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Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Distance Music Lesson Ideas: Exploring Cultures Through Music

Like it or not, distance learning in some form or fashion is likely going to be a part of many of our lives for some time. One of my favorite sets of lessons I got to teach online this spring was my lessons on music of specific cultures around the world. While it's certainly not the same as in person, there are lots of great ways to get students exploring music around the world through online lessons and virtual teaching- here are some ideas!

Online Teaching

One of my favorite websites to get kids exploring music from around the world independently is Global Jukebox. Students can click on names of specific regions or click on different parts of the map to hear authentic recordings of music from that area! One way to assign this would be to simply invite students to explore any part of the world they may be interested in and report back on what they learned. This could also be a great introductory tool for lessons on a specific culture or region- tell students to find a specific location on the map and listen to a certain number of recordings, or give them the title of a specific recording to find and listen to. If you're directing them to a specific region or recording, this would be a great time to give students some more specific questions or prompts to guide their listening.

Another great way to get students exploring music from specific regions or cultures is through the Online Radio Box. This site allows you to stream radio stations from around the world, and you can search by location and genre. Obviously you'll have to direct students to specific stations you've vetted to make sure they are age-appropriate, but this is a great way to expose students to more contemporary and popular styles from around the world instead of just traditional/ folk music. 

One component of my regular lessons I was able to keep in my online lessons was the World Instrument Listening slides (link is to the slides I made) I use to introduce traditional instruments from different countries. I gave students the PDF version of the slides, which have links to videos of authentic performances from the countries of origin already embedded, and asked them to describe one instrument to someone who has never heard of it before. 

Another component from my regular lessons I was able to keep and actually expand in my online lessons was videos introducing instruments, musical genres, dance forms, and different aspects of the culture, geography, and other basic information. I put together videos that I normally use in class along with other videos showing more examples of the music from each country into playlists. Then I asked students to explore the playlist, watch at least part of each video, and tell me something they learned about the country or its music. Many families reported that this was their favorite lesson of the entire school closure and said they spent a lot of time exploring the culture further with the whole family!

Virtual Teaching

I didn't have the ability to teach live virtual lessons this spring, but if that is an option for you then many of the normal songs and dances I teach from cultures around the world would be perfect to include in a live lesson! In my online lessons I posted on google classroom, I recorded videos of myself teaching one dance or song from the culture I focused on for each grade and just invited students to watch and learn it along with me. In a live virtual lesson you could do the same but have them do the dance moves, passing games, or singing along with you (just make sure they're muted!). You'll find links to specific songs, dances, and games I teach from each of 9 different cultures in this post:

I hope this gives you some ideas to incorporate "world music" into your teaching, no matter what form that teaching may take! If you have more ideas or resources you've come across to teach music from specific cultures or regions, I'd love to hear them in the comments below. You can find lots more ideas for distance learning on this page, where I'm compiling all of my relevant posts with lesson ideas for online and send-home packets, equity and other considerations for distance learning, along with ideas for managing life at home during closures:

Sunday, June 28, 2020

June Favorites 2020

June always seems to disappear in the blink of an eye. School ended at the beginning of the month, but it has been strange transitioning from working from home to summer break- days just blend into each other since quarantine! Still, the sunshine and extra time to be with my family without getting interrupted by zoom meetings and phone alerts has been wonderful. Here are some highlights from the past month, taken from my Instagram posts: the renewed anti-racism focus in education, planner layouts that adjust to my changing schedule, family time, and my favorite reads from music education blogs this month.

1. Renewed Focus on Anti-Racism Work

It has been encouraging to see renewed focus on anti-racism in the music education community over the last few weeks. It is my sincere hope that we will all have the stamina to maintain the same level of focus and passion long-term so that we can see actual, meaningful change take place in our classrooms, in our schools, and in our society. 

2. Adjusting Planner Spreads

The great thing about using a printable planner and disc binding is that I can change out pages whenever I need to, and wow did that ever come in handy these last few months! I found the weekly planning template I set up for distance learning worked perfectly for my needs while teaching online, and since summer vacation started I have enjoyed using the 1-page weekly templates I like to pull out in the summer time. Switching between layouts like this was a fresh reminder of why I love my planner!

