• Jenny Ferris

What I Learned During Remote Teaching

If you had told me at the start of the year what changes the teaching profession would go through over the next six months, I would have laughed in your face.


We truly find ourselves in unprecedented times and educators have been forced to rapidly change and adapt their practice to suit the medium of online teaching.


My school has started slowly re-introducing students to face-to-face teaching over the past week and I believe our remote teaching days are drawing to a close.


So here are a few things I learned over the past 2 months:


The joy of making music lies in making it with others

Perhaps the thing I missed most during isolation times was making music in a group with others, be it choirs, orchestras or just singing with my students. One of the most powerful aspects of music is its ability to bring us together. As much as technology has been amazing, there is nothing that can quite live up to the experience of being surrounded by live sound and contributing to it yourself.


As a result, I have a newfound appreciation for just how powerful a gift we are giving our students every time we make music with them. I am going to endeavour to spend more of my lessons making music and less time just talking about it!


So much of our teacher judgement happens in the preparation

During remote teaching, I set a number of performance tasks for my students and I received a variety of styles of response. There were the perfectionist students who submitted a polished video recording of a flawless sing & play, along with a comment from their parent stating that this was the 24th take and that the student wasn't satisfied until they'd got it right.


Then at the other end of the spectrum there were the students who would simply let the camera keep rolling, capturing their first attempt at the song, until they forgot the middle section, stopped to practice it to themselves, patting their dog along the way, have a conversation with a parent off-screen and then return to finish off the song.


It made me realise how little the "finished product" of a performance actually shows us. It does not allow us to measure effort, perseverance, focus or dedication.


I will endeavour to include more assessment tasks which allow students to "check in" at several points along the journey, not simply a do-or-die final performance.


Technology is amazing, but it is merely a tool

And that tool is only as strong as the teacher wielding it. During the period leading up to remote teaching, I think I engaged in more online PDs, webinars and how-to videos than I had in the past 5 years!

It was a truly remarkable time when educators and technology providers were all coming together with a common purpose and everyone was incredibly generous with their knowledge. I was able to upskill my knowledge of a variety of music and general education technological platforms such as SeeSaw and Google Classroom and discovered a number of apps and websites that can do wonderful things (such as Chrome Music Lab or the online guitar at www.recursivearts.com)


However, in delivering lessons using these tools, I realised that they themselves were not enough. I would receive messages from students stating that they could not access the website from their device, that they didn't understand how to use it or, even worse, I would receive no response from some students simply because the task seemed too daunting and it scared them off.


I realised the importance of good modelling and worked examples in teaching, as even the most user-friendly of programs (according to myself) might not seem so to an 8-year-old.


Human Connection

In my school setting, I see each of my students once a week, for an hour. As a result, I (and the other Specialist teachers) have to work hard to build strong working relationships in a short space of time with our students.


The importance of this human interaction was something I realised was sorely lacking from my first few text-based lessons posted in the first weeks of remote teaching. I then endeavoured to find more ways to connect remotely with my students - through posting instructional videos, through singing personalised hello songs etc. - and I found a huge improvement in my students' engagement with, and understanding of the task.


Overall, teaching remotely has made me realise just how many things we offer our students, from a sense of belonging and connection, an appreciation of beauty and joy, of the ability to build focus and dedication, an opportunity to show perseverance and overcome struggles.


In short, we don't just teach music. We teach humans.






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