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When the coronavirus outbreak sent all teachers home from school to start distance learning, music teachers had to come up with a new game plan, fast. For some, the challenge was figuring out how to have authentic music making experiences with their students online. For others, it was simply finding out if and how they could communicate with students at all.

After months of teaching from home, it seemed like a good time to check with educators to see what challenges and solutions they have come up with during this crisis. The following responses are from 12 educators from around the country who shared their experiences with us.

What are some specific communication limitations you experienced this spring? How are you adapting to them to maintain your learning goals?

Jennifer Martinez, Fort Collins, Colorado: “The hardest part was that our school was on many different platforms from grade to grade, and the administration at our school didn’t want parents to be more overwhelmed by the variety of technology. This meant that music teachers could give tech options, but our main lesson had to be tech free. Next year, we are all going to use Google Classroom, which will hopefully make things easier.”

Kris Gilbert, Whitney Point, New York: “The biggest challenge in regards to communication is the variety of devices that students are using. Between Chromebooks, iPads, PC tablets, phones, macs, pcs, it’s difficult assisting students on how to use all of the different devices. Emails are going unread because students and parents are overwhelmed. Remind messages are either being ignored or lost amongst all of the other messages.”

Rebekka Green, Chicago, Illinois: “A few of the limitations are obtaining media waivers and consent of students being on video, large families where students don’t have quiet spaces in the home to complete work, and families unable to pay bills to keep phones on, therefore losing access to technology and Wi-Fi.”

Heika Smith, Dallas, Texas: “I am only seeing maybe 1/4 the kids in my Google classroom. And those are just the ones that logged on. Of those I only get work from maybe 20 or 30. I’m not chasing after families or calling all the time. I’m teaching those  that can get there. It breaks my heart.”

Rebecca Sensor, DuBois, Pennsylvania: “To combat the lack of technology, our school district has ensured that every student has devices and hotspots (if needed). They are doing full online instruction and all classes are considered ‘essential,’ but a large obstacle is the fact that very few students actually have instruments at home.”

Steven Monaco, Brooklyn, New York: “Some of my students have not received technology or do not have the support to use it, which makes it hard to reach everyone. I used to serve over 600 students who all had access to our music room and the instruments (Ukes, guitars, drums, keyboards), and now I only reach 100 students per week and none have access to instruments.”

Bill Singer, Santa Rosa, California: “I try to do a mix of synchronous and asynchronous lessons. I make a video for kids to watch, then a Zoom meeting for individualized help.” Kelly Martin, Brooklyn, New York: “We have a daily schedule of ‘meets’ with the students and if they are not on the meet (or if they are but they aren’t actually on the other side of their picture) then it’s difficult to explain information to them. I’ve started recording a ‘how-to-do’ video for each project so they are able to review it and do the assignment on their own if necessary.”

What platforms have you found most valuable during Covid-19 distance learning? Why?

Jennifer: “I use multiple platforms: Google Forms for student project work submissions, WeVideo for video editing in PC, and Screencastify is good for sharing pc audio and microphone input without distortion.”

Chad Gay, Fort Wayne, Indiana: “YouTube has been my go-to for most of my material. Many of the families in our district are getting overloaded with different platforms and having to create accounts (as well as dealing with login procedures). YouTube is something that most people are familiar with and it is easy to link back to the district’s online learning portal.”

Rebekka: “I use products from the Google Suite, since then it’s easy to share, upload, and connect everything together. Also- I love Bitmoji classrooms. Make one, have fun and thank me later.”

Tony Corallo, San Pedro, California: “Zoom has been great, my third graders play together live through it once a week. We are able to meet face-to-face with our students and have live conversations. Flipgrid allows students to record themselves and share with the class. They can play songs and comment on classmates’ submissions. I send YouTube videos with lessons and play-alongs,  links to the Little Kids Rock Jamzone resources for more lessons and music charts.”

