Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dazzling Discipline Linky Party!

I am so excited to be Linking up with Aileen from Mrs. Miracles Music Room in celebration of her 1,2000 followers!

I have had the privilege of working in a variety of settings as a music teacher.  I have taught in school districts at the elementary level, middle school/ high school level, and in a Spanish/Chinese Immersion Charter School.  Each school has its own approach to discipline to guide your classroom.  In all of these settings, I have learned a lot and added more tools and tricks to my room.

Clear Expectations

I had the opportunity to student teach with Kristi Wagner, a fantastic elementary music teacher rural Minnesota.  To this day, I use what I have learned from her every day!  I am constantly modifying my expectations to fit each group of students I have worked with.  This year I used Lindsay's Music Rules and Songs.  I found last year that students have a lot of rules to remember.  There are rules for playground, their classroom, the hall, the bathroom, the gym, home, the bus, etc.   I wanted to help them remember and Lindsay's rules all fit with a song!  What a great idea.  I didn't realize how helpful that would be!  At the beginning of the year, we would use her songs are vocal warm-ups and to remind us of our job.  This kept the rules fresh in our minds and the students even made up actions, which helped my little wiggly ones stay focused, and involved more of their brain (whole body teaching!).  By the end of the year, I would just hum the tune and they would self-correct!

I post my rules on hooks by my board.  This is how the group is held accountable.  If I notice the group is struggling with one of the expectations I casually walk over the flip the card to the black and white side.  I typically don't need to interrupt the lesson I just give them the visual cue of what they need to fix.  Once they fix it, I flip it back to the color side.  If most students fix it, and one or two are still struggling I help those students (see #5).  

In my building we give the classroom teachers a 0-3 to let them know how the specialist time went.  I connect these to how the cards end.  I am teaching K-3 they are just kids who are learning and playing.  The mistakes are how they learn!  If all the cards end forward it's a 2, if one is backwards it is a 1, if two are backwards we have already stopped the lesson reviewed expectations, modified the activity and tried again and they end with a 0.  I save a 3 for something special.  We have all had those magical lessons where things click, the students completely get it or they work together extremely well, it isn't an average day.  A 3 is rare and very valued!

Here is how I use the cards: During class if we have a card flipped backwards and the students haven't modified behavior I will remind the group and give them a clearer expectation.  "Right now we are reading and speaking rhythms.  If you were involved your hands would be signing the rhythms and your voice would be speaking them."  That should be enough to get the group on track.  I can then help those few that might need more.  

If that doesn't work, I need to evaluate what I am doing.  It's the rule of 3.  In general, if it's more than 3 - 4 students not following expectations, it's me.  I need to change something.  Maybe the rhythms are too hard and they don't know what to do. Maybe we have done too many and they are getting bored.  Maybe they just came from testing and they need to move.  Stay in the moment.  Even if it is the 50th time you have sung the song today, you can't go on autopilot.  What do they need? Are they understanding? How could you word it differently, show it differently, engage them more?  Don't just talk, teach!

Model Expectations

 Students in general want to to the right thing.  I have been very fortunate to teach in buildings where students and staff value music.  They want to come to class and do a great job.  When you make it very clear what you are looking for, they rise to the challenge.  
For example:  One of my expectations is "Care for our Room and Instruments" which could mean a lot of things.  When we are playing xylophones we put them in rows with an aisle in the middle.  The expectation is that you walk down the aisle, down your row and sit behind your instrument with your hands in your lap.  For K-3 students, that's a LOT!  
I do a shortened version of a Responsive Classroom discussion (we only have 30 minutes!).  I explain the steps and model them.  Then, I make mistakes :)  I go to fast down the aisle, I play before it's time, I start to step over instruments, etc.  We make it very silly with lots of giggles.  

I learned the weirder I am, the longer they remember it!

Practice Expectations

Sticking with the instrument introduction example, the next step is we have students try it.  Before we do, I make it very clear that we are practicing.  If you make a mistake, I am not mad, you are not in trouble, you are learning and you just need more practice.... it's  OK!
I have a student model walking down the aisle, across the row, sitting behind the instrument with hands in lap.  If they do it, we clap!  If the get too excited and pick up mallets or make even a minor mistake, they get to try again in a minute.  I say, "Oops you forgot_____.  It's ok, we are all learning together.  Have a seat and you can try again with the next group.  Thanks for taking a risk, we will have you try again in a minute."  I have a few other students model what to do and then I got back to the first person and let them try again.  All very positive and encouraging but very clear and specific.  

Expect your Expectations

It sounds really simple but it is very difficult to be consistent all the time!  If you expect students to wait to pick up the mallets you need to hold them to it.  If you only hold them accountable for their actions sometimes it is very confusing for the kids.  It will all fall apart.  Your students following the rules get frustrated with you or the class and the students not following expectations will really test you.  You aren't being mean, you are being honest. You are following through on what you said.  It's logical not emotional. 

Don't Give Up on Anyone!

We all have many students that need more than what's above.  They aren't following expectations, now what?  You have prepared, you are consistent, what's next?  Honestly, it depends a lot on your building's expectations.  I am used to a Responsive Classroom Model.  I have a "Take A Rest" spot in my room.  Students can choose to take a rest or I can ask them to.  The resting spot is for small things that they are able to fix on their own (jumping down from risers, blurting, they are upset because they lost in a game, etc.).  In the resting spot there job is to get ready to return.  I compare it to a restart in a video game or when a coach calls timeout (be careful with this analogy).  For me, this isn't a negative thing, it's a tool.  You just need a minute.  As adults we have all needed a minute.  Just a minute I am on the phone, just a minute I am finishing this last page of my book, just a minute I have to grab a pencil... you just aren't ready.  

We model the practice taking a rest and how it could look.  What helps you calm down when you are upset?  What works outside of school when you are upset? We brainstorm and decide what are some great choices that would help you without distracting the class. Some common tricks:take slow quiet breaths, squeeze your hands together and then let them release, think of something else, watch how other kids following expectations.  The general goal is usually to calm down, let your heart slow down and get ready to learn.  When you feel ready we are ready for you!  

If I notice it has been longer than 2 minutes I will say, "Are you ready to follow our expectations?"  If they say no I will ask if they need one more minute or if they need someone to talk to.  Some problems they need help solving.  Then it's too big of a problem for the resting spot.  If they need someone to talk to they know it can't be me right now, I am teaching the class.  It could be the counselor, the psychologist, their support staff or the principal.  I ALWAYS follow up with the student and/or the person they talk to if this is their choice.  I also talk with them outside of class if I notice patterns (every time we sing they take a rest, every time we play an instrument they take a rest, they need a rest every day, etc.).

I realize this is a LOT!  I feel like a could write ten blogs on this topic and I am still learning more every day and modifying what I do!  I don't have the time for all of this, this gives me time!  Setting aside time for expectations makes the time you have left run smoothly!  

I can't wait to read what others have blogged about! 

What tips and tricks do you use? What works/ doesn't work in your room?  Please leave comments below!


  1. Thanks so much for joining the party! I love the idea of modeling undesirable behavior...yes, kids totally remember that and love watching teachers doing that! Thanks again! :)

    1. Thank you so much for the Linky Party and for being my first comment!