In one of my previous posts, I discussed the challenges that I have been facing in my current position as a choir director in a middle school, in a situation where music is required–but there is no “general music” class. As a result, any student not in band or orchestra, or any student kicked out of band or orchestra, finds themselves in choir.
Overall, I have been successful, but trying to teach a percentage of students who do not want to be in choir is a new experience for me. When I taught middle school in 1997-1998 in the Dominican Republic, students may not have wanted to be in music class, but as a whole, they participated and went along with the process. That is not the case where I teach today. There are some possible solutions on the horizon, but I wanted to share some strategies that I have come across (none of them are things I invented) that have made my life easier.
The first strategy was a sight singing method called “S-Cubed” and developed by Dale Duncan. Dale’s process of teaching sight singing is established in a game, and the game itself adds to a better classroom management experience in your room. The end result is that your students learn how to sight sing and they act better. It really works.
The second strategy I am going to discuss is called “Above the Line.” This is a management system developed by Corwin Kronenberg (who lives in Minnesota). Our entire school adopted this system mid-year, and for those teachers who stuck to it, it had a very positive impact.
The basis of the system is this: your students know how to act in your classroom. This may not be true for kindergarten students, but pretty much every student in your classroom–particularly at the secondary level–know what is expected of them. Our problem is that we (as teachers) fail to acknowledge this, and we fail to make general rules known, and even more, we fail to enforce the consequences.
One coach, at a former school where i taught, reminded us of another coach’s statement: “We get what we allow.”
Ouch. And even if we have some students that are management nightmares, it is still true. I’m not saying we can fix every issue, but we can all do better, right?
So the process is this: with each class, you have a discussion with every class about what it means to be above the line. You usually start this off with a written prompt that goes like this:
“Jim and Pete were sitting in class. When the teacher turned around, Pete threw a wadded up ball of paper into Jim’s face. Jim turned to Pete and said, “Man, that was really below the line.”
What did Jim mean by “Below the Line?”
What does it mean to be “Above the Line?”
Then you begin a process of asking each and every class what it means to be Above the Line in choir (or band, or orchestra). And you write down what they are saying (On a projected iPad or computer, on a white board, or even a chalkboard).
Then you ask them what it means to be “Below the Line.” Also write these items down.
Finally, spell out which things are “Bottom Line.” Bottom Line items are things that are simply never tolerated, such as weapons, fighting, or harassment of any kind. Some things in “Below the Line” may fall into that category–although this can be a conditional category. For instance, I believe that mistreatment of a substitute teacher (we have a shortage of these in Minnesota, if anyone wants to move here and be a full time substitute) is a Bottom Line offense. Not everyone agrees with me on that issue. Swearing was another issue that was Below the Line for some teachers and Bottom Line for others.
Then introduce your students to your own “Above the Line/Below the Line/Bottom Line” chart, and review how their answers fit into your document. If necessary, add items to your list.
The next step is to have a list of consequences. These need to be designated by level. It is okay if you want to give a warning to a student for any Below the Line behavior, but if you do, use the language, “_____ is being above the line. Be above the line.” Any Bottom Line behavior results in an immediate referral to the office. After the warning, you go to Level 1 interventions. I suggest keeping track of every time you need to go to a Level 1, 2, or 3 Intervention for future reference with parents and administrators. I know this is hard, but you are already having to stop teaching to deal with these students, so you might as well take the 20 extra seconds it will take to document what you have had to do.
Level 1 interventions follow a warning, if you choose to give a warning (you don’t have to). At this time, you take a minor action, such as moving the student to a different seat, reviewing the expectations (particularly what is going on) with the class, or giving a non-verbal warning (proximity, eye contact, post-it note). The idea is to make sure the student knows that they are above the line, and to give them the opportunity to fix the situation.
At no point in the process do you battle with the student (Has this happened to you? It has to me!). You simply point out the master sheet/chart with the Above the Line expectations, and you point out the consequences. And you never lose your cool, or they win.
Level 2 interventions happen when a student will not correct their behavior. At this point, you ask them to step out of your room, and you bring some materials along. I have a clipboard with a copy of the Above the Line expectations, consequences, and two additional forms. One is a Fix-It-Plan, which helps a student figure out how they will adjust their behavior, or a Think Sheet, where they lay out a plan to fix the problem over time. When you get the student in the hall, you give them two options. The first question is: “Can you fix the current behavior, or does there need to be a consequence?” You are always trying to give them the choice to choose to be above the line. If a student chooses to continue acting inappropriately after this chance, you go to Level 3. However if a student indicates they can get it together, and they do–it is a win-win for everyone. But there are a surprising number of students that will choose a consequence. This is when you leave them outside your door, with instructions to complete the form of your choice. Following this, students can let you know they are done with the form and ready to be a part of your class again. Some will choose to be out of your room for the rest of the hour. Whenever you have a Fix-It-Plan or Think Sheet in hand, it is time to call or e-mail the parent about the issue, and to share the document with the parent, and likely the administrator. Detentions, Lunch Detentions, and Service Projects also make for good Level 2 interventions.
Level 3 Interventions occur when a student chooses to continue to be below the line, even after other interventions. Admittedly, if a student is a daily offender to the system, you might get here sooner than with other students. In these cases, it is important to talk to your administration about what to do with these students. A Level 3 Intervention is a situation where a student is sent immediately to the office.
Above the Line failed to work for me only when I failed to follow the steps. I found removal from class (to fill out a Fix-it-Plan), particularly without their iPad (we are a 1:1 school) a very powerful deterrent. Ideally, you want a student to be back in your class and participating within 10 minutes. There may be situations where you want a student to “stew” a little longer. We have cameras in every possible hallway of our school, and there is a bench outside of the choir room. I let students know that if they choose to leave the bench, we will know and a Level 2 will become a Level 3.
Yes, there will be some students for whom this system does not work. But for most students, it does.
There is one final step in the process, which is that students get up to 3 daily points (as a class) for good behavior. Teachers deal with these points in a number of ways. Some teachers allow a student to take up to the number of daily points to shoot a small basketball into a hoop at the end of a class, and the class with the most “baskets” wins popcorn and pop at the end of a semester. I just gave them daily points as a whole, and added the points they they earned beating me in S-Cubed. My winning classes (by grade level) received a lollipop (I sell Ozark Delight D’Lite Lollipops before school, mainly to make enough money to give out awards). It can cost quite a bit of money to give out rewards when you have over 300 students in three different grade levels!
As a side note, I also wanted to reward students that did their very best in choir. Kids in my choirs do not earn an “A” automatically. Many of them aren’t concerned about their grades in the first place, but I strongly feel that if you can’t sing the music by the time we have performed the music in a concert, you shouldn’t be earning an “A.”
I made an “A” club. Ideally, any student earning an A would come in after school for a pizza party. B’s do not count. Even an 89%. Middle school students can be bribed by food–oh yes, they can.
So, that is the general concept of Above the Line. It really works, if you follow through with the consequences. Again, don’t argue with a student. They are very fond of saying, “Jimmy is doing this…” The issue isn’t about Jimmy, it is about them–and the fact that they are below the line. Follow the process, and watch the behavior improve.
My goal is to adjust my materials this summer (I have attached our above-the-line expectations, Fix-It Plan, and Think Sheet) so they look better. I also wish I could simplify the master list, but the truth is that students came up with most of these expectations this year, and I wanted their voices to matter!
Fix-It Plan (PDF)
Think Sheet (PDF)