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Don’t Miss A Beat: Distance Learning and Music Education

By ETM Music Teacher Anna Wray

Don’t Miss A Beat: Distance Learning and Music Education

By ETM Music Teacher Anna Wray

I’m the music teacher at PS 48 in Queens, a job I love. Part of what has always been so rewarding about being a music teacher has been hearing my kids’ voices, feeling their hands against mine when we clap, and watching them smile when we learn a new song.  

So, like I said, at first it wasn’t easy for me. On top of learning new technologies like Google Classroom, YouTube, and iMovie, and in addition to totally re-imagining my lesson plans, I’ve also been missing some of the things I took for granted before: being in the same physical space as my students.

But now that I’m in my second week of distance learning, I’m starting to figure out how to take advantage of the new and different resources.  And I’m starting to find new ways to connect to my students to make sure their lives are full of music, love, and laughter.

Leaning on my Colleagues

ETM offers us teachers an unprecedented amount of large-group professional development (PD), so I already have relationships with my fellow teachers at schools around the city.  And, even before schools officially closed, the ETM administrative team made sure all the teachers had ways to connect to each other. 

The week after schools closed, all NYC teachers were getting DOE training on distance learning, and I was also reaching out to my fellow ETM teachers on facebook, over email, through text message, to find out how they were planning to tackle the first week of lessons.  And I have to say: ETM teachers are brilliant!  Anecdotes and resources shared within our music community have  given me some incredible ideas, which I was able to implement the very first day of class.

Changing up the Lessons
Anna’s new home-based work station.

I knew I was going to have to change up my lesson plans.  I asked myself, what can I reasonably expect from my students right now? I knew that some of my students had three or four siblings who were also going to need access to the computer for their own lessons.  What could I assign that didn’t require them to “hog” the computer? Plus, I didn’t want kids to feel lectured to. In our classroom, we believe that everyone’s voice is important.  How do you make every kid feel heard that through distance learning?

Through a little trial and error, I realized that the key was getting the kids to feel ownership over their lessons and assignments. So now I crowd-source some of my lesson elements by asking the kids what music they listen to at home, who their favorite artists are, encouraging them to submit original videos for our new class video channel, and setting up virtual peer critiques so that kids can continue to interact.

The Parent Factor
An early worksheet that Anna’s 2nd graders completed and uploaded for her review.

Outside of parent-teacher conferences, I don’t always have a lot of interaction with my students’ parents. But for the past two weeks, I’ve gotten to know them so much better!  Since more parents are staying home right now, there have been so many opportunities to engage and collaborate with them – particularly parents of younger students, who still need help using a computer.  

This reciprocity has been helpful in figuring out what works for my kids and what doesn’t; in fact, parents have even shared some really fantastic ideas about future lessons. For a lot of parents, this is their first chance to see the ways that music class enriches their children’s lives, and how important it is to include it in the regular school week. I’m really proud to be a part of that. 

This Isn’t Forever

Something that I’ve been reminding myself during these first two weeks of distance learning is: this isn’t forever. I will see, hear, and high-five my students again. I’m focusing on making sure that my lessons are keeping them connected to music, connected to me, and connected to each other. In fact, now that we’re all online, some of my quieter students are finding new ways to express themselves, released from the pressure of their more voluble peers. I’m already thinking of how I can incorporate the best parts of distance learning, like student videos, virtual office hours, and parent engagement, in our traditional classroom setting.

When we all meet again in the classroom, my kids won’t have missed a single beat: we’ll all be ready to sing together, play together, clap together because that’s what we’ll have been doing from our homes.  And every day, my lessons are getting better and better which means my students’ music education is getting richer and richer. I speak for all ETM music teachers when I say, we’re not letting the classroom go silent. It’s as full of music as it ever was.