Surviving distance learning with my is a goal of any band director. There is so much uncertainty for school systems in deciding how to proceed during the COVID-19 crisis. Many of us will remain on edge. This is a time that is unique to everyone. No single one person on this planet has experienced conditions quite like the ones associated with COVID-19.
In the Beginning
During the spring of 2020 schools experienced an unprecedented number of forced school closures. Choirs, bands and orchestras were gearing up for their meatiest part of the school year. Now these students and educators are lamenting the loss of exciting experiences. Some directors and students tried to keep strong with online recordings. Many just waited for the call to arms that never came.
The final months of the school year seemed, for many, as a loss since many did not know how to productively cope with not having school. Having no band and with limited social interaction, many slipped into depression. As children and adults went into survival mode, a need for change was becoming more and more apparent.
COVID-19, being a deadly and contagious virus, has became a black mark for the ages. How are we going to spring back from this pandemic? How is society going to evolve? And how do I get my precious student musicians back? The show must go on, right?
Band Needs to Move On
I believe that what does not kill us will make us stronger. In addition to COVID-19 the world saw a time of social unrest. This includes movements that focus on social injustice and inequality. Perhaps it is the world’s way making monumental shifts in world-based culture. Again, we need to start the healing process. Music is a magical tool in making this happen but how do we transition when the world seems to be falling apart?
Look at the Big Picture
First, we need to take a step back and recognize that the world has changed and it will continue to change. Hopefully, for the better. We need to put our heads together as one people first in order to figure out how to find common ground? Both on the medical front and socio-cultural battlefield. How can we transform fear, hate, the need for essential elements when there is scarcity in our communities?
The answer is not simple. In fact it is complex but it needs to have a clear and educated leadership team leading the way. We have always said that our students are our future. Keeping this in mind, the solution to our future starts with us in the schools. Education must change in one way or another.
Band Music is an Inspiration to Every Culture
Have you ever heard the saying, “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.” I am sure you have. Well ladies and gentlemen there are aspects of our society that need to go in for repair. Fortunately, song has brought people together in a way that has resolved conflict, allowed people to fall in love and has created an environment for us to contribute as equals.
As band educators it is our duty to lead the way and share this gift with our students and community. I am impressed with those groups who have pieced together concert repertoire to create a presentable, and appreciable online product.
To pull together an inspirational piece of choral literature is no easy feat online. Yes, there are many technological tools that we can use. However, many of these tools do not fine tune the musical craft we have spent so many hours on. I applaud those that have mastered this craft of rehearsing, and editing audio and video outside of school. It truly takes a true commitment of our craft and students to do this well.
Getting in the Frame of Mind
Speaking for the masses… Where do our bands go from here? What methods should we use in 2021 and beyond? Are we at the the point where we need to teach new material during distance learning. If in-person band rehearsals aren’t possible, are there guidelines and resources available to have a virtual band?
I stand before you having faith that success is possible for our students. I don’t know all of the best strategies however, I have some ideas and I am willing to learn. Having the trait to continue to learn from professionals and be willing to share your ideas with others will be required in order to grow from this experience.
Transfer Your Learning
Learning does not have to come from just one place. I love learning from band directors however, if something works for choir or orchestra directors, and I can figure out how I can apply that skill to my group, I will try it out.
In addition, being that distance learning will require a greater level technology being used, it may be a good idea to research relevant applications and hardware that could engage my students effectively.
You see, there is a silver lining to our distance learning scenario if you are willing to utilize it. Ask yourself, how can I get more one-on-one time with my students, save time doing “busy” work and how can I be sure to I can hold my students to a level of performance excellence? Continue to learn as an educator and you will have a well planned and executed response to all of these questions.
I believe most band directors will agree that face-face, in class rehearsal is the most effective form of instruction. But we must face the facts, that for some of us this is not going to happen anytime soon.
