Music Class Rules

Photograph by Jeff Woodward.I’d been teaching for over 30 years and felt pretty comfortable with the way I managed my music classes. But a few years ago, I took a Responsive Classroom workshop, and it turned everything I knew right-side up! I now use many of the practices, such as Interactive Modeling, positive teacher language, and rules creation, adapting each as needed to fit the fact that I see students weekly rather than daily. Because I know that creating rules with multiple classes can be a bit tricky, I thought I’d share how I make the process work in my music room.

Tweaking the Rule-Making Structure

Because I teach 23 third and fourth grade classes in the course of a week, I have limited time with each class (only two 30-minute periods per week). So I decided to have all the classes contribute to creating one set of music room rules that we would all share, rather than having each class create their own rules.

One other way I tweak the rule-making structure is to extend the process over several weeks (instead of several days) so that all classes can participate and we don’t feel rushed.

Except for these slight differences, I follow the same rule-making process as classroom teachers: exploring “hopes and dreams” (our name for learning goals) with students and then collaboratively devising rules that will help everyone achieve their goals.

Going from Musical “Likes and Whys” to Goals and Rules

1. What do you like most in music class?

We start exploring our learning goals by discussing what we like in music class. I point to the posters I’ve made and mounted on the music room walls showing children playing instruments, singing, dancing, listening to music, etc., and ask students which activity they like best and why. Here’s a sample list of students’ responses:

Music Activity I Like BestWhy It’s My Favorite
DanceBe another person, thing, or animal
Move my body
Perform for people
SingGet into a good mood
Make new sounds
Do something with other people
Want to be a singer when I grow up
ListenHear something new
Learn something
Play an instrumentDo something I like
Have fun
Make up my own music

Each class adds four or five “likes and whys” to the list. If a student repeats something already on the list, we add a dot or check mark by that item. The why with the most dots or check marks is always “Have fun.” Other popular whys are “Perform for people” and “I want to be a singer when I grow up.”  We then label the list as our Hopes and Dreams for Music class.

2. What do we do to reach our music goals?

The next week, after singing our welcome song and reading the music message (my weekly version of the daily morning message), I point to the list and say, “We worked last week on our hopes and dreams for music class. Here they all are. Today we will talk about what we need to do to reach these goals. Take a few seconds to read the list and have a quiet think.”

After about 20 seconds, I continue: “Raise your hand and tell me one thing you need to do to obtain your hope and dream.” I take four or five responses from each class (unless the class is very enthusiastic, in which case I take more) and write them on a new list called “How We Achieve Our Music Class Goals.” I capture all the responses, which usually cover the gamut of great learning behaviors, and simply add a n asterisk to indicate duplicates.

Together, we smooth out the responses and, if needed, restate them in the positive. For example, we might translate “Don’t run across the room to get your instrument” into “Walk across the room to get your instrument.” Here’s an example of a smoothed-out list from a recent year:

How We Achieve Our Music Class Goals

Listen to the teacher*
Follow directions*
Be respectful of others
Take turns
Use instruments correctly
Finish what I start
Keep trying*
Be nice*
Ask permission
Practice*
Stay in my own space
Obey rules
Work together
Help each other*
Encourage others*
Pay attention
Work together
Be ready to work
Never give up*

3. Sorting into categories

Next, it’s time to sort our typically long list of behaviors into four categories:

(1) being prepared; (2) helping others; (3) safety; (4) learning something new. Each class works on three or four items on the list (not necessarily the ones they suggested). One item might be “Listen to the teacher.” I say, “Raise your hand and tell us what category you would put ‘Listen to the teacher’ in.” The student might say, “1 and 3.” As we go through the sorting process, students may decide, as in this example, that some responses fit into more than one category. This is perfectly fine; the important thing is for students to think about and share why they think a response fits in a particular category.

4. The teacher’s turn

When we finish making our list of actions that will help us meet our music goals, every class has had a say, and the list is quite long. Over the weekend, I take the chart home with me and summarize the long list into four or five short, concise rules by looking at each category and selecting and combining words or phrases that are in that category. Then I write these out as our Music Room Rules on a poster board and place it in a prominent spot in the music room:

Music Room Rules

Do your best
Respect others; care for instruments
Listen and encourage others
Safety first
Be open minded

5. Relating to the rules

The next week, each class spends part of their music period reading each rule and discussing what it means. I reinforce their understanding throughout the year, helping students relate classroom situations to the rules we’ve developed together. For example, I might say to the class, “You all stood on the risers quietly and facing forward. You were following our ‘Safety first’ rule. Or “A lot of you are trying the movements that your groupmates come up with. That’s an example of both ‘Respect others’ and ‘Be open-minded.’”

Helpful Hints

Here are some tips you may find useful if you decide to try this rule-creation process in your own specials classroom.

  • Include all students in all your classes in every step of the process.
  • To keep students engaged and having fun, include some playful activities (such as a song, group game, or lively energizer) at the beginning and end of each class period in which you’re working on goals and rules.
  • Avoid fatigue by limiting discussion times to 15 minutes during each class session.
  • When asking students what they’ll need to do to reach their goals, prompt if needed with open-ended questions, such as “How will we need to talk and act so that everyone feels safe and like they belong, and so we have time to do all these things we want to do?”
  • Use students’ words as much as possible when charting their learning goals, what they’ll need to do to reach those goals, and the final class rules.
  • Frequently refer to the rules when reinforcing students’ positive behavior or reminding and redirecting when they veer off course.

Susan Jenkins Saari has taught music for over 30 years and is also a pianist, conductor, and composer. She currently teaches music to third and fourth grade students in Lebanon, Ohio.

Tags: Classroom Rules, Special Areas

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