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same-sex ensembles

I've been thinking a lot lately about creating same-sex ensembles at my middle school. I currently see my students in mixed choirs by grade level (6, 7 and 8)vbut I've been wondering if separating the boys and girls might solve some musical and behavioral issues. Does anyone have experience doing this at their school? Can you point me to any research that I could show my administrators?
on February 16, 2014 2:40am
There is a fantastic course from Learner's Edge that I took, and it is based on the research and book Boys and Girls Learn Differently (Gurian). I strongly recommend it...the book alone is a fantastic resource. My colleague and I have had the chance to split our middle school groups by gender a few times so far and it has really proven to work well for their vocal, social, and emotional development.  It's a win-win!
on February 16, 2014 7:04am
Have you searched the ChoralNet archives? It seems to me this was a topic discussed several times here.  There are many who advocate for separate male/female ensembles at the middle school level.  There are SO many advantages to this, if you are able to get the administrative support to schedule it.  Boys and girls vocal/musical/social needs are so different at that age, so when you separate them, you can really address the very specific needs of each group.  Check ACDA Choral Journal archives and the Journal of Research in Music Education for research - it seems like there must be some out there!
Joy
 
on February 16, 2014 7:31am
Hello!  I teach 6/7/8 grade.  I don't have research, but I've been teaching this age groups for 22 years, and my research is in my classroom working with real beginners.
 
Here is some data from my experience:
 
About 10 years ago, my administrator's made it possible for me to separate my children by gender in 7th grade.  I was enormously grateful!  Ever since I started separating them, the boys have soared in achievement and in numbers.  I teach 302 total students in chorus.  90 of those children are male.  That is very rare in middle school.
 
Having a year to simply teach the boys about their changes voices and sing men's literature has been awesome.  They are a novelty at our Georgia Music Educator's Convention Large Group Performance Evaluation.  They become keenly aware of the fact that there aren't any other men's ensembles going to adjudicated festivals, and it builds tremendous confidence and pride within them.   The judges always write wonderful comments about that fact, and the boys love it.  Boys in general, are quite competitive, and even though I don't present our adjudicated festivals as a competition, the fact that they are getting a rating that applies only to them makes them more focused and willing to squeeze the most out of rehearsal time so they can do their very best at the event.  
 
Before I separated by gender, they barely sang.  They were embarrassed to explore their new voices in front of their female peers.  I tended to ignore their needs as a result.  When they understand the change of their voices, they thrive.  They sing.   Male voice change is huge and can be quite difficult, and it is imperative that we teach them how to deal with it.  Knowledge is power.  
 
I used to keep them separated in 8th grade, but for a variety of reasons (none related to voice change), I decided to put everyone back together.  However, if you have a lot of new students joining your chorus in 8th grade, I recommend that you separate them so you can help those students who missed the 7th grade year.  
 
I like to separate in 7th grade because most of their voices haven't done the 'big drop' yet, and we can help them through as it occurs. 
I even keep the treble male voices in that class so they can hear and learn the info.  If you wait until 8th grade to separate by gender, it can be difficult to pull the boys out of the dungeon if their voices dropped suddenly and significantly when it changed.  The muscle memory and ear development you can teach in the 7th grade year as the change occurs makes a huge difference and will serve you well in 8th grade once you put them back together, if you choose to do that.  
 
Drawbacks:  When boys at this age have a class of their own, their immaturity is magnified.  The difference in emotional maturity in 7th grade between the genders is immense.  You have to learn how to handle it quickly and simply understand that their needs are different.  They need to move more.  They are definitely more kinesthetic.   The "baseness" and silliness of their humor comes out (passing gas, for example...sorry...just being honest).  They do things they would NEVER do with a female in the room.  (I am male).
 
However, the payback is amazing.  The music they are able to make is outstanding when we are given the opportunity to help them through this difficult time in their lives as young singers!
 
Hope that helps!
Dale Duncan
For more tips on teaching middle school chorus:
For my 21st Sight Singing Training Program for Middle School Teachers and their Students:
For my YouTube Channel with teaching tips for Sight Singing and Classroom Management:
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on February 16, 2014 9:22am
Dale Duncan has said it well.  Just follow his advice....esp. at Middle School age.  Now in my 43rd year of music ed, I WISH I had done that early on.  Get those guys comfortable and singing WELL and the women will rip the doors off to sing with them.
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