How to Stop Chatter in the Music Classroom
School students often use their time in the classroom to socialize, chatting about everything from the current assignment to their after school plans. And while this very normal tendency is important during adolescence for developing a sense of personal identity, it can be very disruptive in the classroom. Indeed, many teachers cite talking as one of the main issues that hinder productive learning; and it can be especially problematic in a music class setting.
As a music educator, often you’re required to assist students on a one-on-one basis. This generally leaves the rest of the class to their own devices. For instance, you may need to work with one section of the orchestra—perhaps the woodwinds—allowing the bass, percussion, and string players to indulge in their favorite pastime, talking. In any event, the excess chatter not only reduces your ability to communicate clearly, it prevents other students from understanding your instructions.
However, getting you music students to forego the chatter isn't impossible. It just requires a commitment on your part to establish boundaries, and a resolution to adhere to the rules you’ve established as a group. Music class is a bit fortunate in that respect. Your students are already learning to work together in harmony. You'll just need to establish baselines that enable them to transfer that behavior into the classroom setting.
These ideas can help you create an atmosphere where students will feel free to express their ideas, but also limit socialization during learning times.
Class Meeting/Discussion Period
Arrange to conduct a class meeting at either the beginning or end of the week. This doesn’t need to take an excess amount of time. Ideally you should keep it under 15 minutes; but, use the time to discuss classroom conduct. The first few minutes should review class behavior from the previous week, and the remaining time allotted to exploring methods and ideas for correcting any problems.
Make the correlation that just like every musician has a specific part to play, each student has a performance responsibility to his or her classmates. Talking creates a distraction that can harm the entire group.
You may also want to orchestrate some role play to demonstrate how difficult it is teach with constant chatter in the background. Have one student try to explain a technique to another, while two or three other students talk to one another about unrelated things. Process the activity by discussing how each actor felt and how difficult it was to actually teach the technique. Your students will make the right connections.
During the class meeting you should also remind your students about the general rules of talking, and if necessary, the subsequent penalties.
Be Honest and Wait
When you are working with another student and the talking begins, stop what you’re doing and look at the offenders. Wait for a few moments until you gain their attention and the talking stops, then resume your instruction. Often students will start talking unconsciously; waiting quietly will help remind them about their duty.
You may also want to privately discuss the issue with certain students. And although you should be honest about how their disrespectful actions negatively affect you and their classmates, remember to avoid using "you" statements. Positive first-person methods, such as saying, “The talking really disrupts my ability to…, and I wish there were a way I could help prevent it in the future” allows students to develop their own personal regulators, which is a highly effective technique.
It will help if you can identify the reasons behind constant chatter. For example, are certain students talking to gain attention, trying to show their power, or covering up for a lack of ability? Understanding the root of the behavior can help you create individualized solutions.
Shift the Responsibility
The previous suggestions develop this theme, but essentially, you want to shift the responsibility of maintaining a respectful learning environment to your students.
All students enjoy being a part of the decision making process, and you can use that desire to their advantage. Have them submit ideas about developing an honor system or some visual codes/clues that can be used in class to prevent talking. You can also help them explore ways to help regulate one another. Either way, getting them involved will help improve their behavior.
Cutting down on the chatter in your music class will not only increase your effectiveness as an educator, it can help further solidify your assembly of young musicians into a great group of performers. By establishing an environment that emphasizes respect and responsibility, you’ll see changes that reduce classroom chatter, which will benefit everyone.