I know many music educators have a set routine and methodology that works for them. Unfortunately, COVID-19 is almost putting us back into “year 1” in terms of comfort levels…. well maybe not that far back:)
Fortunately, this past spring many Edtech companies have offered free or discounted products that will assist in our instruction. These will certainly help us in our distance teaching however, we are missing one paramount question that needs to be asked. Are we concerned about how we teach or for whom we are teaching for?
Keep Things Student-Centric
My best advice is to keep your instruction student-centric. In other words, what is best for your band students? There are more software programs out there than you need. I would recommend you stick to a core set of software when you are teaching remotely. However, make it interesting by rotating what programs you use, and do this often within a lesson. Just like different types of instruction, any one style of one of software gets boring if it is overused.
Let’s prioritize what is important for a distance learning student musician. Firstly, there needs to be some form of electronic communication. A LMS is perfect for this and you can mainstream this with all of your students. For those of you who are new to the idea of an LMS (Learning Management System), it is what I would consider HOMEBASE for students. Three effective LMS systems would include Schoology, Google Classroom and Music First.
In a LMS students can receive assignments, grades, communication and access other learning applications. Most schools have one being used school-wide. Districts will sometimes pay for the premium features, especially during COVID-19, which makes distance learning easier.
Secondly, go through your state’s instrumental standards and establish what you can realistically do in a distance learning environment. I would plan for the most difficult scenario and hope for the best. Understand that this year will not be ideal and just do the best you can without overly stressing yourself out.
Being that students missed a good chunk of last year, my priority will be to re-establish strong fundamentals and review key skills. There are many free resources spread across the internet and if you are in a real bind you can check out teacherspayteachers.com for some paid resources that other teachers have developed.
Third, create a content (or curriculum) calendar. Put simply make a calendar that outlines the key music content you plan to introduce to your students. IMPORTANT: As much as we love our students, sometimes it takes them longer to learn about software that doesn’t interest them. I know it takes away from music instruction time but for students to work effectively you need to review how to use the tools they are going to be using… this also includes email.
Now that you have mapped out what music content you want your students to learn, it is time to find the tools that will make this happen. Our fourth step is to find the appropriate software you will want to use to teach certain skills. Some of these you maybe able to download for free, some you may have to pay for a subscription and in some situations you can create digital resources. Consequently, many subscriptions are being waived or are being discounted during COVID-19.
Recommended Software (no particular Order)
Live Screen Sharing
Presentation Software That Students Can Interact With
Sight-Reading/ Large Ensemble Music
Website / Electronic Portfolio Creation
Screencast Recording: Video/ Audio
Classroom Timers and Random Name Pickers
Automated Video / Questions
Digital Lesson Plans with Standards
Digital Brain Storming
Paid Music Resource Stores
Image Background Remover
Distance Learning Instruction
The following list of programs is but a few online tools I use with my students. There are many more options out there however, remember to prioritize your teaching goals and objectives so you can hit the mark for your choirs.
Personally, I would create a digit outline of a routine that an average COVID-19 distance learning day would look like and make side notes for what activities would appropriately align.
If you have never used technology in your classroom then you might find this process exhaustive but with time you will know what tools fill your need.
Above all make sure that the technology you use does not overshadow your love and collectiveness of the musical art-form. Schedule in time to reflect what on you have worked on, what didn’t work and your overall feelings of your distance lesson. Really, let your feelings reflect even more powerfully as you deliver distance instruction.
Strengthen Your Instrumental Music Community
Provide your students a community worth belonging to. Do this by building your relationship with them, inspiring them and giving them an opportunity to have ownership into the program. Do what you need to, to allow them to see colors of the world rather than just the shades of grey during this time of COVID-19.
In conclusion, our band students need to know that we care for them and they have a seat at our musical table. In addition, we need to seek out the silver lining to our COVID-19 distance instruction and think about the big picture. Simplify where you can. Develop positive and quality relationships with your student musicians and you may find something great might come out of this unexpected situation.