Tips for Pandemic Teaching

Mike Lawson • MAC Corner • October 1, 2020

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Who among us on the first day of 2020 could have imagined where we are today? We can wish things were normal again, proclaim, “We can’t teach instruments and music online” or we can re-invent ourselves in sync with the 2020-2021 reality we face.

Whether we like it or not, this is our new normal – at least for now. And like it or not, we must adapt or become extinct. It’s a lot easier to modify performance-based electives and maintain music for our students than to go without music classes this year and try to add them back at a later date.

I have collected, borrowed, and amassed an array of successful teaching strategies from my teacher friends across the nation. Here are some of the best and I hope that some of them will perhaps work for you.

Get Ready – Stay Ready

Acquire a supply of comfortable masks. Wash them often. It’s hard to talk through a mask. Consider amplification for yourself. There are multiple options of Bluetooth lavalier microphones that can connect with a simple PA speaker. The cost is modest and allows you to speak more naturally and clearly. This technology is especially effective when engaged in blended instruction with some students physically present and others opting for remote learning. Confer with other teachers you trust. What safety procedures are they putting into place. What have they done that has been effective or ineffective in the classroom? This great webinar introduces platforms for online instruction:

Utilizing Zoom: Large or Small Group Applications

Introducing A New Concept and Supervised Practice

Here is a suggested method for teaching virtually:

• Teacher explains/demonstrates a new concept or introduces new material while students are muted

• Students are then assigned a certain amount of practice time

• Teacher can unmute selected students to check on independent practice

• Students can electronically pose questions in chat

• Near the end of the session, students record a short assignment and submit to teacher

• Teacher can give a participation grade or grade each individual submission

Play Audio Recordings

Play recordings or videos prior to start of class. It always takes some extra time to get everyone signed in, right? Put it to good use. Recordings teach students the skill of listening and allows them to develop concepts of tone quality and musicianship. Ask questions as recordings play. Answers can be entered in chat. This creates immediate student engagement and allows students to read their friends comments.

Zoom Master Class

Seek opportunities to create instrument master classes. Allow students to play scales, etudes or solos for one another. Younger students learn from older students. Parents can be encouraged to “sit in.” This is also a wonderful opportunity to share advanced instrumental videos or recordings. Consider having a designated section leader or older, more responsible student lead the masterclass.

Parent Meetings

A colleague is scheduling periodic parent meetings on Zoom. These sessions keep the parents engaged and helps them understand the challenges of virtual learning. The parent meetings can be recorded and left online for viewing by parents who could not attend the original meeting.

Online Beginners

If you are faced with the challenge of teaching beginners online, implement the Suzuki approach to practice parental involvement. Have parents observe and be a part of those early instructional sessions. They can learn the “do’s and don’ts’” of desirable playing habits and better support their budding musician’s early practice.

Around the Room Questions

Ask short answer questions and solicit an answer from everyone. These quick responses keep students engaged and quickly tells you the level of student comprehension.

Record, Record, Record!

Technology provides us with multiple platforms to record and evaluate our students progress. Such as Flipgrid or Acapella. Flipgrid is a free video discussion platform from Microsoft that helps educators see and hear from every student in class and foster fun and supportive social learning. The National Association for Music Education has a comprehensive introduction to Flipgrid at lets students record, synchronize, and share their music making. There are multiple applications that afford students opportunities for practice, musical interactions and assessment.

“Drive By” Instrument Checks

Here’s a great tip from a middle school band director who teachers near me. She was concerned about fundamental issues such as assembly/disassembly, embouchure, and initial tone production. She scheduled some after school time blocks when parents could bring their student by the school for a brief, visual inspection while practicing social distancing. These short visits gave her the opportunity for positive reinforcement and the chance to make sure that no bad habits were forming.

Get Ready to FLEX

The Creative Repertoire Initiative (CRI) is a collective of composers and conductors committed to creating adaptable music for ensembles in the coming academic year and beyond, due to the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic. Music created by members of the CRI includes music at multiple grade levels designed to be performed by ensembles faced with limited, fluctuating, or unpredictable instrumentation. Coordinated by Robert Ambrose at Georgia State University, the collective includes the music of such composers as Frank Ticheli, John Mackey, Brian Balmages, and Alex Sharpiro among others.

Make a Plan, and Plan to Be Flexible

Certainly, it remains important to have a strategic plan, but it is equally important to be innovative and flexible. It is essential that we modify our expectations to accommodate the limitations that we face each day. The old way is no longer the way. The ultimate goal must be to keep our students engaged and ready to embrace their musical learning a year from now when things are hopefully returning to normal.

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