3. Sunshine and Family Time

This picture is from my stories, obviously, but I had to include mention of the wonderful time we've been able to have outdoors with my family this month. My parents live nearby and they have been in my "bubble" during quarantine to help with childcare. Their backyard is amazing and having the beautiful weather we've had this month has done wonders for my tired eyes and brain after starting at a computer screen for so long!

4. Music Education Articles I Loved Reading

I always love finding articles from other authors to share. Here are my favorites from this past month- I share these weekly on my Facebook page if you want to see more! Click on the pictures to read the full posts. They are both definitely worth your time.

12 Black Female 'Classical' Composers You Need to Know:


I hope you have found moments of joy this month as well, and perhaps found some inspiration from mine. Here's to another awesome month ahead!

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Summer Reading List for Music Teachers 2020

One of the best perks of summer break for teachers is having the time and energy to read, enjoy, and process books in a way that you just can't during the school year, and especially books that make us reflect on our teaching practice in a fresh way. It's much easier to think critically and objectively about our teaching when we're not in the thick of things! Last summer I shared this list of books for music teachers, which I still highly recommend! Today I want to share a few more that I've read this year that have challenged and/or validated me as an educator. If you're looking for a good book to read this summer, I hope you'll pick up one of these!

This post contains affiliate links which do not affect the purchase experience or the thoughts shared here.

I know a lot of teachers are trying to navigate conversations about race right now. I highly recommend this book for those who are just entering the topic (as well as those who have been around for a while). It's not incredibly long, it's very approachable, but still covers key points that are important to understand.

If you teach students with special needs in any capacity, I cannot recommend this book highly enough! I learned so much in every single chapter. 

I received a free copy of this book over a year ago and at the time, I thought it was very creative and well-thought-out, but not very applicable to my situation teaching in the classroom since it is geared very specifically to creative music exploration projects to do at home. But times have changed! If you're looking for fresh ideas to get kids making music at home, whether it's for your own children who've been stuck inside too long or for your students if you continue distance learning, this book is an excellent resource. It's especially great for hands-on ideas that are perfect for lower and upper elementary ages!

What books are you reading this summer? Any favorite books you'd recommend for music teachers? I'd love to add some titles to my own list for this summer- share your favorites in the comments! Don't forget to check out last year's list for more great books to read!

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

What I've Learned from Distance Teaching

With the school year officially over for me, I'm taking some time to reflect and wow, do I need it. This has been quite the year. Although I overall despise the way this year ended with schools closed for the last 3 months, I also managed to gain some valuable learning that I hope to take with me as we move forward (whatever that may look like)!

1. Flipgrid is amazing

I had heard of Flipgrid before school closures but had never really looked into it. Now it is possibly my favorite tech tool of all time! For the first few weeks of online teaching, our district did not allow us to accept video submissions from students at all. When we got permission to use things like Flipgrid for video submissions for our assignments, it was a game changer! Being able to see students' faces and hear their voices was wonderful, but beyond that, having evidence that they were actually participating and learning was amazing. 

The more I used it, the more I realized just how powerful of a tool it really was for music teaching. I had shy students whose voices I can barely hear in class making videos of themselves singing confidently and expressively. Students showing off instruments in their houses I didn't know they had (let alone knew how to play), and showing off skills I didn't know they had either, from beatboxing to cartwheels. 

I can see huge benefits for this tool even when I am fully back in the classroom, from giving students more opportunities to perform for me individually at home instead of having to sit through every student's performance in class, to giving more hesitant performers an alternative way to show their learning, and even giving students a platform to share their musical interests with me beyond what our limited class time would allow.

2. Ring lights really do make a difference

I have made plenty of videos over the years for Organized Chaos, but I have resisted any urge to buy any special videotaping equipment (besides stealing my parents' old tripod). When making videos of myself became my primary way of communicating with and teaching my students, I decided it was time to try a ring light, and now I see what everyone was saying. It made an instant difference in the quality. 

3. Our schedules really do create barriers for our students

Of course, I've always been frustrated with my 30-minute, back-to-back classes. This experience has confirmed how limiting that hectic schedule really is for my students. One of the benefits that came out of distance learning was getting to have "conversations" via comments in my google classrooms with those students who every now and then ask to tell me about their grandma's birthday this weekend but are quiet and respectful enough to say OK when I tell them not right now and then forget to ask them later. I've been able to see my students play the toy guitar their uncle gave them for their birthday that they kept saying they wanted to show me but never got the chance. We need time in our day to give students the individual attention they deserve.

