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Thursday, January 30, 2014

What Happened with the Grade 8s?

I look at my schedule and sigh. I have Grade 8s next period. It’s period 6 – the second last period of the day, and I’m not looking forward to the class. I think back to first quarter, where I looked forward to my boisterous, energetic Grade 8 class. I enjoyed teaching them, and I think they enjoyed themselves more. What happened to the Grade 8s?

After careful reflection, I began to realize that the question I should be asking is not “What happened TO the Grade 8s?”, but more accurately, “What happened WITH the Grade 8s?”

Some Background

I teach the music section of a Grade 8 Creative Art Foundation class. This class is a class that runs opposite Islamic Studies, and students have the option to choose the music or art section. I was basically told that I can do whatever I want with this class – there is no set curriculum. I originally thought that this was going to be a band class, but that did not pan out.

Quarter One

I approached first quarter full of life and energy, and I was really excited about our first unit: BODY PERCUSSION! I sat down one weekend in September and planned out the entire unit through until November. I made a fairly detailed unit including unit goals and final assessments. I went as far as to outline what would happen in each lesson. I incorporated theory with experiential learning – for example, we spent time at the beginning of each lesson working on rhythm reading or rhythmic dictation, then the rest of class was spent learning a body percussion piece. We even held a body percussion flash mob in the cafeteria at lunch! I was incredibly proud of the unit, and the kids seemed to really enjoy it. There were a few issues along the way, but in general, it was an incredibly successful unit. I looked forward to the Grade 8 C.A.R.T. class.

Quarter Two

The second unit I decided to teach was “Melody”. I had visions of a melody unit – learning what a melody was, how to construct one, adding harmony and singing, etc. For some reason, I simply never got around to planning out the full unit. I often planned out a week or even a lesson at a time. I thought that I was still incorporating fun activities and active learning, including spending three good classes in the computer lab working on the Incredibox website. 

However, I began to notice a difference in the class behaviour in my male-dominated class. The boys were becoming more rowdy in general – they were bringing basketballs into class, and began hitting each other more. The boys were constantly interrupting and leaning way back on their chairs. I was finding myself constantly waiting for silence. I incorporated a method of counting the extraneous seconds it took for the class to settle down when I asked for silence, and kept them for that length of time into their 20-minute break. Our classes no longer seemed to be meshing. We finally turned a corner the last few days of the semester when their summative projects were due. The unit morphed into more of a melody and form unit, and the group summative project was to write an original song. All of the groups managed to produce quite good songs, and most of them seemed to have fun while learning. Our last class for this quarter was yesterday, and this marks the end of first semester.


What do you think of this scenario? Looking back, I wonder if my lack of organization and whole unit planning was a direct relation to student behaviour and engagement. I did sit the grade 8s down a few weeks ago to ask them what they think had happened to our class, and several kids expressed the opinion that we weren’t doing anything “fun” anymore. This was hard to hear. I explained to them that I usually had two components to the lesson planned: a theoretical and a experiental part, and we simply weren’t getting to the experiental part (ie. the fun part) due to their behaviour. I think a few of them finally understood this.

Moving Forward

I want the next quarter to be more like the first quarter. I want the students to be more engaged, which I believe will have an impact on student behaviour. I vow to plan the majority of the unit in advance, making sure I have a clear idea what the unit objectives and final assessment will be. I think that this type of planning will let me feel more passionately about the unit, since it won’t be a source of stress (No more “what am I going to do with the Grade 8s tomorrow?!).

The Unit Reveal

My idea for the next unit was going to be “Movement”, but now I am thinking of creating a unit that encompasses cultural music, including music, instruments, and dances. I’m looking forward to learning more about the musical cultures that my students are from. I’m thinking of ideas such as teaching them a traditional Greek wedding dance, listening to tango music, learning a hip-hop dance, etc. I love dance and movement, and I feel as though most of my students will be excited to move again. I am hopeful for the next quarter, and I'll be sure to post an update within the next few weeks!

I’m open to any suggestions as well! Please feel free to leave a comment regarding the shift in grade 8 behaviour (is it mostly related to my planning, or lack thereof?) or any ideas for classroom management strategies. If you know of any specific cultures with fun dances, songs, etc. please also feel free to share!

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