At our school, music is required for students in 6th and 7th grade (8th grade was made optional this year). Students have to take band, orchestra, and choir. We have opened a new school with slightly different boundaries, so I have been teaching “traditional” choral music this year versus the ukulele-based instruction of the last couple of years.
[Side note: we hold two concerts a year, so the ukulele unit moves to the next three months…so we’re still doing ukulele, just not as a part of choir. It also doesn’t help that our ukulele hanging system still isn’t installed.]
I have been treating students this year as if they chose choir, rather than trying to make the experience not stink for them. It’s a different mindset, and not all the students are bought into it–particularly those that were in choir last year under the other mindset, and of course, students that don’t want to be in any music class (note: a prior prinicipal insisted that choir was to be an “experience” versus traditional choir). Last year, my current principal, fully aware of the challenges, suggested that I made the concert optional. I decided to try it, continuing to call the concert “required” but mentioning it wouldn’t be graded. About 25% of my 6th grade students did not attend (about normal); about 35% of my 7th grade students missed the concert; and about 50% of my 8th grade students missed the concert. Even so, the concert was one of my best at this school.
I realize that students missing concerts is often out of their hands. Parents plan other activities, cannot get a student to a concert, or openly value other activities (even practices for sports) above a concert. At the same time, choir is a performance based class, and while it may be “an experience,” hopefully the concert can be a positive experience. A student who has to miss a concert should feel like they are missing something, and it is not crazy to think that they should have to make it up. Frustratingly, that same principal (no longer our principal) expected band to be band, and orchestra to be orchestra…but choir had to be an experience. If that seems a little crazy to you, it is. Thankfully, that mindset is no longer true.
I have tried to do concert make-ups for years, including having students come in to sing with a recording of the concert. Ultimately, these are simply punitive measures, and the student neither experiences the actual conditions of the concert (with hopes that they would experience the joy of performing) nor does the student help the group with their voice.
So, I looked online for what other teachers have been doing. Based on that work, I have created an “Alternative Concert Assignment” for students this year. I still count absences as “excused” or “unexcused,” but either can make up the concert, with a “point” penalty for unexcused absences. We also grade for formative (20%) and summative (80%) categories; and while the concert is summative, I cannot grade a student individually on their performance in a concert (technology may allow for this someday), so I will be making the concert a huge part of their formative grade. Ultimately, a student will have to complete the make-up assignment to earn more than a C…and in this day and age, B’s and A’s are usually expected by parents (if they concern themselves with grades at all). So it doesn’t become a punitive assignment, and makes sure that the student is investing in a make-up activity of similar length to the concert they are missing.
I do expect the requirement of watching a concert and completing a packet to cause quite a few students to decide to attend the concert.
A couple of other notes:
First, we have to give every student a minimum of 50% regardless of whether or not they do any assignment. Second, the assignment says that a student cannot attend another concert at our school, or at the elementary level, to make up the assignment. I had students attend a band or orchestra concert of a sibling last year, and then skip our concert. While I want our students to support each other, I needed to close that loophole. Finally, I split my concert night into three mini-concerts, which eliminates the need for supervision during the concert with students that are not currently singing.
You’ll find the Alternative Concert Assignment below. The original is a Pages document (send me an e-mail and I’ll be happy to send it). I may tweak this assignment over time, but as for now, I’m pretty happy with it. If you are struggling with students missing concerts and having appropriate make-up assignment, feel free to use and adapt the assignment as you see fit. As always, support via Patreon is always welcome (and please note that I am not placing this behind a “paywall.”).
For those of you working towards a performance in the next weeks, good luck!