If, like me, you have been facing the issue of school closures due to COVID-19 and the transition to digital learning for your students, then you might be wondering what on earth to do?
Our subject is such a practical, hands-on one that it might seem difficult at first to see how remote learning in music can be done - after all, we can't just assign chapters 9 to 13 of the textbook. There is no textbook (or, more realistically, WE are the textbook, providing the exercises and challenges for our students in real time).
Another challenge if you are teaching primary-aged students is "what do I teach my preps?" At this early stage of the year, most of my prep students (5 year olds) can't yet read independently and have no music literacy yet either. We are still in the stage of establishing and exploring our singing voices and how to keep a steady beat.
So what to do?
First thing's first: you need a digital platform to communicate with your students. I am lucky that my school already has SeeSaw set up (an excellent digital learning platform that allows you to post student work for both students and parents to access it and comment on their progress).
But there are plenty of others such as Google Classroom, Compass learning tasks etc.
The Victorian Government is providing the Learning From Home resource to assist with making the switch to online learning - if you live elsewhere, I suggest getting in touch with your government's education department to see if they have a similar resource to help.
Other resources such as Zoom or Skype can be great for virtual conferences and many of these platforms have also announced short-term free memberships in light of the pandemic.
Finally, the wonderful Katie Wardrobe over at Midnight Music is running a free webinar on Wednesday 18th March to provide teachers with further training and an overview of some of the digital options out there - I highly recommend checking it out!
What To Teach?
I have been brainstorming some lesson ideas that could be assigned to my students online and one idea that I love is to create a "choose your own adventure" task list. This list has a variety of learning activities, all of which end in some kind of work submission and students can pick and choose activities from the list.
Depending on your requirements, you might say they must complete 3 out of 5 activities every week, but can do more for extra credit if they wish.
I've taken it a step further and categorised my activities under the following headings and stated that students must complete at least 3 different types of activities:
This guarantees that students are still getting a relatively well-rounded education.
Here are some suggested activities for each category.
Have students record themselves completing a sing & play and then submit their recording to you. Some examples of tasks might include
- Mark O'Leary's Sight Singing School: assign exercises from the sight-singing school that must be performed with hand-signs.
- The Cup Song - a perennial favourite, the cup song utilises simple percussion (a cup - which can be found in most every household) to perform an ostinato pattern. This video shows a nicely slowed down tutorial on how to perform the ostinato and you could then extend your students by showing them these videos of Kaboom Percussion performing it (get your students to figure out how they do the magic trick!) or perhaps The Lost Quays who perform it along with the shanty "John Kanaka"
- Solo singing assessment - all those great songs like "Doggie, Doggie" or "Peg-Leg The Pirate" which have a section one child sings on their own are perfect for solo singing assessments. You can upload a short video of yourself teaching the song and outlining your success criteria, then have students submit recordings of their solo sing.
- This Rhythm Play-Along could also make for a good sing & play
- For your youngest prep students, you could have submit recordings of some vocalisation tasks. Upload a series of shapes that they must perform, or ask them to create their own! If this is something you have done in class already, then hopefully your students are comfortable exploring their voice in a number of creative ways at home too.
Assigning listening tasks can be a really great way of getting students to engage with music without your presence.
For the younger students, listening journeys such as "Peter and the Wolf" or "Carnival of the Animals" can be great. There are some great resources out there already to complement this learning, such as this Peter and the Wolf instrument/character match-up.
You could also ask simple questions about various Carnival of the Animals tracks such as "what tempo was The Elephant?"
Listen & Roll - this great freebie from Cori Bloom's TpT page is a broad template for listening & responding to music. Simply assign a piece of music for students to listen to, then have them answer questions 1 - 6 about that piece. You could upload a listening list with various YouTube links and have students pick 3 different pieces to write about. The freebie has different levels of complexity to suit your students' differing needs. For example, you might ask junior students to describe the speed of the piece: fast or slow. Older students might instead be asked the tempo. Even older students might be required to respond using words like "andante" or "allegro" instead of simply fast or slow.
Depending on your students' level of prior knowledge, composition tasks can be hard, especially without software. However, Noteflight have free sign-ups and are an ideal COVID-19 remote learning tool that students can easily access on any platform.
But even without proper notation software, students can still be engaged in composition tasks.
Your pre-literate junior students can create graphic notation scores, such as vocalisation shapes. (As a bonus, this could be combined with a performance task if they upload a recording of them singing it!)
Groove Pizza is a great online resource that is incredibly easy to make repeated rhythmic patterns or grooves. Students can play around with the site and then export their finished product to you. The program allows students to change tempo, time signature, have swung rhythms and change instrumentation to have a Latin/Jazz/Techno/Hip-Hop etc. feel.
Another simple way of allowing for remote compositions tasks is to assign some rewrites of songs. Simply post a short video of you teaching the original, then outline your criteria for a re-write.
Here are some songs that work well for this:
Eyes of Blue
Students can create a new eye and cheek colour and then must come up with a lip descriptor that rhymes eg: eyes of green, cheeks of pink, lips that smile beneath a wink.
I've Got A Car
This is a really fun song with reductive actions (meaning you set up an action sequence and then the next time you perform it, you're not allowed to do one of the actions. Each new verse another one gets taken away).
Teach students the original via a short video then have them create 4 new sound effects that their rusty old car would make, and submit a video of them performing them along with 4 new actions.
Down By The Bay
This classic song is super catchy and has a single rhyming couplet near the end of each verse which can be changed. Show students this clip then have them create 3 new animals and rhymes, such as "did you ever see a frog sitting on a log?"
Blowing In The Wind
For your more senior students you can assign them Bob Dylan's "Blowing In The Wind" as a listening task and introduce the idea of protest songs. This one follows a clear format of three rhyming questions asking "how many times must [something undesirable happen] before [the ideal result happens]" before the well-known refrain of "the answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind. The answer is blowing in the wind."
Have students pick an issue they are passionate about and would protest (bonus points for linking in with your classroom teacher on their inquiry topic!) and write a new verse about it.
Another composition task was one I picked up at a recent Musica Viva PD about percussion. It involves arranging a series of names into phrases and then performing them to the beat. You could have your students arrange the names of all their family members, or their classmates.
They can then upload a video of them keeping a beat and chanting "Marcia, Sally, Jennifer and Sue. Bobby, Billy and me too!" or whatever their chant may be.
Students can complete rhythmic transcriptions of known songs, they can use stave worksheets such as my Spelling Bee task (figure out how to write "cabbage" on a treble stave etc.) they can keep a listening journal of all the times they have heard music that day etc.
There are so many options out there for remote learning and, depending on what resources your students have access to, there can still be a wealth of learning and assessment that takes place from home. Here's hoping your school doesn't have to close (or if it must, that it's not for long) but if it does, now you have a number of tricks up your sleeve to help your students to keep engaging with music.