Really frustrating 5th grade

Frontpage Forums General Music Really frustrating 5th grade

Viewing 11 posts - 1 through 11 (of 11 total)
  • Author
  • #14655

    So my 5th graders this year: I have 1.5 classes at once for the last 30 minutes of the school day and they dismiss straight from my class. This group has been “rambunctious” for as long as I’ve known them. There are a lot of strong personalities, loud people, off-task behaviors, etc., which I have the skills to handle in a normal sized class of 20-25 students, but the 30+ that I have is over the line. They come in all crazy, act like they don’t know how to enter silently and put their stuff under their chairs like I’ve taught them, treat my class like it’s free conversation time, talk over me, talk over each other, start arguments, etc. There is a critical mass of people doing stuff like this that I can’t just ignore it and move on or even sit the guilty parties in time out because that’s like 10 or more people, who are then clowning around and continuing to disrupt the class.

    When I finally get (most of) them settled down and ready to start, they either ramp the loud, off-task, disrespectful behavior back up, or give me lazy, half-a**ed efforts if they’re trying at all. I’m thinking I’m going to have to pull them out of a community performance in a couple weeks because 1.) they won’t know the music when I can’t get through an entire lesson EVER and 2.) I’m worried about how they’re going to behave based on how they act in my classroom and everywhere else in school.

    I had this same group of kids two years ago and we were in the same situation when they were in 3rd grade: doubled-up classes at the end of the day. I’m so mad that they are getting cheated out of a positive, fun, educational music experience yet again (and peeved at the principal for putting us in this situation again, too, although I think her hands were tied on the scheduling issue). The principal just gave all the 5th graders a “come to Jesus” talk today because the P.E. teacher is in the same situation and just as frustrated as I am.

    So what do you do with groups like this? How do you focus them? How do you teach to the ones who are ready to learn but still deal with all the ones who are being “bad”? What kinds of activities and repertoire might motivate a group like this? How can I stay sane in the meantime?


    I have changed my approach to 5th and 6th graders. I don’t do a lot of singing with them. They don’t want to and I can teach music through other means. My 6th grade music class is mostly a music history class. I teach one (about 7 30 minute classes) on the history of The Star Spangled Banner, and then do composer units. The students take notes, and have written and listening tests over the material covered.

    I have YouTube Days as motivators. I have about 50 videos off of YouTube that I downloaded. The classes get a tally when they have a good behavior day. When they have 8 tallies, they vote on the videos they want to see and we spend the next class watching them. Those individuals causing problems get detentions so the whole class is not penalized. You might end up with 10 detentions for a week, but they will get the point.


    This tip might help you deal with them coming noisily. I teach in a high poverty area, so disruptive behavior is normal for most of my classes. I started a ticket system, where I promote positive behavior. I see the same classes every day for a month, so this works well for me, but you could just use this for your very large class. I greet them at the door, and promise about 4-5 tickets for students who come in quietly, go directly to their seats, and put their hands in their laps, ready to learn. I usually model that behavior on the first day of class so that they know what I’m looking for. You could increase the tickets to 10 because you have so many. At the end of the week (you could do this at the end of the class), I pull any number of tickets, depending on what kind of class we had (great, good, okay, not so good). The students who get their tickets pull get to pick a pencil, a sticker, or a little trinket out of a large jar that I have. Sometimes I do candy, which is much cheaper than the pencils. This works like a charm for me, and I barely have to say anything anymore. They just automatically come into class silent. I have a hard time choosing people to give tickets to because of how well everyone comes in. I also use it to promote good behavior throughout the class. Sometimes I have to write myself a little post it to put on my stand because I’ll get caught up in teaching and forget. My classes are 50 minutes long, which is way too long for some classes, but I find that this system works for me. Good Luck! By the way, isn’t having 50-60 kids in one room against the law as it is probably a fire hazard? You definetly can’t do instruments and such with these kids and that’s one of our state standards. Maybe you can use these to your advantage for next semester or next year.


    Is there any way that you can do small group work with this class? I find that students of this age really like to be creative in their own ways and try to push boundaries whenever they can. Give them a chance to explore and create. Can you work on making instruments, composing, or creating movement to go with songs? I agree that it’s harder to get older students to buy into a singing-based classroom sometimes, but letting them be musical in other ways is an option. In a group of 30+ students, you could have groups of five or six students and still keep things manageable. I would even let students choose their own groups to start off with- you might find that they are overall more cooperative and productive. Your students that really want to engage in music will likely group up, and they might even drag along some of their less willing friends, too.

    Lots of CHOICE within given parameters lets students feel like they are in control. Once they finish a project together, they can present it to the rest of the class, and you can help them become better listeners for their classmates.


