Classroom management is part of good teaching in any discipline. Because of the more active nature of music activities, it is especially important in the music classroom. In general, students who know what they are expected to do, how they are expected to do it, and why they are expected to do it, will be better behaved than students who don’t know or are unclear on any of these three points. Smoothly run class starts with established entry routines. Students, particularly adolescents, need to understand that they are in your class and that they have a place to be and a way to behave and function while they are with you. With older students, I like to have written work waiting for them on their chairs (I don’t have desks or tables) when they arrive. This shows them that there is something they are expected to do right away, and that there is nothing for them to wait for before beginning their class work for that day. The very presence of the paper indicates there is work waiting for them, which is infinitely better than they waiting for work.
My classes begin with a statement of the objective, and how each activity they will be engaged in relates to the objective. Students are more focused on the lesson if they understand that they are working step by step toward the stated goal. I don’t want them to think that after they have finished the first activity, they are done for the day with time on their hands. I use a series of activities so that they have a sense of accomplishment and of progressing at the completion of each activity without thinking they are finished. Having a series of activities also helps me differentiate. Students who need more time or help are not locked into an all or nothing situation, but have the opportunity to demonstrate understanding and work on and complete segments, even if they don’t reach the end that day. Students who don’t complete all their work still can leave having finished something, and with an understanding of what they did. That learning can be carried over to the next class, or if I think the student is ready to work more independently, I will assign them to finishing for homework what others finished in class. Most students are appreciative of this opportunity, because it puts the focus on successful learning, and not on receiving a poor grade for not finishing and then going on to the next class only to start something else they may not understand. The best way to achieve good classroom management is for students to experience success.
It is a fact of my teaching life that all of my students are not interested in everything I teach them. Because of this, I find it necessary to offer incentives for them to complete some work. For example, I have three 7th grade students who are highly unmotivated in music, but who would spend the whole day in the gym shooting baskets if they could. I have arranged with the gym teacher to allow these students to go to the gym for the last 15 minutes of my class if they have correctly finished the assignment I gave them. For my part, I accept what I consider a reasonable amount of work for 30 minutes. This “deal” has resulted in these students accomplishing more in thirty minutes than they were accomplishing in forty-five minutes of music class. Other incentives are sometimes concert tickets to reward high achievement. while I do not agree with working for rewards in place of intrinsic rewards of accomplishing excellence, with some students this does result in more effective learning, and so is worth employing. In the end, achievement and success are worth the means. Such arrangements also place a clear goal in front of the student, and give them something tangible to work for. Whenever a student does well, I make it a point to commend their achievement, and the effort they put into achieving what they did. It is important for students to connect effort with achievement; when they put in the effort, good things result. Staying positive also helps me build relationships with my students that encourage cooperation and respect, and avoid adversarial situations.