There are, in fact, students that we are deemed right and wrong for our program. Many of us choose right and wrong based on audition, but this is not the best way.
Using the audition-approach, we choose either an exact number of singers on each vocal part, or we accept all students who meet a certain vocal requirement. In determining the right singers, we hope great singers choose to audition; from there, these chosen singers are quite likely to continue through our program. For many high school choral directors, this approach seems like the best way to choose students, but I would argue it creates many unintended consequences, and also presupposes the strongest singers will be the best contributors to the success of our choir. A prerequisite for being considered a right student does not need to be having elite singing skills.
Choosing the right student does not need to have anything to do with how well a student sings. There are still right and wrong students. It’s important to recognize a talented singer can have a really bad attitude and work ethic, negatively impacting an entire ensemble. While it’s true that many talented singers will be laser-focused, there are also many average singers who will demonstrate a laser-focused attitude and a strong desire to meet extremely high expectations if given the chance.
TWO IMPORTANT FACTORS REGARDING THE RIGHT STUDENTS:
1) How we determine the RIGHT students for our program
2) How we keep the RIGHT students in our program
1) HOW WE DETERMINE THE RIGHT STUDENTS FOR OUR PROGRAM
If we want the right students to be determined in our program, we need to focus on providing all of our students with the following two things:
a) the opportunity to become self-aware and self-reflective of their in-class contribution
b) a clear pathway to be academically successful
The way in which we provide the opportunity for both self-awareness and a pathway for success will create the delineation of right vs. wrong students for our program.
a) PROVIDING A TANGIBLE UNDERSTANDING OF SELF-AWARENESS & SELF-REFLECTION
Class expectations should be inherent in the choir culture that we have created. We have expectations for how our students should be participating within a rehearsal; essentially, we should have set-up expectations for everything they do within our classroom. Here are just a few examples:
– how students enter the classroom
– how students sit/stand when singing
– how students hold/mark their music
– what students do when their section is not working
– what kind of effort students make when singing
If we teach our rehearsal expectations at the beginning of each school year, and then continuously rehearse and reinforce these expectations throughout the year, students will be aware of what is expected of them. We then need to provide a clear-cut way for them to be self-aware of their own rehearsal performance. The easiest way to do this is by creating a self-assessment rubric that students fill out; the rubric addresses all of the class expectations that we have deemed important.
By filling out a self-assessment rubric, it should be abundantly clear to each student how well they are participating within our program. At no point should it be a shock to them when they are not participating at the level that is expected of them; we must ensure they are consistently aware of what they are demonstrating.
b) A PATHWAY FOR ALL STUDENTS TO BE ACADEMICALLY SUCCESSFUL
If every student should be given the opportunity to be academically successful, every student has the ability to make a choose on just how successful they wish to be. Sounds simple, right?
When students are incapable of earning an A+ due to our rigid and/or talent-needed requirements, we have already given preferential treatment and eliminated the pathway for many students. This, of course, teaches the talented singers that they can get by purely on talent. By closing the pathway to average and weaker singers, we also open the golden door to talented singers; those talented singers didn’t work to earn their way in, and won’t work any harder once they are given a spot in our program.
Another ineffective approach is giving all students the “easy A”; when all students are all handed a score of A+, they were all prevented the pathway toward meeting clear expectations, preparing appropriately, and succeeding on fair assessments.
Assessments should not be intended to differentiate students; they should measure each student’s ability to fundamentally grasp the foundation of our program. Some examples of appropriate assessments would be: an open book handbook quiz, memorization of necessary English lyrics, labeling pitches on solfeggio, labeling a rhythm, IPA test, assessing individual vocal growth in the form of a rubric, an assessment rubric for meeting daily rehearsal expectations, etc.
Effective assessments set all students up for success and do not get in the way of good teaching. I believe assessments should only be used to ensure students and teachers are on the same page.
HOW WE CHOOSE THE RIGHT STUDENTS
We don’t choose the right students. If students accurately learn to self-reflect on their individual rehearsal contribution, they will understand if our program fits in with their desires. Here’s an example of how this occurs:
Assuming one rehearsal expectations is that singers should hold up their music whenever they are singing:
One student rarely remembers or rarely chooses to hold up their music. This student self-assesses that they are not meeting that set expectation. This student becomes aware they will be losing the appropriate academic credit from their grade for this choice. When they see the impact of their choice (a scored self-assessment rubric), they will have two options: either they will make a better choice to correct this issue or they will accept a lesser score. In either situation, they are self-aware of their choice and the result of their choice.
If our assessments only evaluate fundamental skills that all students can achieve and/or we assess based on individual growth, all students will have the opportunity to become successful. Our grading system must be transparent and set up for all students to be able to achieve success. This means, all students, and parents, know what is expected, and have the opportunity to meet those expectations.
While it would be a dream for every student to want to do whatever we expect from them, NOT ALL STUDENTS WILL ACHIEVE AT THE HIGHEST LEVEL!
They won’t all be successful with our expectations. Not every student aspires to earn an A+. Some might be fine earning a B or B+. Our goal is to provide self-aware to each student of their daily rehearsal contribution. Students who choose to be relatively successful academically will fit in well with our program. The important factor here is that we are not determining achievement based on talent; we are recognizing achievement based on their rehearsal contribution and work ethic.
HOW WE KEEP THE RIGHT STUDENTS IN OUR PROGRAM
Here’s the best part about this approach: The RIGHT students will choose themselves. We won’t have to worry about wrong students. Wrong students are the ones who exhibit any of the following:
-students who accurately self-reflected their poor rehearsal technique, didn’t prepare for our assessments, and earned super low grades. Tangible evidence will have these students determine their “perceived easy grade” notion of choir is not so easy. If they wish to continue and earn a low grade, they will. In this case, they might continue to improve over time, as they become more and more vested in the our program. If they decide through self-awareness and achieved grade that they do not wish to continue, it will be their choice.
-students who have successfully met our expectations, self-reflected, and realized they didn’t want to continue because our provided experience just wasn’t for them. They will quit, and while we might have wanted to them to continue, we will understand and respect them for their choice. While our goal is to retain all students, sometimes, on rare occasion, select students may choose to go in a different direction, regardless of their success.
If we properly instill both a sense of self-reflection and a pathway for academic success, only the RIGHT students will continue. All continuing students will be the RIGHT students because there really are no WRONG students. Our ultimate goal is to have every student that enters our room become the RIGHT student; the way we structure our choral program, properly train our students, instill pride, cultivate leadership, and build confidence in all singers, will make the RIGHT students fill every seat in the room.