Social Interaction in the Choral Classroom
October 12, 2012 at 10:41 am #13609
I am a 4th year teacher having a consistent problem year after year in every mix of choir I have. I always have one or two students who are claiming they are being bullied on the risers. My current situations (one in MS, on is HS) is more of teasing and criticism of less talented students. Both students and parents alike are quick to yell bullying, not just in the choral classroom, but when does student critique and hurt feelings become bullying? I take very seriously the problem of bullying, but the very nature of any performance based class requires personal, group and collaborative critique. How do you balance both? How do you create a positive atmosphere in the choral classroom while maintaining high standards of choral excellence? Is it possible that some students simply cannot socially handle the choir atmosphere? I need feedback.October 13, 2012 at 5:21 pm #13671
Maybe others will disagree with me on this, but I am not sure personal critique from other students is appropriate… if students need personal critique because they are having a lot of trouble with something, it should be privately, one-on-one, from you. I think it is possible to do group critique and still draw attention to specific issues without singling out specific students. If there is a problem with something, students can talk about this without drawing attention to an individual or giving specific names. I teach younger students, but I do not allow put-downs or teasing of any kind in my classes. Even though put-downs aren’t technically bullying (I’m sure you’re aware of the legal definition of bullying), they create a negative atmosphere that detracts from the team effort. If my classes are critiquing a performance, they can give suggestions for improvement that do not draw attention to a specific student. You may need to give guidelines to the class for how to do critique so that it is positive, constructive criticism that supports the group, rather than negative put-downs that are designed to make other people feel bad about themselves. Possibly–if someone feels the need to make a criticism, he or she must also say something positive AND include a suggestion for improvement. (There is nothing I hate more–not just in music, but people in general–than when people complain and criticize but offer no suggestions themselves for how to do something better. And think of your own performance reviews as a teacher–if your administrators only pointed out all the things you were doing poorly and didn’t tell you what you were doing well or give specific suggestions for how to improve your performance, how would that make you feel? Would it make you feel like your school was a place where you felt welcome and an important part of the team, where you’d want to stay?) And as the teacher, you should be the role model for this, making sure that you offer more positive comments than negative. Sometimes we teachers tend to forget to do that…
Also, I don’t like the use of the word “talented.” I really dislike the “American Idol” attitude–that some people are more talented than others and are more deserving of praise (and if they’re not as talented, it’s ok to rip on them and make fun of them–even though they may have potential that could develop into something great, given the right opportunities and the chance to work harder). Kids who are is a less advanced stage of their musical learning, whether it be the development of their musical ear, rhythm, vocal technique, or whatever, are not necessarily less “talented” than the others; it might be possible that they have less experience with using their singing voices, in which case, the other kids in the class need to support them by doing their best and providing a good example to follow, rather than putting them down to boost their own egos. In math class, are kids who understand a concept more quickly allowed to tease the other kids who don’t understand the problems? No way–that is unacceptable. It creates a hostile and toxic environment for other people learning in the class. And, if you think of examples of “talented” musicians or composers, sure, they may have been born with an edge, but most of them worked their tails off to be as amazing as they were. Mozart, for example–we all think of him as being a musical genius, but he spent most of his waking hours from the time he was a tiny boy practicing, performing, and composing. And there’s the famous story about how after being humiliated several times at jam sessions in Kansas City, Charlie Parker spent up to 15 hours a day practicing for the next few years. The students need to recognize that part of talent comes with hard work and the right attitude–and their disrespectful attitude toward others is doing nothing to contribute to the group good, since perhaps their classmates would be able to improve and practice more efficiently if they were able to work in an environment that was more encouraging.
If critique is not presented in a way that helps to improve performance and supports the group as a whole, and it serves only to make someone feel bad, then it’s not really the kind of critique we want. A school performing ensemble class is a venue for learning, not a showcase for kids who want attention. And it definitely should be a “no put-downs” zone.October 14, 2012 at 9:22 am #13680
Christine, I appreciate your feedback, and judging from your response I need to make a few things clearer. I apologize if this was not clear the first time. First off, I never allow one on one critique of anyone, unless it comes from me privately. If there is an individual student consistently struggling I take the lead and work with that student.
When I say the nature of choir is personal critique I mean that we are constantly listening to ourselves (therefore examining our own voice and blend, etc) We must listen to how our voice fits in the group, how the section sounds and how the group sounds as a whole. The current problem in both groups is a general ribbing and criticism of a group or section of students, not one on one. Student 1 doesn’t say their words in a positive way to the section, then one or two students see it as a personal attack when it is meant to make the group of 6-10 better. As I said before, I take this problem very seriously, and I’m not trying to make light of any of the issues. Student 1 is wrong and I am working with that student on how to encourage. I don’t know how to help those students who view everything that is said to the group as a personal attack.
I believe reiterating a better way to give group criticism is a great start and I appreciate the ideas about give a compliment and then a suggestion for improvement followed by how to fix it. And the reminder that I need to give positive feedback first. It is so easy to critique critique critique in preparation for judging that I know I don’t give the positive enough either.
Secondly, as an educator, I take my job very seriously to give opportunity, attention, a challenge, and support to all students, regardless of ability or development. We can argue semantics, but the bottom line is that some students are better singers & musicians than others (whatever the reason, and it doesn’t make that child better than the others, it just means they sing better). Recognizing ability and higher level of development at the secondary level does not mean that those students get preferential treatment, but it is an opportunity to teach them leadership skills, challenge them at their level, and prepare them for post secondary music education. This is not to the detriment of others. In fact the unique mix of having seniors in with freshmen is very developmentally diverse and gives a great opportunity that other teachers & classes don’t have to allow leadership, mentoring & differentiated learning to happen amongst the students.
Finally, I agree wholeheartedly with your last paragraph. I think you articulated exactly what I want to say to my kiddos. Thanks for your feedback.
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