The other day I had “that” class again. The class that is seen as difficult and disrespectful – a giant ball of walking hormones. The class that has caused teachers to groan and ask, “What do we do with them?” On Friday, “that” class reminded me to stop and listen.
I teach music to each class once per week. On top of that, due to scheduling issues I’ve had to see “that” class for only half the year during a double block on a Friday afternoon. It is difficult enough to build relationships with students when I only see them for 40 minutes each week. I am finding it to be much more challenging since I did not see these students until February.
I have been very thoughtful in my planning to adapt my year long music program to suit this half-year model. I tried to find interesting projects and fun songs that would keep the class engaged for the last 80 minutes of each Friday. Most classes have been good, but this last Friday I had very little “buy-in” from the kids.
As I stood in front of them, trying to teach them a song they weren’t interested in playing it hit me that my efforts to engage them in learning were futile. I could not force them to like the song I was presenting. If I continued with the lesson I had planned I would be dealing with many classroom management issues. I asked them to step away from the instruments and took them to another room so we could have a discussion.
I told them we were going to restart music class for the remainder of the year. We reviewed a few rules to ensure that the discussion remained respectful. I expressed that I was not happy with how the class had been running and that I could tell they were not happy either. I asked, “What are we going to do for the rest of the year?”
At first students gave answers like, “be quiet,” and “give out behaviour points to the worst kids each class.” They seemed to think this was a disciplinary discussion and that we would head back to the same lesson. I told them my goal was not to “punish” them and asked more clearly, “What do you WANT to do for the rest of the year?”
At first I got suggestions that were not meant to be taken seriously, but I treated each one as a possibility. I questioned their ideas as to how they envisioned each activity running, how they could show their learning, and how each student would be held accountable. When they saw that I was serious about listening to their ideas the discussion became quite productive. We scrapped my plans for the day and began a new project of their design. The last 30 minutes of class saw students creating music, collaborating with each other and engaged in their learning.
I am looking forward to seeing how their projects turn out. I am excited to work with them through their creations, providing feedback to improve their learning. I will remember to listen to them as much or more than I expect them to listen to me. I think the last class on a Friday afternoon might become one of my favourites.