I have been teaching elementary (K-5) music for 20+ years and, due to a budget shortfall, was recently reassigned to middle school music. I will be teaching guitar/general music classes as an elective for 6th - 8th grade. These classes are part of a block schedule where I see each class 2 days each week for 90 minutes. (Wednesdays we see all eight periods for 35 minutes.)
I would love to hear from those of you who teach music to this age group. What type of classroom management techniques work well at the middle school level? What are some activities / units of study you have found that appeal to middle school kids? Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
There are many things you may have done with elementary students that can work well and be very appealing for middle school students.
I am an Orff trained teacher, and found my body percussion pieces, rhythm canons, drumming and vocal canons all to be very accessible and rewarding for my grades 7 & 8 students. I also enjoyed having students do a "musical family tree" where they interviewed family members about their formal and informal music experiences, created collage posters and presented to the class. I loved teaching guitar to my junior high students. The Lion Sleeps Tonight, folk songs with simple chord progressions. We would begin with "air guitar" to get the position and hand placement. Playful, but organized.
Students at this age also did well with group projects. Consider having the students compose variations to Row Row or Twinkle, then make a listening map poster and perform their pieces. I also did chance music or found sound compositions with non-standard notation (symbols and pictures) posters.
Another great thing to include, particularly in a block schedule situation, is a daily listening journal. I selected from a very wide variety of musical styles and had them write responses to reflection questions. Some got at specific musical concepts such as use of dynamics or meter, others were more personal or philosophically reflective. I played everything from Bobby McFerrin to Webern. You could also follow the journal writing with paired discussion/sharing.
If you have access to technology, you could do computer composing. I used MusicShop, but this was 9 years ago. I did compositions where the students created soundtracks for wordless picture books, which was really fun. Back then we would videotape the books with the music. Now a days there are great options for using powerpoint, etc. I also did a composition project where the kids were given a chord progression and taught about chord tones and non-chord tones. Then they created melodies with chord tones on beats 1 & 4, with passing, neighboring and other non-chord tones in between.
I also liked to do some media literacy with that age group. There is a GREAT Frontline Documentary called Merchants of Cool, I believe. Better for the older end of MS. We talked about the media industry, music rights, technology and intellectual property...
I've been teaching K-5 for many years now, but am missing that age group as I type. Best wishes to you!
I just joined this group a couple of weeks ago, and I just came across your post. I completely understand your situation. It happened to me as well. I will tell you this though, I miss my middle school students and the things that I did with them. I hope it all works out for you.
I taught elementary, reg classroom, for 22 years. I am also music certified. But with budget cuts my new assignment became middle school general/ chorus. I'm going into my third year. Administration wanted a performance based program. Even though I really have to develop a new music program a big challenge for me (I'm a flutist and vocalist with limited piano skills) I do not miss the regular classroom. I'm where I'm supposed to be. I meet with my chorus on a voluntary basis after school and that has been successful. I have many ideas but not sure how to implement them. Thats why I joined and this is my first post.
Hi. I've been teaching middle school music for thirty-three years and still love it as much or more than the day I was born. I'll share with you a few random things that come to mind.
- Structure, structure, structure in managing the classroom
I've effectively installed daily procedures in organizing the way my classroom is run. It makes them feel like you're definitely in control, and establishes a routine they don't have to think about. These kiddos don't easily remember without a routine.
- Always positive in stating my expectations.
I keep my expectations posted clearly. I don't call them rules. This enables the students to know the expectations with which I approach my classroom. They can decide whether or not they're expectations are the same, or if they should alter their's. I spend at least the first week rehearsing the procedures until every student understands and complies. This is done by me with a smile daily.
- It's not the severity of the consequence, but the certainty of it.
My kiddos know that no matter who you are, no matter who your mother or daddy is, no matter how much money you have, the consequences for choosing to not live up to my expectations are certain. They count on my fairness and consistency. This encourages trust in me.
- Challenge the students and equipment them reach those heights.
The first song the choir learns annually is the "Star-Spangled Banner" in four parts and a cappella. It takes a good month to get it ready to be heard, but it pays off. The choir provides the anthem for our volleyball games, basketball games, and special occasions. Through the sports seasons, they volunteer (four singers per vocal part) to sing at the games. They take great pride in doing this, and it makes an excellent impression on visiting teams and audiences. This also enables my kiddos to know the words to our anthem, since so many of our children are growing up not knowing the words, due to the fact that the song is usually performed as a solo.
- Split them into four parts and use them all.
Don't be afraid of singing four parts. Three parts causes my guys to have to sing either too high for comfort, or too low. We always seek four parts.
- Look for the basketball and football players.
In middle school, the jocks hold great sway over the kids. So, on the first day, I stand in the hall and listen to the taller boys talking to see whose voices have changed. I then take them to my room, play one note. If they match it, I invite them to be in the choir. I tell them I can change their schedule easily (which I can). If you get the starting five into the choir your first year, the next years will be easier to recruit. I currently have 70 in the choir (school of 380/78% free-reduced lunch), and 25 of them are boys. Of the boys, 13 are baritones. It works. It always has.
I can't encourage you enough to tackle the challenging topics. For instance, we do an in-depth study of opera, and they end up loving it. If you approach it correctly, they'll love it. No reason why they shouldn't. It's got gore for the boys and romance for the girls! Challenge your kids at every turn, and then enable them to achieve that challenge. You'll be amazed at what they can do, because remember, they don't know what they shouldn't be able to do!
I too have been asked to come up with a "music-making and hands-on" music program for grades 7 & 8 this summer to be implemented in Sept. 2013. Are there any ideas that you can share for this music class that I will teach twice a week for about 40 minutes each lesson? (Band and choir are taught at noon hour or after school by another teacher. Recorder and handbell playing are taught in grades 5 & 6. The school owns boomwhackers. We also have JamTrax, a computer program where the students compose rhythms.)