Reply To: 8th Grade Boys

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Although I teach in a school with a vastly different socioeconomic area, I can really relate to a lot of what you say. The students I struggle with the most are the girls in my 8th grade guitar class. I think the thing that has worked the best with my group (refined over a few years of tough middle school classes) is a very consistent routine, that I teach little by little, but as it gets more familiar the behavior gets better. Make sure you teach very explicitly what students are expected to do when they come into the classroom – sometimes a calm, orderly, consistent routine can help eliminate some of the “free for all” behavior. My students know that when they come in, the first thing they do is grab a guitar and sit down – if they do anything other than that, they are called on it, and we try coming into the room again. The agenda is up on the board, we tune, I teach the lesson, they have work time, and depending on the day there may be written work due or a performance (formal or informal) at the very end of class. Of course every once in a while I mix things up to keep things fun and lively, but 90% of our class meetings follow that structure, and students know what to expect. I think keeping kids busy and in a routine can help eliminate the feelings of independence that sometimes lead to acting out.

The other thing you might try is to establish a very set hierarchy of classroom rules and consequences, and then stick to it every single day with every single student. It sounds like being sent to the office isn’t having much of an effect, so I would try to take matters into your own hands more if possible. Post your rules, post your consequences on the wall, refer to them often. It will feel too authoritarian at first, and like things aren’t “fun”. But once the culture is established, things should be better. I will warn you this may take a month or more to really work though. And as my master teacher told me time and time again, things always seem to get worse with behavior plans before they get better, because they want to see if you are serious.

My guitar class rules:
1. Be prepared for class with all necessary materials
2. Come into class and set up materials/workstation in a timely manner
3. Demonstrate proper posture and playing positions
4. Stay on task in class, and remain quiet when not asked to play or create
5. Show respect for self and others
6. Participate appropriately during rehearsal

My consequences for breaking rules (fit into the overall school rules, but with my own twist):
1. Verbal warning
2. Loss of participation points (factored into grade)
3. Moved elsewhere in class (sit in back alone, work alone instead of a group, written assign for a grade instead of practicing, etc)
4. Loss of more participation points and 15 minute lunch or after school detention in my room (either sit quietly or given a clean-up task)
5. Loss of more points, detention becomes 30 minutes, phone call or email home
6. Office referral

And like I said, these are posted prominently in my room.
Usually for students who are really testing the boundaries, I tend to print out and show them a progress report so they can see how badly their behavior is effecting their grade. Of course some don’t care, but others will shape up a bit when they realize they are getting a D in music when they could easily be getting an A or a B if it wasn’t for the behavior.

I highly recommend the book Crowd Control: Classroom Management and Effective Teaching for Chorus, Band and Orchestra by Susan L Haugland. It really shaped all my discipline and behavior systems. Even though your situation is a piano class, I still think you would find her recommendations and systems beneficial. That book helped me a lot – you’ll see a lot of similarities between my rules and hers!

This is something I’m always working on, too. Try to allow yourself to celebrate the small victories with this class along the way. They may never be perfect angels, but if you can get to a point where some learning and performing is taking place and you feel more in control, even if it still feels a little chaotic, that should still be considered a success!