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!

1 comment

  1. You can enhance YouTube videos by using EdPuzzle. I think they normally charge but are either offering it free or my district negotiated it, I'm not sure which. You can use any YouTube video and have it automatically pause at any point and ask the students a multiple choice or short answer question. It has other features as well. There is also a library on the site where you can choose from videos other teachers have made. Check out "A Silly Duet", for instance. It's easy to post as a link on Google Classroom.