    Thank you for your suggestions! Each comment had something I can try in coming weeks. I like the tickets idea. We have school-wide PBIS tickets we hand out, but I can make my own to supplement for this class, or keep the PBIS tickets they earn from me in my class in a jar to draw out for the prizes and then let them have the tickets at the end of the week. And I do need to be more conscious of acknowledging the ones who are on task doing the right thing, and divert my attention away from the ones who are disruptive.

    I’ve done group work with this crew last year when they were in normal-sized classes and it might work. And maybe a fun creative activity for the students who do their work in the groups and a less fun, more worksheet-y activity for the students who aren’t working or cooperating in their groups (based on problems we’ve had in the past with bickering, tattling, and laziness).

    And I think I’m going to pull out of that community performance that is mostly singing and quit pushing the singing. They mostly enjoy recorders so I can keep the recorder song we’ve been working on for our holiday program, and try to pick music they’re more into to have a couple more songs for this group for the program in December.

    Thanks again for the input! I’m still open to suggestions!


    I do a project with my 6th graders at the beginning of the year that I call “Battle of the Bands.” To begin, I arbitrarily put students into groups of five. After letting the students know what the groups are, I give an overview of the project, which goes something along the lines of this: As a class, we are going to make a list of 10 current, popular songs that are on the radio – songs you students listen to and like. The songs must be appropriate for school, so anything involving references to drugs, sex, violence, etc., will be immediately disqualified. After the list of 10 songs is created, we will vote by a show of hands for each song – the two songs with the highest votes will be chosen as the songs to be learned and performed. After the two songs are chosen, students are to “huddle” with the rest of their group and discuss who is going to sing/play what part. Someone needs to sing; someone needs to play a steady beat on some type of percussion instrument; someone needs to play a bass line on bass bars or boom whackers; someone needs to play simple chords on the xylophone or piano; if you are a band or orchestra student, I can make a simple part for you to play on your instrument. Everybody has to have a job in the group – nobody can just sit and watch because they are not “musical.” After the groups have picked a song and decided what instruments they are going to play, (I have them chose from instruments available in the classroom), that’s where my homework begins. I go home, learn the songs, create simple “Orff” type arrangements of each song and create very basic “sheet music” that each student will use for practice and performance. We spend a couple of weeks in class (4 or so sessions of 25 minutes each) learning all the songs using the instruments, and then we start official “rehearsals” where each group takes the “stage” while the others are an audience and we do run-throughs of each song. I have the singers stand on the risers and the instrumentalists are “around” them like a real band. I teach microphone technique, proper breathing, posture and mouth formation for singing, and proper instrument technique for the variety of instruments the others in the group are playing. After each “practice,” I give feedback, tips, advice, etc… I play acoustic guitar with every group as well as have my own mic so I can keep things together and help with the singing. There are frequent stops and starts with these rehearsals where I ask things like “are we together? Is the beat steady? Did we play the form correctly?” After every group has had two official practices in front of the class, we begin the battle. Each group performs (with microphones, etc) for the rest of the class. The audience is using a rubric centered on three components to give each group a score ranging from 3 to 12. Component A is “Vocal and Instrumental Skill,” component B is “Application of skills and concepts” and component C is “Citizenship and Participation” I ask the class to tell me what each of those things should look like (with some prompts from me of course) and we write out a rubric with those 3 components. Groups can earn 4 for doing that component “all or nearly all the time,” 3 for “most of the time,” 2 for “sometimes and 1 point for “hardly ever.” After the performance, I have kids close their eyes and then raise their hand to vote 1, 2, 3 or 4 for each of the components in the rubric for that group. The score is totaled and ranges from 3 to 12. When all groups have performed, the group with the highest score wins a pizza party with me. When we finish the unit, I have each student write or speak a reflection of the unit to me and the class (I take notes looking for trends).

    This whole unit takes me 6 to 8 weeks and I have 100% buy-in. The comments from students are things like “I like how we did modern music, not old music,” “I liked playing instruments,” “I liked how it took teamwork,” “I like learning how to use a microphone,” “I was really nervous at first but it got easier as I did it more.” Sometimes the comments were negative but enlightening – “I got sick of this song since we practiced it so much,” “this song is the same three notes over and over again,” “I felt like we needed more practice to make it perfect,” “sometimes people voted for their friends and not according to the rubric.”

