As I begin my 21st year at the same high school, my very first rehearsal of the year is well-planned and executed down to a science. While minor details change, the mindset and approach is consistent from class to class, year to year.
Before you read the plan for my first rehearsal (which will be September 4th), I don’t want some of the details to muddy the purpose of this post.
The purpose of this blog is to show you:
a general plan that applies to all ages and types of ensembles
the level of intent that goes into every action
how teaching the Classroom Culture is my main priority while music-making is an important tool for reinforcing the most essential guidelines and routines
Developing Classroom Culture & What is Really Important during the First Rehearsal:
The Classroom Culture consists of Guidelines, Consequences, and Procedures/Routines. If we want to develop a positive learning environment, it needs to be safe and consistent first. Many teachers believe making the first rehearsal fun, just getting them “making music’, should be the goal. What I believe these well-meaning teachers are missing is the fundamental understanding that human beings generally need to feel safe and secure before they are able to open up and experience more. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, after human’s basic physiological need for food, clothing, shelter, and water, we need to feel safe and secure; in our rehearsal room, safety and security comes from developing our Classroom Culture. Once we have developed, taught, and reinforced our guidelines, consequences, and routines, our students will begin to feel safe and secure; from there they will be open to connecting with others, which leads them to high levels of achievement and self-motivation.
Teachers who believe making class fun as their first priority are lacking the understanding that it won’t be fun for many of the students, and it in fact will lead to a disorderly culture in the long-run. With that said, I do believe the first rehearsal can be fun; fun just shouldn’t be the first priority. My priority goes as followed: 1) Developing Classroom Culture, 2) Experiencing Music Making in a Productive Manner, 3) Keeping the experience relaxed, positive, and fun.
Here is my first rehearsal:
- The bell rings to signify the three passing minutes in the hallway prior to the class beginning. I am standing in the hallway outside my classroom, ready to greet my students with a big, genuine smile. In my hands is an alphabetical list of all of my students, and a corresponding seat number. The same list is also hanging up right next to me in the hallway, so students have two ways to find their seat. I greet every single student that passes me to enter the classroom. I also have my two top officers in the hallway assisting in this process as well.
- The following information is posted on the Smart Board
- A brief welcome statement, “Welcome to Mixed Choir”, for example.
- My name
- The class period
- Directions for the assignment on their seat
- There is a survey and a choir handbook on their assigned seat, and they are expected to fill out the survey as soon as they find their assigned seat.
- Approximately 1-2 minutes after the bell, I enter the choir room, and my two top officers remain outside greeting students and giving out their seat number. I address the class as they are in their assigned seats, with many students still completing the survey. As students come in late, I make a point to positively acknowledge each and every student. My opening speech reiterates the information on the board, and I follow-up with a brief introduction about myself, how I wish to be addressed (Pal, Mr. Paltrowitz, etc.). I talk about my passion for teaching, my level of experience, and my desire to offer them an incredible experience.
- I go over the procedure of entering the classroom, getting to their assigned seat (which will remain in effect for at least the first week), where to put their non-choir related materials, and what to have on their lap when the bell rings each day.
- I introduce the discipline plan, mainly prioritizing the 5 Guidelines. My 5 guidelines are listed in the front of the room as well as in the class handbook. (“BE RESPECTFUL” is a BAD REHEARSAL RULE! is a great way to ensure you have effective rules/guidelines)
- I begin a brief discussion as to why we have a Discipline Plan, usually drawing the reasoning from the students. I pose the very first question with, “Who can raise their hand and tell the class……..” Afterwards I carefully go over each and every one of the 5 Class Guideline. (As explained in “BE RESPECTFUL” is a BAD REHEARSAL RULE!, each Guideline is Positive, Respectful, Clear, and enforceable). I focus greatly on WHY following each Guideline will make their learning environment more conducive to both individual and team success. To be clear: WHY we have A Discipline Plan and WHY each Guideline exists is even more important than the Guideline themselves.
- I briefly explain the consequences for choosing to not follow the Class Guidelines. As I explain in What To Do When They Break The Rules…, I use one form to handle all consequences. The consequence form is included within the handbook so students understand how they will be redirected when the choose to deviate from our classroom culture.
- I very briefly go over the bathroom procedure, since it is a time-sensitive policy, and students may have to go even as I’m speaking.
- We will now begin to sing, HOWEVER, my focus for the entire period is on re-enforcing the guidelines and new routines/procedures through singing; my student will not know this, but reinforcement will be my primarily goal.
- I explain that the chord I play on the piano is a cue to stand up, which is also called “Level 1”. I play the specific chord and they stand up and I compliment (reinforce) them for following directions (one of my guidelines). We then discuss proper body alignment while singing and WHY it is important. I ask them to sing a specified descending pattern, and compliment them for following directions, and for singing out. I pose an open-ended question or two about vocal technique, and frame it in the following way: “Who can raise their hand and tell the class, ………”, and then I wait a few seconds. When I call on a student, I say “Thank you for raising your hand,” and support their answer. (My positive response to their answer usually leads to more students wanting to be called upon). Each time someone is called upon, I thank them for raising their hand, and find the truth in their answer, demonstrating that there are no wrong answers.
- After 5-8 minutes of warming up, I have them sit back down, where I briefly go over the three body alignment positions in the class: Level 1 is standing up, Level 3 is sitting back (which is what I allow them to do as I continue to pontificate), and Level 2, which is sitting at the edge of their chair with great body alignment.
- When I’m done talking, I ask them to go move into Level 2 position, and immediately thank them for following directions. We perform a brief exercise or two and then I ask them to move into Level 1 position. Again, I thank them for following directions.
- I begin teaching a round or an exercise by rote through call and response in an effort to engage all students, making eye contact around the room. As we repeat the exercise I draw their attention to different things: we may focus solely on body alignment, and then on breath support, followed by vowel shapes, and finally consonants. The choir will sing in unison as we ensure we have a solid understanding of the simple round/exercise.
- I ask them all to sit in the Level 3 position. I thank them all for following directions and mention the concert dates and/or any other general announcement that would still be important to mention. (please bring the handbook every day, etc). I also have my top officers introduce themselves to the class. Lastly, I remind the class that at the end of the period, when the bell rings, it is a signal for me to end the class; it is not a signal for them to pack up or get up.
- I play a chord on the piano for them to stand and thank them for remembering to go into Level 1 position. I remind them of the proper body alignment. We sing the same round/exercise in unison again, and begin breaking into 2 parts, then 3, then 4.
- About 2 minutes before the end of the period, I ask them to sit level 3. I remind them how they are expected to enter the room for the next rehearsal, that they will be sitting in the same assigned seat with their non-choir belongings placed under the seat, handbook on their lap, and ready to sing at the bell. I then remind them that I will dismiss them at the bell and thank them for a wonderful first rehearsal. At the bell I say “have a great day!”
- I smile at every student as they leave.
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