When I first started teaching elementary music, I was SO excited to start my 5th grade choir. I had been in choirs for years and I loved it, and I knew that my students would love it to. No, of course, I had no idea what I was doing, but it was great anyway.
We worked so hard for that first year, learning about breathing and vowel sounds and consonants…. And then fifth grade graduation happened. And they were all gone.
The next year started up, and I realized that I had to start all the way over from scratch.
This time, I changed it. I did not want to start from scratch again. Now, I have done fifth grade choir for two years– with fourth graders in it.
Some interesting things happened when I added fourth graders into my fifth grade choir– a lot of which I did not expect.
When I added 4th grade to 5th grade choir….
Behavior got better
The very first thing that I noticed is that behavior improved almost instantaneously. I was shocked at the fact that I was no longer spending a huge portion of my time saying, “Be quiet!”
Now, I had other strategies that I implemented that also helped, but even without those the behavior got so. much. better.
I do not know exactly what is going on in their heads, but I have hypothesized a few reasons why this has happened:
- Fifth graders feel more responsible. First and foremost, the older students feel more responsible, because there are younger students around them and they want to show them how to behave.
- They aren’t as familiar yet. This may seem weird, but just having students from different grades means that kids are not quite as familiar. Of course, most of them know each other (Does anyone else work at a school where the students are all related?!), but they have not been in classes with the other grade levels.
- It differentiates the regular school day from choir. Interacting with kids on different grade levels adds an extra layer of differentiation from the regular school day, because kids are with other kids they are not normally seeing on the playground and in the lunchroom.
Students learn more repertoire
I don’t know what it is like at your school, but I am constantly appalled by the lack of knowledge of what most of us would consider “normal” songs. Specifically when it comes to holiday and patriotic music, my students hardly know anything. Yes, this is my job, but I feel like they should know songs from other places too.
I am currently in the process of coming up with a plan to make sure that I am teaching these “normal” songs throughout the years, but it is taking me some time to get everyone up to snuff (Side note: Do you have a particular time of year that you teach patriotic music? I can never figure out when to do that!).
Choir provides a good way to teach all of those “normal songs”– or at least a few of them. Being able to be in choir for two years doubles the amount of repertoire that the students can learn.
It built the hype
I try to do a lot of extra things with my choir– singing at assemblies and taking them on field trips and having parties. All of these things help them grow (ok, maybe not the parties), but also make them enjoy choir that much more.
Having fourth graders see their friends go on field trips and sing at assemblies makes them WANT to be in choir. So when they get to fifth grade, I have even more students who want to join.
Which leads me into the next point….
I have more kids who WANT to be there
Because students see their friends doing all the cool things, I have more kids that want to be involved. Now, I can only have so many students at a time, so I do have auditions (you can read more about that in this article), but I am able to get not just the best singers, but the students who want to be there the most.
And we all know that that counts much more than who is the best singer.
We can learn harder pieces
Now that I have fifth graders who have already sung with me for a year, we are able to do slightly harder pieces. For example. I do a round in EVERY rehearsal for a warm up. Seriously. I have this book:
And I pick one, teach it one week, use it as a round the next week, and sometimes a three part round the next week week. Why? To build part independence and make it so that one day we will actually be able to sing partner songs.
And that day is this year, I can feel it.
When we first started doing rounds it was STRUGGLE BUS CENTRAL. But now? It’s so stinking easy. I also do them in regular music class, because it is so much fun, and my regular music class kids are getting better too.
But my point is that my fifth grader have now learn at least 15 rounds over the past year, so when we do them, they are SOLID. And the fourth graders? Well, anyone who has been in choir knows that it is easier to sing your part when someone is singing confidently in your ear.
I don’t have to start from scratch
Finally, what prompted this conversion, and also what you probably guessed, I did not have to start from scratch this year. Yes, we still talked about posture and breathing and I had to teach the warm ups, but again, it is so much easier to sing your part when someone else is singing it loudly in your ear.
I already have a base of students who know how to sing and sing well. They know our warm ups and our ways (seriously, I have had hardly any behavior problems this year– although it is only October), and they can be role models and teach it to the younger students. I’ll say that again– they can teach it to the younger students, so I don’t have to.
So that is 5 different things that changed when I added 4th graders to my 5th grade choir. Some are expected, and some are not, but so far there have been very few negatives.
Do you have a 5th grade choir? Fourth and fifth grade? Did anything happen when you combined them? Let me know in the comments!