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Classroom management, first year middle school choir director

I'm in my first year of teaching a middle school chorus and my alto section will not stop talking and can't stay on task. I have tried taking cell phones at the door, and sepearting talkative individuals. What are some ideas to help with this classroom management issue?
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on March 31, 2014 3:55pm
I completely understand where you are coming from. I am in my 2nd year of teaching and I received a group of 30+ 9th grade girls and it has been a huge challenge all year. I have done stuff with ClassDojo which is a behavior manangement app and they get points deduced if they are talking or misbehaving and so many of those points lower their grade. It works for me. Wouldn't hurt to check it out
on March 31, 2014 11:16pm
Hi Jen!
I feel your pain.  I'd come from underneath, cater to some of their interests, speak their language, share some humor, let them call some of the shots.. it's really not as much about control as it is about them trusting you.  If they know you've got their interests at heart too, they're much more likely to cooperate.  I think in cases where defiance is already happening, taking privileges away only feeds the fire.  We have to ask ourselves, "even though these kids are acting up in my class, are they capable of being good human beings who respect others?"  There are a lot of things one could try to shift the culture of a classroom, and usually the methods that evoke the most positivity between teacher and student are the ones that work the best.
Hope that helps!
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on April 1, 2014 8:33am
Establishing the fact that a choir requires input from each individual in order to be successful is a lesson for all to learn. Just as the baseball team or the football team is a "team effort," so is the choir a "team effort." The group can only be as successful as the participants choose to make it.  Establishing a routine that moves quickly from one activity to the next, not allowing "down time," is one method.  Listing on the blackboard the order of the pieces to be rehearsed, with the expectation that each student will prepare his/her music in the proper order immediately after taking the folder from the shelf (or slot).  While these suggestions do work, trying to start such a routine in the middle of the semester will probably be met with much negativity and will not be very successful.  However, If one begins on Day One with this sort of regimen, it will work! Best wishes as you share your love of making music with your students.
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on April 2, 2014 6:37am
Hi Jen,
Lots of people here have said many of the things I would say. Here's a few other suggestions I have:
My cooperating teacher this semester taught me something that works great at all levels. The students know what is expected of them, right? If they're not meeting this expectations, a simple "I will wait" goes a long way. You can't just say it casually, though, nor can you scream it. It has to be firm and honestly a little intimidating. Then, you wait until they do what is expected. Chances are everyone will stop and the room will be silent. If these chatty ladies continue their chatter, then is the point where you tell them you will speak with them after class. From there, it moves on to phone calls home, write ups, etc. Use it all as a teachable moment!
Additionally, establishing a relationship with your students goes a long way. I've just recently heard of the "two by ten" rule, but it's been something I've used for a while. The idea behind it is that you talk to students individually two minutes a day for ten days. This REALLY helps with students who are causing issues, as it helps them garner respect for you. Talk with these girls, get to know them, let them get to know you. If you can get students to trust and respect you, you can get them to do almost anything! I did this with a few of my high school students last term that were giving me issues. We found we shared a love of old records, punk rock, and Doctor Who. Even if you don't have that many things in common with your students, chances are just taking time to chat with them about things not related to class will change their whole view of you.
Lastly, a silly little classroom management thing I like to use is the "focus fox." I make a fox face with my hands by putting my thumb, middle, and ring finger together and sticking my pointer finger and pinky up. When the students see this, they know they are supposed to do the same with silence. It makes it a little more fun than saying "quiet down!" or something to that extent. Plus, students at every level are amused by it (though some will argue that it is a llama face, not a fox face). If you can weave humor into many of your classroom management at the middle school, it will keep things light and keep students coming back.
Hope this helps. Good luck to you!
on April 2, 2014 10:08am
There are awesome suggestions here!
Here are a couple of more ideas:
Overall most important factor:  Mutual respect that starts with you.  You are the adult.  If they sense you don't respect them or that you simply expect respect because you are an adult, you will lose them.  We have to be the leaders in the mututal respect circle.  It is KEY to our success as classroom managers.  If we don't model respect for the students, then none of the solutions I've written below will help.
1)  When they are talking, simply stand in front of them and wait.  Watch the talkers.  ...Careful not to use the evil eye...Just watch and wait.  Don't complain.  Don't call their names.  Don't humiliate or embarrass....simply watch.  Usually, other students will "shush" them as you wait.  The positive peer pressure is helpful.
2)  As you watch them, you should be documenting in your head exactly what is occurring.  Who is talking?  Where are the real issues?  When class is over, write down exactly what you saw.  "Jenny was turned around in her seat talking to Elizabeth while I was teaching.  When I stopped to wait for her to stop talking, it took 30 seconds"...for example.  Unemotional documenting...Just the facts.  Avoid things like "She is disrespectful and rude."  Be specific.
3)  Once you've gathered two or three specific non-emotional descriptions, pull Jenny aside.  When you pull her aside, do not make it a big deal about the fact that you are going to talk to Jenny by saying in front of the whole class "Jenny, I need to see you after class".  This will not set you up for success.  Instead, it will pit you against Jenny AND the class as a whole.  You should discreetly ask her to stay after.  Then, read the unemotional, clear descriptions to her.  "Jenny, these are some behaviors I've observed from you...."  Tell her it's not ok and that we need to find a solution together.  Tell her that her class participation grade has been lowered, and tell her that you are hopeful to be able to solve the issue with her so that you don't have to contact her parents, so it is important that we find the right solution.  "Would you like me to move your seat?", for example?  Get her invested in the solution.  Then, take the action you've decided upon.
4)  If the behavior continues, follow through by contacting the parents.  Again, be unemotionally specific when you speak to the parents. 
Parents are key.  So many teachers skip this step and jump to administrators.  This is a bad idea.  We must establish relationships first with the student and then with the parent.
Overall, what I've described above is a negative approach, but it is sometimes necessary.  More often, I use positive, public recognition in my classroom. For example, when I see a child sitting up straight, listening to every word, I throw a Starburst at the child and thank him publicly for his great posture or his attention.  Everyone around him jumps to attention.  
Establishing good, positive relationships with your students makes your classroom a much better place for learning.
These are just a few ideas.  Over the last year, I have written many more ideas on my blog and recorded classroom management videos on my YouTube Channel.  In them, I've tried to relay my philosophies to help other teachers who struggle with classroom management.
Also, my YouTube Channel with Sight Singing tips and Classroom Management ideas:
It takes a while to find our own personal classroom management style, but you can absolutely do it!   Be patient and don't beat yourself up when you don't get it right!  Just grow from it and move forward!
Dale Duncan
Find my step by step Sight Singing lessons for choirs with direct links to actual teaching examples and teaching tips:
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