    All of the reflections offer some good take aways! I came up with this project as I was working on my Washington State Pro-Teach certificate, which had a strong emphasis on making connections with students, students having a “voice” in their learning, and students feeling like what they were learning was personally meaningful. I had some major deficits in those areas and after some reflection, I realized that what kids listen to on the radio or TV was nothing like what we learn in the classroom (which is a good thing actually). Older kids start to feel alienated from music in school exactly because it is “school” music and not “real” music like what they hear or see on TV. Having played in a number of rock and pop bands over the last 20 years, I knew that I could draw on that experience and come up with a way to re-connect with students on this important point. I feel like this unit really accomplishes those 3 things I was struggling with previously (I passed my Pro-Cert too!) and later in the year when we do Stravinsky or Non-Western music, or patriotic, or classical music, when they complain about it I gently remind them about the pop tunes we did in the fall, and how simplistic we discovered they all were. They quickly realize that those songs don’t offer us much opportunity for learning beyond the basics that we already accomplished with the Battle of the Bands.

    I hope this is helpful to you!


    I need to echo “freela253″‘s thought. The title of my post would be “really frustrating 8th grade” class rather than 5th grade. But as I was reading that initial post, I found so many things in common with her class and my class. It seems as though there is just a whole lot of apathy going on The students don’t care and because they don’t care, they feel like its right to make disrespectful comments about why music class is stupid and the like.

    We have the PBIS tickets at my school too and I gave one of the rows a ticket today for being quiet and respectful…and the first girl I handed it to said “Can we have candy instead?”. They just don’t care! Ugh!

    I am a brand new teacher and I’m just not knowing good incentives or consequences for the music classroom. I have nothing to take away…but I don’t have a whole lot to give them either.

    And the activities that most kids would love doing, these kids seem to hate… I am at a loss.



    First let me state that I don’t have 1.5 classes in general music and I can only imagine how difficult that could be. I do teach chorus of 70 kids and I have a few thoughts.

    1. For your winter program…in the past I’ve had kids create winter/holiday related chants. Last year the kids came up with:

    Santa likes tomato soup
    While dancing with a hula hoop.
    He doesn’t give ugly sweaters
    ‘Cause kids like Coca Cola better.

    From here we brainstormed winter or holiday related words. We combined the words to create several ostinatos.

    Cozy Fire Hot Chocolate
    Rudolph had a snowball fight
    Skiing Polar Bears
    Blue and White Snowball Fight

    The kids performed it with chanting (or rapping as they call it) and then we played it on instruments. This could be extended with movement (scarves), etc.I gave the kids a lot of choice and this was highly entertaining for an audience. Yet, easy to teach and you don’t have to worry about getting the kids to sing. As an aside…my 5th graders sing really well in chorus, but in general music I always struggle. I’ve decided, I’m OK with them singing in chorus and then focusing on other things in general music.

    2. Group work, as someone else mentioned, is extremely effective. Create a step-by-step formula for group composition (drumming project, etc). Step 1: choose on of the 4 rhythm patterns from the board. Say it as a group and tap it on your knees. Step 2: Choose another rhythm pattern from the board to say and play on your knees. Step 3: Play those two rhythm patterns at the same time. Step 4: Perform for your teacher. Step 5: Repeat steps 1-3 with ONE drum. Make sure you take turns playing the drum. Step 6: Perform for your teachers……etc….

    3. Power of routines. I would teach routines and rules like crazy. Have the kids line up before they come in and say “I’m going to model how to come in the room.” Do it and ask kids to tell you what they notice. Make sure you model what you want them to do. Ask several volunteers and then the whole class. Choose you’re most troubling areas of class (entering the room, getting out instruments, etc) and practice them the next two weeks. Do nothing else! (sounds extreme but it’s really effective to create that baseline for the kids). If there is an issue with a routine I might say “Ok we need to redo this routine. It’s fine, we all need reminders. However, I’ll give you one opportunity to demonstrate you understand the expectations. If not, we’ll practice at recess.” This is not punishment…it’s a logical consequence…you take up class time, you’ll loose some (not all) of your free time. Depending on the amount of kids involved, you can have the class stay or individuals. If you choose to do group work, do this same modeling on finding a partner.

    4. Message and silent signal. I learned this from Responsive Classroom. I write a message: “Dear Friendly 5th Graders…” where I outline the plan for the day. I also give them a “do now.” “Talk with a neighbor about….” You could make this curricular or thematic (this week we did Halloween). This gets the social talking out of the way and they are more likely to listen. I’ve found demanding their attention from the moment they walk in has never worked for me. Also, I learned from responsive classroom a silent signal. I’ve seen teachers use this before and I tried it with little success. This year, however, with modeling and review of expectations I’ve found it to be really effective. I’ll say “5th graders, you’re going to talk with your neighbor to review what we learned last week. When you see my signal…what do you do” I take a few raised hands and I let them go. When I put up the signal, I acknowledge those following the expectation. You have to be patient, it may take a good 30 seconds before the entire class is ready. I used to yell and use a loud voice to get attention…although effective to get their attention instantly…it didn’t last…they’d start interupting, etc. With a signal…if I’m patient and wait until they’re ready, then I they are more focused when I’m trying to teach.

