Back to (home) school on Monday – a few reflections

Platforms/products we have been using to set work for EY- Y9 students

  • Google Classroom used across the whole school to set and assign work and to communicate between staff and with students
  • Musical Futures International – the entire resource catalogue is free to anyone who has attended a workshop. Some free resources for uke, songwriting, Music for Film and Soundtrap are available here . Lost your login? Just go to this page, enter the email you used to register for the workshop and reset your password. No luck? Click here for help
  • Charanga digital music programme EY/PRIMARY – currently free for 30 days. Ready made home learning units available for ages 4-11 and Yumu, which enables work from within Charanga or created yourself, to be set and monitored via an easy to use platform
  • Cool 4 School funky, Fun, On-Line Songs with Movement and Dance EY/PRIMARY – Currently free for 3 weeks then 25% discount on subscription until September
  • Music First SECONDARY – free subscriptions to the MusicFirst Classroom and a range of integrated software for students and teachers which includes Focus on Sound are available for the duration of closure. However any work created or completed by teachers and students is only available during the free subscription period and will be deleted once in-person school sessions resume.
  • Musication percussion play alongs EY/PRIMARY – YouTube
  • Beat Goes On Body Beats – YouTube – Daily live sessions and some pre recorded resources ideal to use as warm ups or fun activities
  • Soundtrap for Education – online collaborative music studio SECONDARY – extended free trial available

There are so many organisations offering free trials, free resources, free support, it’s tempting to sign up for them all there and then only to find that there just isn’t time to explore what is on offer and think of ways to integrate it into what is already in place and going well. I have also found that it takes me ages to get my head around the operational aspects of each platform or resource, for example how you set and assign work, add students to groups, create tasks and if necessary to seek support! My aim this term is to keep it simple, manageable, realistic and do more of what works well and what the students are telling us they enjoy.

Reflections so far

There is a lot of white noise around on Social Media with the same questions being asked over and over (how do I do an online ensemble rehearsal? Does anyone have an online project for Y7/8/9…). The constant round of sharing and gathering information  – here’s a list of free things, here’s another, right let’s all add free things to this google doc, I’ve listed lots of good things on my blog, shall we all share ideas for free things, we are an organisation wanting to help… This means that some days, filtering through all of this really distracts me from the job in hand. So I need to focus on setting work that is meaningful, engaging, fun and as musical as possible for my own classes and try not to get distracted by what everyone else is doing!

I have decided to just contribute to and follow one list of ideas. I chose the thread in the Musical Futures Chat group on Facebook as it’s very much teachers sharing what they have found and hasn’t been spammed by organisations looking to push their own products across multiple groups.

A key filter when it comes to resources is that we can’t assume that students have access to a musical instrument at home, especially the little ones. So any work that we set has to be able to be accessible for all students. This sadly rules out many of the ‘how to play’ videos or online lessons unless they can also a part for chair drumming, body percussion, junk percussion or voice.

A few specifics

The other day I emptied my brain via a series of tweets about some more specific things I have learned so far home learning with my own children (aged 10, 13 and 17) and home teaching – my husband and me, both teaching at different schools. I want to expand a little on some of these and to make sure that these reflections are at the front of my mind as we head into term 3, still unsure of how long schools will be closed here in Thailand.

  1. Remote learning for music requires an entirely new approach. I had forgotten how much of music teaching and learning is social and democratic. Warm ups, games, singing, playing are all so much more fun when you do them as a group, supported by a teacher who can read the room, direct the pace, bring it to life. This term I am looking for activities for EY and primary children that also work if you are doing them alone at home. I am also going to try harder to support the music work my own children are set. We can all take part in Ollie’s Body Beats session or dance along with a Cool 4 School track. And in a house of 5 musicians we should probably be playing some music together – something we never seem to get around to….

2. Most of the platforms we use require a log in for individual students. But no matter how easy we try to make the process, click here, log in with these details, complete this task which you will find HERE… it’s too easy to forget what that actually means the children need to do in practice. They have to find the work for that lesson, be able to sequence and follow activities right through to the end, perhaps not always sure what they are aiming for. We can’t always rely on parents being on hand to help. Like me, they might be working from home as well or helping other children and some just struggle with technology. We have had the most success with platforms students have already used at school like Soundtrap. They know how to log in, they are familiar with how it works and how to collaborate. So this term I will stick with things they are familiar with and do more of it, rather than try to introduce too much that is brand new.

