The New Virtual Teaching World We Face Part ONE

This is Part 1 of a two part blog post relating to teaching virtually in the choral music classroom.  To read Part 2, which related specifically to S-Cubed Sight Singing Program, click here.

When the calendar turned from December 31, 2019 to January 1, 2020, who could have imagined that we would have a worldwide pandemic and schools and businesses would be closed indefinitely?

This is a profound moment for sure, and it is going to change how the world operates for years to come far beyond the time that this Covid-19 virus is over.

Everyone in the world is facing fears.  This very second, friends and loved one are becoming ill or facing a financial crisis or both.

Those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to keep our jobs are having to figure out how to execute work responsibilities effectively and deliver useful content and curriculum in a new way.

This important instant in time is a unique challenge for us as choral music teachers.  Singing in choir is, by nature, a group activity and has been for thousands of years.  We need each other to create the powerful, distinctive soul-stirring beauty that comes from singing in the group setting.   Click here to listen to my own students at adjudication on March 11, 2020...the day before schools made the decision to close!

Regardless of how time changes the way technology serves us, making music in the group setting has an unparalleled and exceptional magic that has endured and is unlikely to change.

Over the last couple of weeks, I've received numerous emails and messages from choral music teachers asking how I am handling this moment with my own 300+ public middle school chorus music students. 

Here is my advice:

Step 1:  What do you already use that you can continue to use?

Students need some level of familiarity and continuity.

From the first day without my students, I felt overwhelmed at how to teach in the virtual world.  I got up on that first Monday morning, and after I took a few breaths and really thought it through, I decided to do the same plans I was already going to do.   We have a musical scheduled for May 7, and I need to teach their music to them.  Instead of meeting them "live", I had to execute it through Google Classroom.  Fortunately, I started using Google Classroom occasionally about 3 years ago so it made it easier to expand how I use it.  I made this video on the first day for teachers who were requesting how I was teaching and uploaded it to my YouTube Channel sharing what I ended up doing with my own students.   You'll find more videos there from last week as well giving you more information about how and what I've been teaching my students.

Step 2:  Use Social Media to connect with your peers and share ideas.

I needed to be with my teaching peers online even though I had direction and clear objectives about what I wanted to do with my own students.  I wanted to try to use the social media platform I've been fortunate enough to build since 2013 when I began creating S-Cubed Sight Singing Program for Beginners.  So, on Wednesday,  March 18, 2020, I did a Facebook LIVE on my page Music in the Middle with Mr D.  Teachers met me there, and they shared tons of ideas and resources and specific lesson plans in the comments section that day that you may find useful.

I also asked teachers to share their virtual lesson plans in the files section of the Facebook page
 I Teach Middle School Chorus!  If you'd like to join that page, you are welcome to do so.  I am the administrator for it.

I know that there are many similar posts about virtual learning in the following groups:

I Teach Middle School Chorus (mentioned just above for the "skimmers")
Middle School Chorus Directors
I'm a Choir Director
American Choral Directors Association

Numerous other groups have popped up as well, but if you go to any of the groups listed above, you'll find referrals to similar groups with even more information.

Whichever page your use, I recommend going to the "search" area on the left hand side of the page and typing the search words "virtual learning" or "corona virus" or "Covid-19" to see how teachers are coping and teaching.

Follow @jguarr on Twitter.  He is the host of the Music Education Chat that occurs each Monday.  There are so many amazing tech-forward teachers in that room each week, and you'll get lots of ideas.  Whether or not you've ever participated in a Twitter Chat, this is a really good one to join whenever you are available to do so.  Follow the hashtag #MusEdChat.

You can also follow me on Twitter!  I often post links to blog posts and other useful items for your middle school classrooms on there.  Make sure to tag me anytime you post a video using S-Cubed Sight Singing Program.

You can also use YouTube to teach your children.  Remember...everything that is on YouTube isn't public.  You have the option to make it private or unlisted.  The only people who can see the video in that moment are the people with whom you share the link.

I love YouTube because you can record stuff on your phone and upload it directly to the channel in minutes.  The links are easy to share with your students.   It's so hard to share a giant video file in most other formats.  I've used YouTube for years to communicate with my students with videos.  They loved this one when I showed them the Kodaly hand signs and  my special Cockatiel, Bertie, made a guest star appearance.

