When I started teaching at St. Croix Prep, it was all I could do to figure out how to teach as well as determining the content for my frequently-changing courses. I had to get bands to sound passable in time for their performances and I had to help individual students grow during their weekly lessons. Early on, though, I wanted to expect more from student musicians than just playing their own parts in the full band. Since my groups have always been relatively small (anywhere from 13 to 47 students), there has often been one-on-a-part instrumentation. Still, chamber music requires a higher standard of playing from every student involved, and I have worked on incorporating it a little more deeply every year.
Between no chamber music and chamber music, I added a requirement to my middle school classes that I call "class performances." Once or a twice a quarter, every student has to perform for the class. First- and second-year players get to pick from their method book and typically play alone (though I permit duets on occasion if they take the extra time to work them out). For the last quarter of sixth grade, however, all students have their lesson groups rearranged from like-instruments to mixed duets and trios. Then, in the second half of the year, seventh and eighth graders do the same. More advanced students may play in a quartet or quintet, but I've found that duets and trios are usually easier to manage.
Class performances can be one of my favorite parts of the year. It's a chance for the performers to work through nervousness and perhaps even show off for their peers, I get to sit and enjoy the music (if it's good), and the students listening practice for being good audience members at more formal performances. Next step: though I do record the performances, I would love to make them more accessible to students and parents as a marker of their progress.
This past year, we hosted a small Solo and Ensemble event. We brought in a couple of adjudicators and hosted a few groups from one other small school. The students were proud of the ratings they earned, and I'm looking forward to growing the event some more next year.