3. Over the last few weeks, we started to notice a pattern with our KS3 students using Music First where we can see their activity and notice patterns in their engagement. Most would look at a few of the information pages then skip straight to the quiz, score badly and claim to have finished! In a year 9 songwriting project using Soundtrap, rather than complete the 3 clearly defined tasks we set in order with step by step tasks to complete, they jumped about, didn’t read the instructions and the result was no complete tasks, just bits and pieces of work not quite what we wanted, that were really hard to feed back on coherently. I have watched my own children do that as well.

It was silly of me really not to realise that would happen because this is exactly what I do! If I can skip to the end of something and not bother watching or reading the detail then I’ll do that because I am always in a hurry.

I’ve noticed that in some of the instructional videos teachers are making have a lot of talking at the start. I’ve seen some examples where after all the explaining, the task is so simple – today we will learn to play the chord C on a ukulele that I can imagine my own 10 year old hearing the lesson objective, playing C once on his ukulele, not watching any further then settling back to watch an hour of YouTube!

With that in mind, I liked this example. Straight to the point, something students can watch, play as they hear and enough challenge that they might need to do it a few times to get it right!

4. This one speaks for itself. I have 5 of these hello videos to do this week and I am dreading it. I would love to play some music for them, have the kinds of conversations we have in lessons, but I have always struggled talking to a camera because I am so reliant on reading the room and engaging with the people in it when I am teaching. I need to remember that just seeing me and having a little hello message from their teacher is the most important thing to students as they continue to be isolated from the school community, their friends and teachers. Hopefully as I do more of them, I’ll feel more confident and do a better job.

5. Outcomes. Asking for a video or photo is one way to get an idea of what they have been doing. We made these optional for primary children, but I found that they either all came in across the week as and when, which makes feeding back on each an endless task, or loads came in on a Friday afternoon or over the weekend which made it hard to have looked at them in time to plan the next lesson.

Younger students don’t always understand HOW to submit something so we make videos to demonstrate the process so that parents can help. Some children may only have an iPad or phone to do all their work on, so creating a video, saving it, uploading it can take time that we should factor into the allocated lesson time, not expect it to happen outside that time when they need to have moved onto other subjects. In a 30m primary lesson, filming an outcome and uploading it could take that whole 30m to do. This term I might suggest a ‘performance’ week where their one task is to submit something they have been working on – their choice – rather than try to cram that into every lesson.

6. In the same way that when we are in school, music is much more than just a curriculum subject, I think there is a balance to be found between encouraging families to participate in music, enjoy music as part of their downtime as well as ensuring that complete their weekly lessons. We have started to collect some of our favourite video examples to share with class teachers or to be included in online assemblies. All class teachers have access to Cool 4 School and Charanga and we are also looking at how we can provide some fun, optional music activities that families can take part in at home if they want to. My childrens’ school are starting up a Community Choir this term, hoping that teachers, students and their parents will take part. That includes me I guess!

7. I’m going to finish with my favourite part of all this. Although I am sad that I haven’t had as much opportunity to teach in the wonderful Bromsgrove music spaces (I finally got my dream classroom and a desk in an office!!) and I haven’t had much time to get to really know the children and staff before we closed, it is great to be part of a team working together to get this right. We catch up daily, we share ideas and laugh at the realities of working at home, weird cat behaviour and the sad implications of the current booze ban in Thailand that we are navigating through.

But I think that the most important thing I have learned so far is that I miss teaching. Making videos and setting work just isn’t the same. I miss the children, their music, being part of the school community. And I imagine that if I am missing these things then the children and parents are missing them too. I hope that when the world reopens we will really appreciate what being a music teacher is about and build on what we have learned as we navigate through this huge and sudden change in the way we teach and learn music. Good luck everyone returning to ‘school’ this week. You are not alone….

3 thoughts on “Back to (home) school on Monday – a few reflections

  1. Firstly, I’m commenting using a very very old WordPress account. Anyone reading this, don’t bother to go to my blog, but please follow me on twitter – @alisonmusicblog

    You make a few points Anna that I’d like to respond to:

    Too many options

    Everyone is trying to ensure that their business or school survives and are therefore giving options for what to do in an unprecedented situation. I think a question to ask is what would you have done without the options? What is one change to your program you could have made? After that I think you can then go and look at what’s on offer.
    Like you, I felt overwhelmed and what helped was considering what to replicate, what to cut, what to add, what to ask help for and what to give back. Sorting this out helped to get my head sorted. A few examples:

    What to replicate- clear assessment tasks on Google classroom that truly consider what students have time for, how much instruction they’ll need and how much they can do on their own

    What to cut – teacher talk, teacher directed performance

    What to add- I have previously used really good videos from youtube that teach a point better than I can, so I curated more of these to share. More individual rehearsal/ practice time.