    5. I really want to suggest that you rethink the ticket thing. It’s plain not effective…especially with this age group. Rules, expectations, reinforcement, choice and autonomy are most effective with this age group. Choice might be “Today we’re going to review some rhythm concepts. You may choose to write rhythms on the white board. Improvise rhythms on the drums. Or, create a dance showing a rhythm pattern some place on your body.” This way students can own their learning and you’re still making sure you’re objective is being met. For example, I have a group of 3 girls that I can’t get to do anything. We began a drumming project where I want layered ostinatos using nursery rhymes (I can send you this stuff if you like). This group of girls came to me and said they wanted to sing the nursery rhyme to the tune of “Barbie Girl.” I said “Sure! But…you need to create the drumming ostinato and at some point in your composition, play the rhythm of the words on the drum.” This was highly motivating to them, in addition to allowing them to create a dance as an introduction.

    6. I read an article that explained child development. 5th graders are in a pre-adolescent stage and are learning to develop independence. Although they may be rude and disrespectful, often their behavior is their attempt to understand their world and have power over their circumstances. When I read this, my entire approach to 5th grade changed…and I’m so glad about it. I was at my wits end with 5th grade in the past…actually looked for K-4 jobs 😉

    Good luck, I hope these ideas are helpful. And please know…I know you’re pain…5th grade has been a painful struggle for me in the past!


    I do a lip sync contest with my 5th graders. I do decades and give them a sheet of appropriate songs from that decade. They choose a song and then they have to research and write a one page paper on the group. Then they give a speech as a group of the information they found on their band (speech given before their performance). Then they make props for their performance. They practice outside of class and then come in and perform for the class. They dress the part and have real instruments to perform their lip sync. I even video tape it and then we watch the performances after every group has performed. The winning group usually gets a pizza party with me for lunch. Then I also do a music board game project. The groups have to come up with a musical idea for a board game that includes 30 musical (general music/music history based) questions. They design and make the entire game-from the cards, to the instructions, and the actual board. Then when they are finished they play each others board games. Group work for sure is the way to go-however you have to keep an eye on the slackers in the groups. They tend to not want to do anything. I have consequences for the students who don’t work. Usually it is writing sentences during class time. It only takes one time of that and they usually start helping. However, it sounds like there is a respect issue there for you…they need to show you that!


    Just an update on this crew: They pulled through and did a good job on the holiday program, but we’re in the thick of the winter doldrums now, and I’m still seeing the same disrespectful behaviors from all the same people.

    They’re like this everywhere and with everyone, but it’s still hard not to take it personally. And I’m afraid I’ve just sort of blown it with this group for good because I’ve ended up yelling at and/or lecturing them so much. I don’t know how to earn their respect back or come back from all the negativity we’ve experienced together. It’s really discouraging.

    Like I’ve said, it’s more of a group dynamic and scheduling issue, both of which I feel I have little or no control over. I’m going to just power through and be firm and consistent with consequences for disrespectful and bad-attitude behaviors and hopefully improve things little by little. Any further suggestions, advice, or commiserating would be awesome.


    The only advice that I can offer is to remain positive and upbeat, no matter what. I teach in a high poverty area, and the kids are used to hearing negativity at home and getting yelled at and lectured by their parents all the time, so I find that when I try to stay positive, students tend to respond very well. I admit it’s hard to do at times, especially when the weather is like this. I try to find one thing that the class is doing well (listening, singing, even staying in their seats, etc) and mention it. If there are attitude problems, I find that the best way to deal with those are to speak to the individual one-on-one so the student does not feel the need to “save face”. Even if you walk over to the person and whisper, “I need you to participate please”, you’ll get more cooperation than if you yell at the kid in front of the class. I agree with you that you need to be firm and stick to consequences. Maybe revisit those rules and consequences, have the kids act out the right way to do those (always gets a laugh). Sometimes injecting a little humor or a silly little game into class can break up the monotony and help lighten the mood. My goal this week is to be more positive and end classes on a good note (pun intended). I kind of blew it yesterday with my crazy first grade class, so I think I’ll try to take some of my advice this afternoon.

Viewing 11 posts - 1 through 11 (of 11 total)
  • The forum ‘General Music’ is closed to new topics and replies.