4. I love my (normal) job

Maybe this goes without saying but this experience has definitely reaffirmed how much I love what I do. And what I do is work with children and make music together in community. Yes, there were some moments of true joy and new learning that came out of this, but this has been a true reminder of why I love what I do: my students. I miss them, I miss learning and experiencing music with them, and I can't wait for the day we can do all of that together, in the same room, again someday- better than before because of what we've learned!

What are your take-away's from distance learning? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

Anti-Racism in Music Education

There has been a shift in conversation this week. Teachers are joining the movement to counter systemic racism in our schools and are searching for the tools to do so in numbers I've never seen before. As a white music teacher myself, I am learning alongside you! For those who are new to this journey, today I want to share a collection of resources to serve as a starting place for your work to create an anti-racist music class.

1. Listen to People of Color's Voices

The most important thing to do when you're trying to unlearn bias and learn how to be an anti-racist teacher (and human being) is to listen. Listen long and listen hard. Particularly for white teachers, it is critical that we close our mouths and listen to the experiences and perspectives of people of color- right now Black people in particular. Resist the urge to immediately respond to posts you see, things you observe, or statements you hear by voicing your reflections or asking questions. Listen longer and you'll probably find the answer to those questions.

The first place to look is in your own personal life: who do you spend time with? Until you fill your life with people different from your own background it will be very hard to find genuine understanding. Beyond those personal relationships, here are a few specific recommendations if you are just getting started (this list is not at all exhaustive, I've tried to limit to a few to keep it manageable and to the point):

So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo
For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood by Christopher Emdin

Social Media
Decolonizing the Music Room (facebook) (instagram) (website)
LittleUpbeatClass (instagram)
Griot B (instagram) (youtube)
Handgames Project (instagram)
Hip-Hop Music Ed (instagram) (website)
Franklin Willis (instagram)
Charissa Duncanson (instagram)

2. Look at Your Lesson Content

First of all yes, if you've heard that a song has racist origins, stop teaching it. Might you reference the song in a lesson with older students (as in secondary grades) on the topic of minstrelsy or racism etc? Possibly. But don't have the students sing/ perform it as a "learning experience", even in that context. And within the context of elementary music, I have not yet found a good reason to use any of these songs for any reason.

Beyond that fundamental level though, there is so much more work to be done to transform our lesson content. Take a look at the performers you feature in the video and audio recordings you share in class, the musicians students learn about, the composers of the music students learn in class and perform in concerts, the characters in the books we use, the culture of origin for the songs we teach, and the musical genres we include in our repertoire. How many different people groups are represented in those areas? 

One important note to make here as we look to include representation of more varied backgrounds in our lesson content: check your sources. Don't just add the first "gospel song" arrangement you find for children's choir to your next choral concert- check to see who the composer and arranger are. Don't just search Pinterest for Black History Month lessons and use the first one you find- check to see who the author is and how/ from where they got their material. It's important to make sure as we seek to include voices of people of color in our material that those voices are actually theirs.

3. Look at Other Aspects of Your Teaching

Of course our classes are built on much more than lesson content. What behaviors do we consider "desirable" and "disruptive" in our discipline and management (and what types of students tend to exhibit those behaviors most frequently)? Who do we bring in as guests/ accompanists? What images do we have on our walls? What musical vocabulary do you encourage and discourage (what definitions do you consider acceptable for the word "beat", for example, or which term(s) are acceptable in class: arrangement or remix)? 

In the cases of both lesson content and other aspects of teaching, rather than pointing to specific examples I'll point back to the voices I recommended initially. There is an enormous amount of information and examples that I could not even begin to cover in one post- the only way to address it is through ongoing listening and learning.

4. Accept Change

I think this is actually the hang up for most teachers. Once we have a few years of teaching experience under our belts, teaching starts to get easier primarily because we can do certain things without having to think about them as much- sure, we add fun new lessons we pick up here and there, but we have plenty of material that we can teach without having to learn new material from scratch or come up with entirely new lessons. And if there were a list of all the songs I should stop teaching, and one list of songs to use instead, and I knew I could change them all once and be done with it, the task would be more manageable. But the reality is there is always going to be more learning to do. This is a lifelong process of listening and learning. 

