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Three Basic Classroom Skills

When I began turning my band around during my second year, I received some of the best advice ever from one of my former band directors. He noted that he had observed three Rehearsal Skills that were lacking in most bad bands. These same three Rehearsal Skills are present in most great bands. The three skills are:

  1. Do not turn and talk to your neighbor when you are not playing.
    This eliminates the “but we were talking about the music” part of the “DO NOT TALK” equation.
  2. Sit still and quiet when the band director is working with another section.
    I don’t have any idea how many times kids got up without asking to during my first two years. This finally put a stop to it.
  3. Always stop at the stopping point.
    This means if I say we are going to play measures 25-32, we will not play any notes in measure 33. If I say 5 notes, I mean 5 notes. I will usually say something like, “Okay, play the first four measures. How many measures are we going to play?” This way I can stop conducting and immediately point out GOOD and bad things that happened.

Once I began to focus on those skills (really keying in on one at a time), things began to drastically improve in my class.

I want to see if we can apply these three skills to any generic classroom setting and then invite you to further customize them to work with your specific classroom setup. We might start with something like:

  1. Do not turn and talk to your neighbor without permission.
  2. Sit still and quiet while the teacher is working with other students.

Those two are easy enough to transfer. How would you translate the stopping point thing to an academic classroom setting? How could these skills be applied in art or sports?

Joel Wagner (@sywtt) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. So You Want To Teach? is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

See also  New Classroom Rule: Don't Talk To Me
Joel Wagner
Joel Wagner (<strong><a href="">@sywtt</a></strong>) began teaching band in 2002. Though he had a lot of information, his classes were out of control. He found himself tired, frustrated, disrespected by students, lonely, and on the brink of quitting. He had had enough. He resigned from his school district right before spring break of his second year and made it his personal mission to learn to be a great teacher. <strong><a href="">So You Want To Teach?</a></strong> is the ongoing story of that quest for educational excellence.

13 thoughts on “Three Basic Classroom Skills

  1. I also made small foam squares. One side was red and the other green, which sat on the corner of each student’s desk. If they needed help, they turned it over to red. I didn’t help anyone unless this was done and they weren’t talking. I also was able to make sure I didn’t miss anyone who needed help this way. After helping them, I turned it over to the green. Students focused more on their work this way because they weren’t trying to catch my eye for help and getting distracted by their neighbors. It really made a big difference.

  2. Thanks for the tips. I used the first one liberally with my band today and you know what? It really works! As a former band student myself, I was never one of the “talkers” in class so therefore, I’m not fine-tuned in the negative discipline area. Which I think is a good thing in some ways and not so good in others.

    After the kids walked in, I gave them a “pop quiz” on the Classroom Procedures I handed out two weeks ago. none of them failed, which means they totally understand what’s going on, even if they’re not always keen to it. In fact, all them scored between a 16 and 20/20! After the quiz, everything just seemed to fall into place naturally. When talking started to become a distraction, I reminded them of the first Rule of Band Etiquette. (If I give it a fancy name, they feel like that’s what they want to be a part of) Happy days are ahead for my group who started the year off on the wrong foot because I learned that being a director, I must first expect all my expectations of MYSELF first and then teach the kids those beliefs.

  3. “Always stop at the stopping point” is translated for my 2nd graders as, “do the sides of your practice pages that have the page number crayoned.” When we tear them out of our workbooks, we scribble over the page number I want them to do before we talk about the directions for each section. This stops the excuse to interrupt me and the reading group I’m working with and it also breaks the compulsive ‘must..fill..all..blanks –’ mindset that many of my high achievers have. I still get asked during group transitions if we have to do both sides, but I can answer their question by asking if there’s crayon on the side in question and following up their answer with, “that means…” It seems to be a reqest for reassurance (that was so easy, I can’t possibly be right, better ask before she calls the next group) which is ok.

  4. Joel, as always, great post. Those are great skills.

    A couple years ago I had the chance to observe a colleague who does a phenomenal job of keeping the whole ensemble engaged even when he is working with a small group of students. For example, “Trumpets, listen to hear if the flutes play the third note staccato.” And during that rehearsal, I didn’t see him work with any one small group for more than a minute at a time before getting the full ensemble to play together again.

    Observing him forced me to ask myself, “What am I doing to keep everyone engaged? And what am I doing incorrectly to allow students to become disengaged in the first place?”

  5. For the third step in the regular classroom, you could have assignments in which the students complete their work in blocks. For example, if they had 10 pages of worksheets, you could have them do 2 pages, take a break or work on something else, come back and do 2 more pages, etc. If students feel like they have too much work to complete, they may be more likely to quit. Making the tasks seem smaller may help them complete their work and make them less likely to feel overwhelmed.

  6. Stengel99: It’s always a challenge to keep everyone focused and engaged. Great pointers you have there. My Concert Band woodwind class was better than normal today. Except for two kids who were talking a little throughout the class, they were all focused. I told them all thank you.

    Something that I find really effective to keep focus is to reinforce good behaviors. Even if it’s with a simple thank you or pointing out one student who is fingering along while his section is not playing, those things work wonders!

  7. Dave: Thanks for the encouragement. I try to go in there with a sense of urgency every day. We have less than 25 real class days now until my middle school Christmas concert. Before that, I have a Homecoming Parade, a high school football game, a Veterans Day Parade, a week off for Thanksgiving, a Christmas Parade, and an elementary Christmas tour.

    Sense of urgency? You bet! Oh yeah, plus the high school football team is going to playoffs, so I get to help out with those games too!

    1. Hi,
      New to your blog, lots of what you’re saying rings true. I taught band class here in Hamilton, Ontario for 20 years, grade 6-8.
      Your workload with all the parades, games, concerts seems frightening, and I’m surprised you’re still standing and sane!
      Have a great year!

  8. Margaret and Frank: Thanks for your creative approaches to handling that last procedure. Great ideas. I love seeing how what works for my classroom can be applied in other educational settings!

  9. Can I add one technique that did wonders to help lower my blood pressure?
    I do not let my band students warm-up until everyone is seated and ready to go. Kids come into the room, get their instruments, chairs, stands, music. Drummers get their percussion instruments for the day. Everyone looks at the board and gets music in order. There is some talking and discussion, but I make them keep in soft and quiet. Once everyone is set and situated, then I give the class 2 minutes to warm up. This takes a while to teach initially. But now that I have a mix of 7th and 8th grade students, I let the 8th graders “show” the new 7th graders how it’s done. No more screaming and yelling to get quiet – just peacefull bliss and harmony. Give it a try.

  10. Todd, I have done that in the past as well. It works wonders. After I establish that routine with them, I explain that it’s okay if they play before class starts as long as they are actually doing warm ups.

    I do not wait to get their attention or yell or anything. When I get on the podium and give the downbeat, they know the expectation is that they will immediately begin their long tone exercises. It’s amazing what routine and clearly defined expectations can do!

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