You can also use "Google Meet" to "meet" your students online.  I just heard about it today from a trusted colleagues.  Here is a link with more information on Google Meet.

Step 3:  Remember that your students need you right now

We all know how we, as adults, feel about what is going on.  Our anxiety levels are higher than usual.  We are not in our routines.  We have new pressures such as dealing with child care while still having to figure out how to do our jobs in this new environment.   The list is long.

Now, multiply what you and I are feeling by 10, and we will all understand a bit better how the 11-14 year old child is feeling...and they don't have the emotional maturity and life experience that we do.

This is not a vacation for them, but yet it feels like one in many ways.  Their parents are around all of the time.  They aren't sure how to complete the new virtual assignments and get credit so they worry about their grades.  We assume they are technologically smart since they grew up with it, but most of them are only smart about Snapchat and Instagram or gaming or whatever the latest incarnation of those things is and will be in the future.

They need the guidance of their parents, and they need our guidance, as teachers, too.

If you are using Google Classroom for example, be super clear in your instructions so they don't have to wonder if they are doing the right thing or not.  Answer their correspondences when they have questions.  Be available.  Consider doing a Zoom or Google Meet with your students just so they can feel and see your presence...even if it isn't for an actual assignment.  It'll be good for us to learn something new even if we have never done it before.

We've been preparing for this moment for several years, and it is finally here, and it is also important for us to use this moment to prepare for the next one.  Personally, I don't believe that this is likely to be the time when we stop meeting our students in the brick and mortar building to teach them school, but based on my many years of experience, this is definitely a clear time of change for how students receive instruction going forward.

I am not sure why, but I have always been open to changes like these rather than to be resistant to them.  I remember way back in 1999 when I started purchasing Christmas gifts on Amazon rather than shopping at the crazy malls with the traffic and lack of cheer.  :-)
My family and friends thought I was crazy.  They didn't think I was putting thought into the gifts.
Um...actually...same thought as always went into the gifts...It just took a little less time to get the gifts into my hands during the crazy holiday choral season!
...and even back in 1999, as one of the first people I knew who was using Amazon, I will still five years late!

Nowadays, a huge percentage of people shop online.

It's important for us to change with the times and meet the moment.

If you would like to add ideas about resources that can be valuable to teachers in this virtual world we are all facing as educators right now, please add them in the comments section below!  This post can become another great resource.

Part TWO of this blog post is specifically related to the how to use S-Cubed Sight Singing Program virtually.  click here to view it and to share your ideas on how we can make it more and more "Virtual Friendly" so future generations can continue to find and use the program.

Best of luck to each of you as you navigate this bold new world!

Part TWO: Teaching S-Cubed Sight Singing Program Virtually

During this current pandemic caused by the Covid-19/Corona Virus, we all face new realities in our choral music classrooms.

This is Part TWO of two blog posts about what I'm doing in my choral music classroom as we face an indefinite amount of time away from the brick and mortar classroom.  If you'd like to read Part ONE, here is the link.

In this post, I plan to specifically address the questions I've been receiving recently about whether or not S-Cubed Sight Singing Program for Beginners is transferable to the Virtual Classroom..

The short answer is that it IS transferable, and in this post, I will share some of the ways it is usable in the Virtual Classroom.  At the end of this post, you will find a Google Document where you can share your ideas and experiences using S-Cubed Sight Singing Program Virtually as well.

IDEA #1-

Using Zoom or Google Meet

I have to be honest, to date (March 24, 2020), I have not used Zoom or Google Meet to deliver S-Cubed Content.

(Update:  March 25, 2020...I jumped into the deep in as I always do, and I did my first ZOOM today!   Here is the link!  I failed the first time.  Couldn't get the audio.  Restarted a new meeting, and all was good.  It was GREAT to actually connect with the kids!)

However, last fall, a teacher who teaches in Albania, Jenny Wheelis, contacted me.  In Albania, there had just been a terrible earthquake that devastated the area.  All of the schools there instantly had to go "Virtual".

She sent me this email at the time along with a video of her students using S-Cubed.  

Greetings from Albania!  So we have been out of school for about two weeks due to a recent earthquake.  Our city it about 25 miles from it and our international school is fine but there has been some damage to public schools so schools have been canceled.  Since Monday, our school has done online classes through Zoom and I did a little experiment yesterday with one of my choral classes with the forbidden pattern.  So I thought you might like to see.  THANKS

Here is the video.