Catherine Plichta, Brooklyn, New York: “Google classroom with ‘Meets’ to give students one place to go for info, Ed Puzzle to share video tutorials and check for understanding, and Soundtrap to give students a creative way to explore composition and share their work in process and get timely feedback.”

Kris: “Google Classroom/G Suite Tools for our Learning Management System, YouTube for video tutorials like the Daily Lessons from Little Kids Rock, Zoom & Remind for communication.”

Bill: “Google Classroom and YouTube. I put all my YouTube videos on Edpuzzle so there is accountability-- I can see who has watched the videos, and I can also embed questions. I also like Flipgrid for kids sharing videos that they create.”

What solutions have you found to problems that have arisen due to distance learning?

Catherine: “LOTS of support from colleagues across the country, music ed. non-profits, and educational partners like ed puzzle and Soundtrap giving free access to their platforms has been the most important solution to problems that initially arose, especially at the start of online learning. We started with nothing and no time to plan for an unspecified amount of time, and yet, due to amazing collaboration from the previously mentioned groups, we have created something to share with and engage our students in real and meaningful work.”

Rodney Dittmar, Dallas, Texas: “Employing alternate assignments, such as the Little Kids Rock lessons and other such tutorials, has helped with students who have instruments at home and feel more comfortable with performance-based lessons than with internet-based recording technology.”

Heika: “When I saw kids struggling to do assignments in the actual classwork section of Google classroom, I started posting thought provoking questions and asking what they were listening to, which helped me reach some kids I didn’t reach otherwise. I knew the kids needed more social-emotional learning activities than other kinds of work.”

Rebecca: “My colleagues and I have had students who normally play wind instruments, guitars, keyboards, etc. submit videos where they are playing percussion on whatever they can find around their house!”

Kris: “I still ‘rehearse’ my students through ‘silent’ virtual rehearsals where their mics are off and I share a recording for them to play along with. In terms of modern band, since they don’t have instruments at home, I have been engaging them with music technology either through project-based learning, experiential learning, real-world applicable skill-based learning, composition and music history.”

Chad: “The best thing for me has been working with the other teachers in my school. I can’t get in contact with all of the students and families, but they have a better chance to make that connection. If the teachers know about the music material that I’ve put online, they can pass the information on to the students. I’ve also been able to jump in on the classroom teacher’s Zoom meetings, which has allowed me to touch base with students and help them focus on music.”

Steven: “A positive attitude and focusing on what is possible. Since we weren’t allowed to give out instruments, I’ve had to be an advocate for the emotional well-being of our students. I don’t push assignments or deadlines, but continue to sing songs and make music videos for them, creating simple DIY fun home activities, song lyric writing lessons, homemade instruments like a water glass xylophone. We share songs, concerts, virtual museum trips. That’s it. Wish I could share more. Technology has never been my thing but it’s giving me an opportunity to learn new skills.”

Kelly: “My biggest problem is student engagement. I do not have this problem in the classroom so it is frustrating to not have contact with the students in the same way. Our school has a 40% IEP rate so distance learning is a struggle for many of my students. I’ve worked one-on-one with students (to help them through their assignments) and have had a chance to know them better. I’ve worked to build deeper relationships and let them know that I’m respecting their time and talents by not giving them busy work, but working on projects and learning information that will be helpful when we get back!”

Conclusions

Clearly, every situation is different, and teachers’ ability to navigate their involvement with students varies from state to state, district to district, and even school to school. And while we all have different challenges, it is helpful to know that you aren’t alone, and everyone is having different challenges and finding solutions. We have had to become technologically literate, quick problem-solvers, and rely on help from a community of others. Our students have also had their lives upended, forced to spend months inside, but they see that their teachers care for them, will work tirelessly to support them, and will be back more knowledgeable than ever once this crisis has passed. Hopefully, these glimpses from fellow music educators will give you some support, encouraging ideas, or just help you feel that you aren’t in this alone.

Scott Burstein is the director of teaching and learning with Little Kids Rock.



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