    What to ask help for- I was using soundation.com with my 14 year olds, not soundtrap, but missed the collaboration feature of soundtrap, so I wrote to the company and asked for it. They have now added it and have asked me to test out the beta version. I was using nkoda for sheet music on an iPad and gave them feedback on how they might make it appealing for a school library to consider in their digital resources. I didn’t know how to set up some features on zoom- sometimes students helped, sometimes my husband, sometimes the tech coaches at school.

    What to give back- First rules of service- what do people need? what skills could I actually contribute beyond money? Mostly I’m giving feedback right now to companies that are helping, or I’m designing resources for my classes to share with others. I’m certainly reevaluating my online presence to do this more as I’m suffering from a combination of insomnia and mild anxiety, so making things helps.

    Second point on what to give back- I’ve been thinking a lot about how parents pay for bricks and mortar schools and how in the new school year fancy bricks and mortar schools need to encourage parents to pay for them and how physical items on loan may help a lot. That could be a ukulele, or drum sticks for bucket drumming or a midi keyboard, or decent headphones…

    Physical space= head space
    Now that there isn’t an office to go to, I’ve found it hard to switch on and off out of my roles as mum and teacher. I’m trying to rework spaces in my condo so that I know chair A is where I sit when I’m working and chair B is where I sit when I’m being a mum and chair C is where I sit when I’m having some me time. I read that the difficult thing with having smartphones is you never know whether someone is busy and if you can interrupt them, whereas in the past you could clearly see: oh they’re just reading the newspaper, or they’re writing a business letter, or they’re just playing a game. I’m hoping the specific chairs/ spaces will help me get into the zone a little more, because try as I might to create a family timetable, it was hard for my husband and kids to distinguish when I needed to be left alone, especially when I wasn’t on zoom.

    Figuring out your own family/ others’ families
    Delineation of household roles and physical spaces is definitely a challenge. This Songkran/ Easter holiday I’ve just focused on making sure the kids are fed and the house is not a disaster, and I’ve succeeded in that. Normally our Cambodian nanny would have that sorted, but if everyone else is social distancing, she has to too, so she’s at home with her own son (on full salary) while my husband and I parent and clean for a change. How that’s going to work once I start teaching again on Monday is going to be a challenge, but my aim is a visual check in at the start and end of a lesson, or just a written check-in over google classroom, with more thorough feedback to students in the evenings on projects they’re working on when my daughters (aged 1 and 6) are asleep.
    I have only been able to dedicate an hour to teaching my 6 year old every day, but then at meal times, we have been unpacking what she’d done for the day in deeper conversation. So I was thinking about that for other parents. Parents are probably only able to give an hour of their work day to their kids plus meal times, and needing to work later in the evening to compensate, especially if both parents work, like my husband and I do. BTW, I ended up teaching my daughter, but getting my husband to do all the seesaw stuff, it was just annoying me and fortunately he’s more familiar. Realising that other people are struggling with managing new online platforms is helping me to make better choices as a teacher to not introduce too much too quickly.

    The actual teaching of students
    I’ve been reminded of my own teachers in the 90s explaining how to work a computer, “ok, click on this thing, don’t do anything until everyone is at the same point as you!”. I feel like the 90s computer classroom while slow, prevented beginners from giving up… gee it was boring though, but I would say a third of the 14 year olds I teach need this method. I have a lot of students who have a million tabs open on their screens and with the focus of a sleepy cat who has just seen a gecko on the wall. Distractions online are omnipresent and learning is messy, at least two or three checkpoints in an hour lesson is enough, even if as a teacher you can’t look at those checkpoints until later in the evening. And for the more advanced students they’re just able to use their time to either spend more time on their instrument, or click away to work on other classwork that may not have been finished from another class.
    The issue here is getting to a point of inquiry- is it even possible? Maybe not, but this is all temporary and as a beginning teacher I had a lot to learn, and I’m back to being a beginning teacher. Here we are all learning how to run a MOOC or be a video instructor, and boy that’s hard. I’m aiming to improve on one thing a week, maybe I’ll figure out how to do inquiry well online by the end of this.
    I’m also reminded of the recommended length and structure of youtube videos- 2 minutes long- show the finished product first or the objective, then show how to make or do the objective. Too many steps calls for a second separate video. I’m also reminded of the value of attempting to do a project first yourself before getting your students to do it, that definitely helps with making the instructional videos.

    It’s nice to know that all my struggles are very similar to your own Anna and I think expanding on your own tweets is a very good way to use a blog. Wishing you all the success with your plans for the forthcoming week!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alison thank you so much for sharing this. I think the idea of giving something back to organisations looking to respond positively is really important and one that I think I have missed in the white noise. I hope this week goes well as both teacher and parent – I will be sending you some solidarity from across the city on Monday morning!

      Liked by 1 person

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