I began hearing from many teachers after Covid-19 began spreading.  The question was always the same:  "Can S-Cubed be used virtually?"

So, I reached back to Jenny in Albania to ask her what her experiences had been since we touched base back in the fall.

Here is what she wrote:


Thanks for reaching out.  We are recovered from earthquake but now on full lock down (like Italy) because of the Coronavirus.  What a year!!  So that being said here are some lessons I have learned.   

1.  I use Zoom and love it.  If you have your slides ready it has a screen share option so I can still do sight reading using the student pages in Word and your warm up activities on ppt.  Just have them already open and when you click share screen you choose them.  You can still see students (not all of them) and your screen and they can see where your pointer is if you need to give a visual to help them follow along

2.  It is not good for real time singing.  Everyone has to be muted.  They hear the audio from you at different times because of different connection speeds.  So you will watch their videos and see that they are not in sync.  But with microphones muted it works for them to do it individually.  I recommend really requiring hand signs as this is a good signal if they sang the pattern when they were not supposed to!

3.  This works best if you have already done a bunch with them.  I don't know how well it would work to introduce very much new material.  

4.  They feel lonely and isolated and lack confidence without their peers around them.  It is hard to get them to produce good sound when they are by themselves.  

Hopefully this helps.  There may be other useful platforms out there for video conferencing that will work as well Zoom is just the one our school has landed on.  Let me know if you have any other questions!

All the best, 


IDEA #2:

Music Prodigy with S-Cubed offered at JW Pepper

About a year after I created S-Cubed Sight Singing Program, the folks at Music Prodigy approached me to see if I might be able to offer something to enhance the assessment and practice components of S-Cubed.

So, I created "one-to-one" exercises.  In other words, for every sight singing exercise in S-Cubed starting in Lesson 4 when the actual sight singing begins, I created a similar exercise for Music Prodigy for practice.  So, if the teacher wanted to do so, they could assign homework every day on the days they did Sight Singing.  "Go home and do exercise ___ on Music Prodigy."  

The program is amazing.  Students sing into their phones, Chromebooks, iPads or desktops (with head phones on, ideally) and the program gives them immediate feedback with a grade.  You can see their grade instantly, hear them sing the exercise, and you can see how long they worked on it and so much more.  To learn more about how it works, here is the getting started guide, and here are some details on the Music Prodigy site as well.

Here are my thoughts on using Music Prodigy virtually:

1)  If you are already an S-Cubed user and you already have Music Prodigy and have used it with your students, it's a done deal.  Music Prodigy is your ticket to continued learning and practice in the Virtual world.  I am sure you already thought of this and many are using Music Prodigy as all or part of your virtual lesson plans.

2)  I don't recommend that you start using Music Prodigy right now if you aren't with your students "live" on a virtual platform.  If you are seeing them "live" through Zoom or Google Meet or some other platform, however, you could definitely get them started with Music Prodigy if you've already been using S-Cubed with your students and have gotten through Lesson 4.  

3)  If we are out of school for the rest of the year, and you have access to your students "live" on a webinar platform, Google Meet or Zoom, you can have great success getting started with BOTH S-Cubed and with Music Prodigy, and you could probably use both as your "lesson plans" for the rest of the year.

Regardless, for future virtual learning situations like the one we face right now with this virus, S-Cubed and Music Prodigy can be an amazing combination for you to consider as a part of your virtual learning strategy.  

The lessons are already all planned out for you!  Who doesn't like that?

Music Prodigy is offering an amazing discount of $40 for 3 months right now if you'd like to jump into the program.  This includes membership for ALL of your students.  It is offered on their website and on JW Pepper.  And, if you want to jump on the S-Cubed train, I'll give you a 50% discount off of my two largest bundles until March 31, 2020 if you contact me directly via email at  In your email subject line, write "Blog post 50% off Bundle", and I'll send you the details.  

My two biggest and best-selling bundles are:
MEGA Bundle (Levels ONE and TWO combined)


Using Google Classroom or similar digital platform combined with my YouTube links of me teaching my classes.

When I created the program, I literally set up my iPhone in the corner of my room on a tripod.  I pressed play while I taught the S-Cubed part of my lesson, and I turned it off when I was done.  I came home from work everyday and uploaded those videos to YouTube.  As I created the power points, I included direct links of me teaching 98% of the lessons in S-Cubed.  The only teaching example links that aren't there are the ones in which the camera failed for some reason.  

