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Classroom Management in Choral Settings

Many teachers struggle with classroom management and often cite difficulties in this area as a primary reason for leaving the profession.  I am intrigued by this topic and would love to learn more about the classroom management practices and problems that are specific to choral teachers.  Here are a few open-ended questions to get the conversation rolling...
1.  How do you define classroom management?
2.  Do classroom management practices in choral settings differ from those in general education classes?  If so, how are they different?
3.   In a choir, the teacher/director is actively involved as a member of the ensemble and as an educator.  What effect does this dual role have on classroom management practices and problems? 
4.  What challenges do you face regarding classroom management with your choir(s)?
5.  Do you feel that your undergraduate pre-service training adequately prepared you to deal with management issues in your own choral classroom?  If not, what suggestions can you offer to make undergraduate coursework in classroom management more relevant?
6.  If you could offer one piece of advice about classroom management to new choral teachers entering the profession, what would it be?
Thanks for taking the time to share on this topic.  I look forward to hearing from you!
Replies (8): Threaded | Chronological
on November 5, 2010 9:28am
This area of concern and practice in all of education is richly complex, actually, and vitally important.  It relates to whether or not learners WANT to be deeply connected to the sciences or literature or mathematics or acting or....singing in choirs, or alone as what we refer to as a soloist.  Because of the complexities, I'm going to present a series of Forum posts in a ChoralNet Community that is titled Voice Education for All Kinds of Choral Singing.  If you wish, you can join the 112 choral folk who are current members of that Community and join in on any and all the discussions that happen therein.  When you read the goals of the community, you'll see that the topic you've asked about is right at home there.
Meanwhile, there is a book that I highly recommend and it addresses your area of concern and practice:  Beyond Discipline: From Compliance to Community by psychologist Alfie Kohn, published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (  Applications of that book's content in the education, music education, choral music education, and voice fields of study can be found in Chapter 9 of Book I in Bodymind and Voice: Foundations of Voice Education.  I'm the co-editor and principal author of that 3-volume, 18-author tome.  The National Center for Voice and Speech and The VoiceCare Network are the two main publishers.  Info and ordering are on the VoiceCare website: (click on the photo image of the book that's located in the lower left corner of the homepage).
Be well, Kate, and keep up the good work that you do,
on November 5, 2010 10:44am
In my rather limited teaching experience (I'm currently in my sixth year), I have observed several situations that appear to be unique to classroom management in the choral setting. In it's basic form, our subject matter and many of our strategies for improving singing technique and changing sound boil down to a "make noise, now don't make noise, make noise this way" rehearsal. Non-verbal gestures can help to fix this, but sometimes speaking is necessary. The ability to take an ensemble from singing to focusing on understanding the next direction is challenging.
To me, classroom management is having a task for each student and monitoring their success in completing that task. Because much of what we do is large-group based, there are challenges with maintaining each student's engagement with the task. Our work often goes from large group, or having the whole group sing, to smaller group, one section sings to fix a mistake, quite rapidly. The ability to maintain the other singers when working with another group, no matter how short that time may be, is paramount. For me, this was not emphasized in my undergraduate training.
The other aspect that of successful management that I'm currently working at is positive behavior intervention or, as Tom Carter calls it, supportive behavior. Because we teach art and ask students to open themselves to a full palette of ideas and emotions, our success hinges on how we respond to both the positive and negative in our classrooms moreso than in some other subjects. Berate a student for talking out of turn and suddenly the confidence students have in singing out boldly is zapped. Certainly a Math teacher who does the same thing may have a hard time finding the next volunteer to answer a question, but each individual student may still be learning. When students are afraid to sing, no one learns.
I look forward to viewing other responses.
on November 15, 2010 12:37am
What everyone has said is true! I think the most important thing is being consistent and not letting your emotions get in the way!
on January 26, 2011 11:12pm
I teach fourth grade chorus and also have these same kids in a smaller group (about 23 as opposed to 45) once a week in general music.  That has helped a great deal, because I can establish relationships and a discipline standard in the smaller group that carries over to some degree to the larger group.  Perhaps my experience is different from yours because my kids are younger, but in general I do not have much problem getting energy out of them (getting them to sing, move, etc.).  More difficult is getting them to STOP moving, singing, or talking.  I suppose the good thing about this is that we clearly have an atmosphere where they feel they can express themselves.  Something I've learned over the past few years is just how specific and consistent I have to be.  "When you get to the end of a song, stop."  "When you get to the end of a song, what should I hear? (silence)"  "Let's practice that."  "Reminder--what am I going to hear when we get to the end of this song?"  Or, for a warm-up exercise, such as a lip trill, "do it once, then stop."  "Why is it important to stop at the end of a song?  Answer: so you can hear the next directions."  (Or for a performance, so that you look like a professional and hear the applause.)  Do I sound like a broken record?  Yes, especially when I'm saying it to 6 periods of students a day.  But it's absolutely necessary.  I had no idea when I got into this that I would be teaching behavior just as much as I'd be teaching music.  But perhaps I should have realized--that while technically I'm teaching music, in reality, I'm teaching kids.  Actually my favorite part of teaching music is getting to have some of the same kids again the next year, because you can truly build on everything you've taught, including the relationships you have forged.  GOOD LUCK to all!
on March 7, 2011 2:20pm
I think it kind of depends on whether or not your members are required to be there, as is often the case in middle school, or if they choose to be there.  I am kind of a no non-sense sort of director.  I don't mess around with "poor choices" or "class clowns."  I let them know point blank that what they are doing is a problem, in front of the entire choir, "you're going to have to fix the problem, or I'll fix it for you."  Then I usually ask "... anyone else??" and it is silent.  Then I can move on. 
- I refuse to talk over the crowd.  "I'll know you are ready when it is quiet."  "I'll know you understand when you say yes sir."
- If the student thinks a decision I have made is unfair they can come talk to me before or after school - NOT during rehearsal.
- To keep things "positive," I use "good news" a lot.  "Hey John, good news, you get to see me after school for an hour or so.  Can't wait!"  Sarcastic? yes.  With upper level students they can handle the sarcasm so long as it does not demean their person, or integrity.
- If the students want to be there and are choosing to goof off:
     First I let them know that their choice is causing a problem. 
     Second I remind them that they choose to be a part of this team. 
     Third I let them know that they are choosing to hold the whole team back and slow progress toward what it is that we are working, and are making themself look like a fool.  No student wants to be embarassed, or humiliated, however, if they are going to draw attention to themselves, then they better be able to handle the consequences.  They are in high school, so no more messin around with the "all to precious child syndrome."
I think in any case if the director is firm and lays down the law from the get go, it will make things a lot easier later on in the year or season.  Another thing is that as we are rehearsing I ALWAYS have something to say.  So my transitions are quick paced and leave little time to mess around.  If I am working with small groups then I give the other groups a goal rather than just practicing being quiet.  If they are just sitting there, then good luck keeping them quiet.  They are there to learn, and apply what they are learning.  With all of this pushing for "critical thinking" now days - that is the ideal time to have them think analytically about what you have all been working on and talking about the entire year!!  No excuse not to!
There are a million ways to skin this particular cat, it's just kind of what works for you and your particular teaching style.  I use humor like it is nobody's business.  I try to be a good model of the appropriate time for humor/goffyness, and for focused work.
on April 2, 2011 8:35pm
Fred Jones had a workshop for classroom management. He travels around USA, is based in Santa Cruz CA. Google him for website
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