauded by an audience of 3
on September 19, 2015 3:29am
I like the "get an accompanist" idea, but often that just isn't going to happen.  Lead without the piano.  I do most everything with a starting pitch standing right in front or even moving around.  It's not going to solve all of your problems, but I agree that getting out from behind the piano is important.  It made a big difference for me.  It was scary at first, but they're kiddos and probably won't notice when you make a  mistake, and if they do, it teaches them that you're actually human, too.  You may have to do parent contacts, coach contacts, one on one chats, etc.  Try everything.  What works one day might not work the next.  I also second Love & Logic.  Good stuff.
on September 19, 2015 4:58pm
I third Love and Logic. 
on September 20, 2015 7:22am
Email me vpass616(a)  Too much to type.  It has happened to me too.  Upon email, maybe we can talk old school on the phone.  Happy to help!
musically yours,
on September 20, 2015 10:39am
Rachel,  As others, been there, done that (40 years)...we all realize that Choir might be a dumping ground for students who don't fit into any other elective due to scheduling or class loads.
I found that a picture seating chart worked best. I took pictures of the kids, lined up in alphabetical order, 7 at a time, then cut & pasted their face-only into an ECELL spreadsheet, and added their name below the appropriate picture, leaving a little space for "marks".  I ran multiple copies, and put them in a binder. Using 1 sheet each day, if a child was disruptive of uncooperative, I simply "gave them the eye", marked a purple mark by their name, and moved on. After a while, the students caught on to the meaning of the purple pen.  At the end of the week, (or every few days if you prefer), anyone with no marks received a "ticket". You can buy huge rolls of these at a party store. Each month, I had a drawing, where the students could come forward and pick out a prize.  99% of my prizes were "freebies" picked up from fairs, conferences, local businesses, armed forces recruiters, etc. 
Another daily technique...I held anyone with 1 or more marks each day after class for just 1 minute. My timer didn't start until the group staying after was silent.
This also was helpful when it came time to determining the students' citizenship and/or participation grade.
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 8, 2016 9:09am
I have a very similiar situation this year: 60 7th graders for 90 minutes on 2 consecutive days first thing in the morning...I also have the same situation with 6th graders at the end of the day (60*90*2).  This is my first year back into teaching after a decade off, so i'm slowly finding my old tricks again.  I really appreciate reading through all of these suggestions.  Sounds like I'm going to have to read through Love & Logic!  
A book I came across over at a conference was Classroom Management in the Music Room "Pin-Drop Quiet" CLasses and Rehearsals by David Newell.  He's a MS band teacher.  It speaks to having clearly defined rules for your class, and clear consequences.  1 consequence means little work on the teacher's behalf!! 
I agree with the advice of insist on silence.  Don't talk over them.  They will then learn it's ok, and it is a slippery slope (which I'm personally trying to climb back out of currently)...
Most of my issue this year is pacing as I don't have appropriate materials (80% of my music is sacred SATB!!).  Don't let them have down time, and if they are still going at it, change 1 thing.  pacing, repertoire, teach a class silently, Have no gradebook in front of you, make them practice silence, seating chart.  It's a mountain we have to climb, not a hill.
I see this was posted in September 2015-how has your year gone?  What worked?   Please let us know!
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