Submitted by Julie Jones, Williamsburg, Virginia

Idea posted June 17, 2008

I can't say enough times that the best way to manage behavior in a music class is to keep them busy. Be mindful of how you manage transitions, because that's when they can start talking. This is the biggest reason I rarely use textbooks in my classes, because you have the kids who can find the right page in two seconds and the kid who spends five minutes flipping the pages back and forth. Books drive me crazy!

I have a five-star behavior management system for grades 2-5. Five gold stars Velcro-ed on my board. Above each one is written one of the following words: Enter; Attitude; Participation; Cooperation; and Leaving.

We talked about what the stars mean in the first music class, and that I only pull a star down if more than a couple of kids are having a problem. If they make it through class with all five stars still up, I have a windowsill at the bottom of the steps where they line up, with a variety of "singing critters" and the "Critter of the Week." If you don't get the five stars, you miss out on that critter, and next week there will be something different in the windowsill.

When I am teaching students a new singing game, I sing it for them, with the understanding that they may either listen or sing along, but talking is not an option. The first time I had to stop for someone talking I reminded them of this rule. The second time, I simply said, "Sit down, the game is over." and pulled down the cooperation star. I asked them if they knew why I had stopped the game and they understood that it was because of the talking. We went on to another game with the understanding that doing the game is dependent on their cooperation. There were no problems after that. My students love doing these games so much, that losing the game is a huge disappointment to them. I don't get mad and I don't raise my voice, because I have set the parameters for the classroom and the students know that the rules are fair.

I've had classes where I might have to start and stop four or five games, before the major "offenders" stopped their talking. So you have to be prepared with many and varied activities that work towards whatever the concept is you are trying to teach.

Most teachers talk way too much. John Feierabend has said that you have to teach a little bit "about music", but you should mostly be "doing music." Does that make sense? I hope that when my students leave my classroom, they "own" the music we have done that day. In this way they don't feel like they need a CD or a book or even ME, to recreate that music at home, on the playground, in the backyard, or on the bus.

I don't preach to them because I've already set up the guidelines for acceptable behavior in the music room. When students cross the line, I just pull down the star, give them the consequence (which usually means stopping the activity), and move on. I don't call them names because that can come back to bite you. I don't threaten them (because you probably only see them once a week), and so any consequence needs to happen right then. Occasionally, if I have a child hurt another child, we will stop and deal with that situation. Otherwise, I don't talk much and there's not much transition time for them to find something else to do.

Get them to love "doing music" then worry about the teaching "about music" later. If they don't love "doing music" the chances are pretty slim they will learn much of the stuff "about music" anyway.