Here’s to a new week

September 19, 2011 at 9:52 pm Leave a comment

I had absolutely no intentions of leaving last week on such a melancholy note, but it was certainly not my best. I found myself stuck in a personal/emotional slump that I just couldn’t shake, and I’m trying desperately to hang on to a positive attitude this week. Whether or not I will be successful is yet to be seen…

I spent Saturday at the middle school participating in a Kagan workshop. For those who have never heard of Kagan, it is a sort of classroom structure/management/cooperative learning philosophy that emphasizes student learning through peer interaction. While many people agree that students need to be active participants in their own education, the Kagan principles provide specific structures that ensure individual student accountability and success in an environment where peers work together to solve problems, coach each other, build teamwork, etc. In theory, I think it is one of the best classroom tools/structures that I’ve ever heard of; and if I had to spend 8 hours at work on a Saturday, the Kagan workshop was at least engaging and insightful (it also helped that I got paid too =P ).

By the time the workshop came to a close, the gears in my head were at full speed. How can I adapt these ideas for my classroom? Especially my choir class? How can I get the students to engage each other in content-reinforcing interaction when they barely understand the content as a whole? I decided to give it a try today with a “Mix-Pair-Share.” The students are given a question, mix randomly around the room while music plays, and then stop in place and high-five the nearest person when the music stops. Those two are now partners. The partners then take turns sharing their answer to the question, which in this particular case was, “What was something awesome you did over the weekend?” The students loved this part even more than I expected. I received a chorus (no pun intended?) of “Can we do this again?!” I said absolutely and then attempted to introduce them to the next part of the process. Here’s where it started to go flat (definite pun intended). It literally took 5 minutes just to get the classroom quiet enough to deliver the next set of instructions. “Look in your sight-reading book on page three, example sixteen. You and your partner are going to take turns discussing the example and pointing out important things to recognize. For example, I would point out that the very first note is a half note, so it needs to be held out for two beats. Or, I could point out that the lowest note is Do and the highest note is La.” By the time I made it through the rest of the instructions and told them to start, the room was already bursting into another fit of chatter. I started circulating from group to group to monitor their progress, and half the groups didn’t even have their books open!!!!!! (This is the part where I officially want to strangle kids.) After all that time trying to get the class quiet, how many students actually listened?

As much as I want a system that is effective and engaging for students, how can I afford activities like that when they have no concept of when to put the socializing on hold? One beautifully effective technique for quieting students is simply standing next to those who are talking. The student(s) get(s) uncomfortable with the teacher standing so closely and will usually get the idea that they need to pay attention. Not so with middle schoolers! I will stand in front of a pair of students, stare them down, and they will still continue their conversation right in front of my face. How does that work?!?!

I won’t throw the cooperative learning ideas out yet. They really can be useful tools, and who knows, maybe I still have yet to make the procedures really clear. However, I find the struggle to maintain the choirs’ attention incredibly draining. It’s getting to the point that I dread my choir classes– and that’s what I’m trained to do! I’m doing this job because I love working with choirs and young voices, but it’s the worst part of my day? If anyone can figure out that riddle let me know.

Oh, and I have my first evaluation, in choir, on Friday.

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