At the end of the last school year, what did I do? I cut and pasted all my students’ information from their seating charts into 6 documents (one for each grade, 1st grade through 6th grade). Naturally, last year’s 2nd graders have become this year’s 3rd graders; the problem is, I didn’t know, back in June, which 3rd grade class each former 2nd grader would be placed in. We music teachers face this problem every year. The only way to maintain a record of my students’ progress from year to year is to store their information at the end of each school year in alphabetical documents.
You can see part of such a document just below this paragraph. My end-of-year lists—and I have one for each grade—look something like this, with the lists not stopping at C, but going all the way down to Z, and containing roughly 120 students per grade:
Sarah Albinoni is an in-tune singer who can perform with almost consistent accuracy in duple and triple meters.
Nikki Albrechtsberger is an in-tune singer who can perform with consistent tempo in triple meter, but not duple.
Mia Brahms is quite musical, but she tended to be a behavior problem last year. She is on my “watch list” for this year. I will make sure to seat her away from other kids who might distract her, and I will look for improvement.
Kimarie Bruckner (who pronounces her first name with the stress on the second syllable, mah) cannot quite perform tonal or rhythm patterns accurately, but she is quite adept at performing folk dance steps.
Christopher Bartok rarely performed last year and I often marked him as “not participating.” I will make a point to keep encouraging him.
Aiden Chopin is a wonderful student all the way around.
And Joelle Cherubini has not shown a high level of music achievement… yet. As with Christopher Bartok, I will make a point, this year, to keep encouraging her.
In late August, I got my roster; and that’s when I put my alphabetical lists to work. Just as I transferred information from the June 2019 seating charts to alphabetical lists, now I transfer information from those alphabetical lists to create new September 2019 seating charts. Here are the steps I follow:
Step 1: I place kids (regardless of musical achievement) in 4 rows and 8 columns with a bit of space in the middle:
Girl Boy Girl Boy Girl Boy Girl Boy
Boy Girl Boy Girl Boy Girl Boy Girl
Girl Boy Girl Boy Girl Boy Girl Boy
Boy Girl Boy Girl Boy Girl Boy Girl
(If you alternate boys and girls, you will prevent countless behavior problems.)
Step 2: I arrange the kids by TONAL development so that each quadrant has kids who sing in tune, something like the following:
I try to balance the 2 sides of the room so that each side, left and right, has an equal number of in-tune singers. Certain students are marked “TONAL” but are not in choir, perhaps because they sing with too narrow a range, or because they are not quite accurate enough yet. If I’m working with older students in choir, I might divide the class so that sopranos are all on one side, and altos are on the other side. But this is optional. Also—and this is a quirk of mine—you don’t have to do it—I like to place more high achievers in the 2nd and 3rd rows, and fewer in the 1st and 4th rows.
I arrange kids by their DUPLE meter achievement, so that each quadrant has an equal number of students who can perform with consistent tempo in duple meter, something like the following:
As you complete step 3, make sure you maintain the TONAL balance you achieved in Step 2.
I arrange kids by their TRIPLE meter achievement, something like the following:
As you complete step 4, make sure you maintain the TONAL and DUPLE balance you achieved in steps 2 and 3.
Finally, I look for the dancers, those students who can perform folk dance steps with accurate coordination. I arrange them something like this:
Why all this hard work? Because I don’t want my high achievers to be clustered in one corner of the room, leaving the lower achievers to fend for themselves. Children will learn more from each other than they will ever learn from me; and in my classroom, everyone sings, everyone performs rhythm patterns, and everyone performs folk dances. And my students teach each other.
The finished seating chart looks like this.
That’s basically it. At the header of the seating chart, I include a complete list of rote songs the students will learn that year. (The songs in red are in triple meter; the songs in grey highlight are in minor tonality.) At the footer, I include the tonal and rhythm exercises and dance steps the kids will work on, and a broad sequence of activities I intend to cover that period. You may have noticed that the names of some choir kids are highlighted in green, while others are not. The “green” kids are in choir; the kids not highlighted in green are the ones who got accepted to choir, but opted out. They still sing beautifully, so of course I put them to work to help other students.
Each seating chart takes between 30 to 45 minutes to construct; but once I have it, I keep it, basically as it is, for the rest of the school year. Sometimes I have change a child’s seat, usually for behavioral reasons; but mostly what changes week to week is each child’s tonal and rhythm achievement. As children grow in their skill levels, I simply make a note of their achievement each week.
But enough about that. Record keeping is for a whole other blog post, which you can read here: https://thewayschildrenlearnmusic.wordpress.com/2014/10/25/record-keeping/
Addendum #1: Here is a question regarding this post that just appeared on facebook:
“So many questions! Would you consider this a part of your lesson plan for each class that you teach? Also, how often do you see your kids?”
Here is my reply: I usually see classes once a week. I print out new, revised seating charts for each class each week. (Lots of ink, but it’s worth it.) The seating charts not only help me keep track of each child’s tonal and rhythm achievement, but also give me quick visual reminders of what songs and activities I’m teaching that period.
Addendum #2: Here is another question that appeared on facebook:
“Are these your actual student names? If so, do you think it is smart to have their individual info on a website?”
Here is my reply: I’m smiling, because I thought of the same thing. Read the seating chart carefully, and you’ll see how I licked that problem.
Addendum #3: Here is another reply, this one from the American Orff-Schulwerk Association Discussion Group facebook thread: Kudos to you, but does anyone else think this is a bit over-the-top? I mean… interesting, but changing it every week too? Wow! I don’t have time for this. But if someone out there does, and it works for you, go for it. I don’t see the need for all of this. My students barely stay in their seats long enough for it to matter anyway. 😁
Here is my response: Hi _____, Thanks for your reply. I revise each seating chart in subtle ways every week because the kids’ achievement might change from week to week. One week, a child is an out-of-tune singer; the next week, she’s in tune. As a teacher, I have to make a note of that. I see roughly 700 students a week, and to keep track of students’ tonal and rhythm achievement without a system is simply out of the question. I don’t rearrange kids’ placements every week, except during a rare situation when kids don’t get along and I have to separate them. It’s a lot of work, true. I’m anxious to hear what other general music teachers do to track their students’ tonal and rhythm achievement. Please share.
Addendum #4: Here is yet another reply, again from someone posting on the American Orff-Schulwerk Association Discussion Group facebook page: I personally find the more I work on a seating chart, the more it flops. The last two years I had kids pull a popsicle stick as they walked into class the first day and sit on that number and it was as successful as ones I have labored over…
Here is my response: I appreciate the feedback. Just to be clear, I don’t change the placement of the kids unless kids who sit together don’t get along, or they are causing behavior problems. What changes for me are the comments I write under their names — whether their singing is improving, or whether they can perform with consistent tempo in duple or triple meter. Having kids sit where they want usually causes a ton of behavior problems; plus, I typically find that, unless I place them myself, the in-tune singers will get clustered together along with the kids with accurate rhythm. And the out-of-tune, and out-of-tempo kids don’t get to rely on them as easily as roll models. Because I follow a Gordon MLT approach, where every child sings and chants rhythm patterns individually, I have accurate kids perform first for the less accurate kids. This works best when they’re in close proximity to each other. And I can get this only when the high music achievers are evenly placed around the room.
And finally…My wife read my blog post and said that what I’m really creating are “progress” charts; only in the beginning of the year are they seating charts. The seating placements pretty much stay the same all year. The kids’ progress changes from week to week. When I tell her, “I’m working on my seating charts,” she know I mean progress charts.