Friday, December 20, 2013

Year 4: Week 16 - Herding Cats . . . a lot of cats . . .

We all have different challenges as teachers.

The high school English teacher has stacks of essays to grade, the pre-school teacher sometimes has to help kids with going to the bathroom and music teachers, well, we have performances.

I appreciated the level of respect that other teachers expressed to me this past week. Our music department had elementary school performances yesterday day and that same evening we had our middle school and high school choir concert.

For the whole week we had adjusted schedules so that we could get all students in each elementary school grade together (about 60 kids in each class) and also we had rehearsals with the older kids as well.  This whole week we had the daunting task of getting large groups of kids on stage and trying to get them to perform.

“Daunting” may be the wrong word. Once upon a time the idea of putting 60 third graders on the stage and get them to perform was not only daunting but also highly stressful and fear inducing. Now, as I tell my students, it’s exciting.

We get to go on stage and rehearse and perform together. The opportunity to come together on stage in a large group is a privilege; it’s a special and awesome moment. And yes, teaching kids during the past week is incredibly taxing, but it’s also incredibly rewarding.

So how do I manage teaches kids in large groups?  Here's a couple tips:
1.  Set expectation before you put them on stage, even before they enter the performance space.  Spending five minutes in the hallway explaining how to respect the performance space will pay off later.

2.  Teach your students a clear signal to be quiet and pay attention.  This year I went with the "when you see me raise my hand, raise your hand and be quiet, don't try to get other people to be quiet by shushing them, just raise your hand."  Raising your voice to give directions often sounds like you are angry when you are not.  Don't forget, it's only important that they are quiet when you have something meaningful to say. 

3.  Have a sense of purpose in your lesson plan without making the kids feel like you are rushing them through the lesson.   Panic doesn't engender good results.  Your kids sensing that you have a plan will make them feel more relaxed and more focused. 

4.  Explain to them how their behavior needs to be different when they are in a larger group (i.e. there will not be time for questions, they need to quiet down faster).  There are adjustment they need to be walked through so that they can operate in a different context.  

5. Express to your kids with your face and with your words how much fun you are having when they are creating music together.  Making music together in a large group is a joyous occasion, make sure that your students sense this from you. 
I talk to my kids a lot about each how each class leading up to the performance should be as meaningful as the performance itself. One reason I do this is to remind myself to be conscience about how I teach leading up to the performance. If I give my students all the tools they need to be successful before getting on stage, then putting them on stage, isn’t that big a deal.

The way they rehearse as a large group is a direct reflection on what I’ve provided them as a teacher. Every time I’ve had a rough full grade rehearsal, it’s usually because kids are confused or don’t know their parts and well, that’s on me.

It’s all part of the gig. It may seem crazy and nigh impossible to handle, but it's actually a lot of fun.  I'd rather rehearse large groups of kids over grading a huge stack of essays any day.   

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