I wanted S-Cubed to be user-friendly for the teacher using technology.  

For example, in the lesson plans for S-Cubed, I wrote things like:

"Here-Click this link and watch me teach this lesson to my students."

"Here-Click this link and listen to my teaching tips for this lesson."

So, technically, if you provided your students with the links to me teaching whichever lesson you are doing virtually, they could just watch the video and play along.

In the Google Classroom (or any similar platform), you could provide the S-Cubed slides and the video link from S-Cubed for them, give them the instructions on how to proceed and let them do their thing!

Many teachers have written to ask me if it would break copyright laws to do that.  
The answer is no.  S-Cubed is my program.  You paid for it.  I am giving permission for you to use it with your students virtually!
The only thing I would ask is that you keep everything you do on video private/unlisted so that only your students see it and use it.  If other teachers want the program, they should purchase it just like you!  Once you have S-Cubed, you have it for life.  You can modify it in whatever you wish for your use...including for virtual use!

And on that note...

Lastly, I want to use this blog post to reach out to YOU.  Some of you have been using S-Cubed "Virtually" for a while.  Others of you have ideas about how it can be used that I may not be aware of at all, and I want you to share those ideas with me and with others.  Others of you may have ideas about how I can update the program to make it more adaptable to the Virtual Classroom.  If any of these descriptions fits you, please use this Google Document to answer the questions I've asked and to jot down all of the ideas you have.  I went to "settings" to make the answers "viewable" for all of you, and I will be reading every single one of your thoughts and ideas over the next few months as I continue to work to make this program last for many years to come and to be user-friendly as times change.

Classroom Management-The Power of Eye Contact

Classroom Management requires us to tap our heads, rub our bellies and tap dance all at the same time.

We set our procedures and consequences into place from day one!   We work hard to establish a positive atmosphere in our classrooms so that students want to do their best for us.  We create a highly structured atmosphere with our daily rituals, and we vary our routines when we feel it is time to do so in order to keep things fresh.  We communicate with parents.  We set up reward systems.  We acknowledge positive behaviors publicly, and we only correct in private whenever possible in order to maintain the dignity of the child.  When we encounter a child who is acting out in ways that concern us, we reach out to meet directly with the child and the parent for a conference.   

In settings like we've created, most of our students would never want to disappoint us by misbehaving, and that is an awesome place from which to work and to create a positive learning environment.

But some children are more difficult to manage than others.  

These children push us to the edges.  They challenge us.  It can become a game for them.  

We go through our normal procedures and consequences and reward systems, but nothing is changing.

Ask yourself this question:

How many times have I made eye to eye contact with this child while I am correcting his/her behavior?

Am I looking away when I do it?

Start to notice your pattern...

The students definitely notice, and they respond to it as weakness.

Students in the middle notice everything about us, and they make decisions based on how serious we are or are not based on our body language while we deliver the correction.  Eye contact is a key component of our body language that contains enormous power.

Many times in my life, I've heard my friends say, "When I was a kid, I never would have done xxxxxx because my parents would have killed me."

Well, of course their parents wouldn't have killed them!

But the child knew his/her parent was serious.   

I imagine that the strength the parent delivered to their children included direct eye contact.  

It makes all the difference.  

Give it a try.  

In my own classroom, I use it with the "strongest" of my students who need me to set super clear boundaries for them in order to help them be successful.

...And they know that when I do it, I am serious.

Hope that helps you in your classroom! 

Valentine's S-Cubed Giveaway!

You can enter right here on my blog to win the S-Cubed Sight Singing Program for Beginners ($369 value) from now until midnight EST 2/17/20.  The winner will be announced on the morning of 2/18/20.   Everyone who enters will receive notification of who won PLUS I will announce in an email to you a way for you to get the program for 50% the regular price for a 24 hour period.   

Never heard of S-Cubed?  Learn more right here!

Good luck to everyone who enters!  Thanks for supporting my journey sharing this program with teachers who need it! a Rafflecopter giveaway   

Doing a Show in a Gym

From 1996 until 2002, I taught at South Orange Middle School (SOMS) in South Orange, NJ.  The community is about 20 minutes from New York City and many of the people who live there commute into the city for work.  Teachers were paid well, highly respected and the arts were encouraged and supported.  

I moved there after having taught in Greensboro, NC for the first five years of my career where I had didn't have most of those resources.  

I definitely experienced culture shock, but I learned more during those 6 years about life and about teaching than I ever could have anticipated.  

The school where I taught in NJ, SOMS, had an auditorium with a stage.  If I asked for something, the administration and the parents were right there with me to help me make it happen.   We did a musical the first year.  I didn't expect to be paid for it.   I just wanted to do it.  In North Carolina, you did what you did and you got the salary you got based on your years of experience.  

So, imagine my surprise when I walked into the final week of school and the school secretary said, "I have a check for you."   

I was like..."For what?"  

It was a check for nearly $5000 ( 1997 mind you).   

My mouth dropped open.  

She said, this is what the teacher's union pays for music teachers to put on musicals.  

Oh wow.  

Ok...Thank you!  

Being born and raised in the south, I had no idea unions were a "thing" that actually paid and supported their teachers and other employees.  

Fast forward to August 2002.  I had decided to move to the Atlanta area to be nearer to my family. 

I was grateful to be hired where I currently teach...Henderson Middle School. 

I assessed the building.

There was a cafetorium with a very small stage and very little lighting.  There was some sound equipment.  

When I arrived there, the choral program had about 80 students.  

The cafetorium would be fine.  

I included the entire chorus in my first spring musical program.  We did "Once on This Island, JR."  I had done the show in New Jersey, and it is one of my favorites.   I knew I could give the students an awesome experience while I was still figuring things out in this new setting, and I knew I'd enjoy the process of teaching it.  

The kids loved it.  

The program grew exponentially.  

Within two years, I had over 300 students.  

We were performing "Dear Edwina" in the cafetorium with no stadium seating.  It was standing room only.  Parents could not see their children.

I knew we had to move to the gym.  

Stadium seating...lots of room to move on the floor.

...But it's a gym.

People asked..."Why not rent a space at...."  

...Because when you rent a space, you have to be in and out and pay a big fee.

These are middle school students.  90% of them are not young professional actors with parents paying for acting and singing lessons.   Most of the kids in my shows can barely find "front".  They need to rehearse where they perform.  

They loved what I was I had to make it work.  If these kids were showing up to rehearsals before school, they needed everything I had to offer.

I wasn't going to do a regular musical on a gym floor.

I decided we would do a musical revue fund-raiser for the chorus.  

I picked a long medley of Grease for the chorus and the rest of the show was solos/duets/small group numbers for students who auditioned for me.

The only requirement was that I wanted them to sing songs from Broadway shows because I love that stuff.  

I loved the new format.

I got a constructive email from a parent.

"I don't want to pay money ($5) to see other parent's children sing solos."

Ok.  Got it!

And it grew from there.

Now, each year, I make sure to pick at least 4-6 large ensemble songs that include the chorus.  There are very few actual "solos".  There are many medium and small sized ensemble songs.  

We start on it early in the year.  I talk about it during the first weeks of school with the students.  Auditions are in late September/Early October during class in front of their peers.  Every child is accepted as long as they sing 60 minutes or less from a Broadway show (alone or with others).  They also have to turn in a contract that lays down the criteria for the morning rehearsals and 4 Saturday rehearsals.  I charge a fee to be a part of the show to cover the cost of the hired stage director and the choreographer.   I want those fees to cover that so that the $5 cover charge each guest pays goes into the chorus budget.  

I custom build the show around the talent I have that year, and I enlist the support of my top 8th grade students to help pick the music.  

It's way better than selling wrapping paper or candles.

The relationships the kids develop and the lessons they learn are life-changing.  

The reward I get from this process is what fuels my fire.  

And after 28 years in the classroom, this happened Tuesday, January 14, 2020 at 7:30 AM.

Our rehearsals happen one hour before the start of school.  I don't want to interfere with the after school activities.  If the students want to be there, they will show up.

And they do.  

They don't drive cars, but over 130 of my 300 choral students "drive" their parents to get them there with their passion because they want to be a part of something exciting.  

And it all happens in a gym.

Is it ideal? 


Would I like an auditorium that seats 1500?  


But the gym is we make it work.

...And that's the story of a big piece of the puzzle of what cranks the engine of my choral music program.

I hope it helps stir some ideas for you.