Besides the enormity of the task, it can be hard to leave behind lessons and songs we have such fond memories of! But if we are serious about wanting all of our students to feel welcomed in our classrooms, if we truly value and respect all people and perspectives, then this is a non-negotiable. We have to make these changes and continue to change as we continue to learn.

5. Additional Reading

It was almost 2 years ago that I wrote an entire series of posts on the broader topic of social justice in music education, and I sought out expert input for each of the areas I covered. If you'd like to read further about my learning process, explore specific areas in more detail, and find additional resources to learn from, you can find all of my posts in the series and an introduction to the topic here. Be sure to follow up on the people I point to in each area and start listening to them:

You can also find more book recommendations in this post:

And recommendations for places to find music by people of color to listen to yourself and add to your lesson material:

I hope that this moment in history is a moment of real change, especially within music education, and I hope that this conversation continues to grow within our professional communities. I am continuing to learn myself. Please share additional resources you have found helpful in the comments below.

Tuesday, June 2, 2020

May Favorites 2020

**I put together these monthly "favorites" posts for 2 reasons: 1) to share little glimpses of my life, and 2) to amplify other authors' posts. I almost deleted this month's post because, in the midst of a national conversation about Black Lives Matter talking about things like sunshine and bike rides seems out of touch. But I don't want to miss a chance to amplify the webinar by Decolonizing the Music Room and NAfME that I shared below, and I do think the ongoing attempt to share moments from my own life can be helpful in the long term for my part in the larger conversation, so I am choosing to keep it. More pointed thoughts to come.

1. Sunshine

The weather is always a highlight in May, but this year it was even more of a highlight after being stuck at home for so long! Being able to go outside in the sunshine makes all the difference in the world.

2. World music lessons

Another standard highlight in the month of May are the month-long units I normally do diving into one specific culture's music with each grade level, culminating in a school-wide international music festival. This year I couldn't do that in the same way, obviously- that was one of the biggest losses for me in terms of lessons I didn't get to teach this year- but I was happy I found a way to share some pieces of those units with each grade level through my online lessons. The best part was hearing from several students and parents who wrote to tell me how much they loved the lessons and all the extra time they spent exploring the culture and music beyond what I gave them!

3. Home projects

Now that my daughters have gotten a little more used to their distance learning assignments, they have so much creative energy and have been coming up with some fantastic projects that they would never have been able to see through to completion with our normal busy schedule! One of my favorites has been the violin that they made entirely from scratch without any input from me. Every time they would ask for advice on how to create some part of the instrument I threw it back and them and they came up with much better solutions than I ever would have been able to imagine for them!

4. Music Education Posts

I always love finding and sharing blog posts and resources from other music teachers- I post these on my Facebook page every Friday, but if you missed any from the past month you need to check them out! They are all fantastic and I have learned so much from each of them.

This has been a crazy, surreal month for all of us but I hope you have found some joy and inspiration as well! If you have a favorite moment, idea, or resource from the past month I'd love to hear about it in the comments, or send me an email.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Now What?

It's the question we're all asking ourselves: what comes next? As we start closing out this period of crisis management, as government agencies and organizations start releasing guidelines and recommendations, with budgets on the chopping block and all our plans covered in red x's and question marks, how do we even begin to wrap our heads around what our future looks like as music teachers? We want to prepare for what we know will be a daunting task, but how? I obviously have no answers but here is how I am beginning to organize my thoughts.

What will music teaching look like in the fall? The only thing we know for sure is that we don't know. If your primary coping mechanism for stress is organizing and planning (hello, hi, that's me), that can be very disconcerting. But while we can't know what music teaching will look like in the fall- if it will be virtual or in a building, on a cart or in our rooms- we can think about the concepts we want to teach in a general sense. We can't predict the HOW but we can plan for the WHAT.

This is where writing your long-range plans based on skills and concepts is so important! We don't know if we'll be able to teach recorders, or sing in groups, or do movement activities. But we can decide when to teach half notes and when to teach rondo form. And by doing so, we can maintain continuity (to some degree) in our teaching even when we have to adjust our teaching platform mid-year (which will more than likely be the case)!

Here is how I am setting up my long-range plans for next school year to plan for what I can:

1. Identify the key skills and concepts for each grade

If you haven't already, you need a list of the most important skills and concepts you want to cover in each grade level. Narrow it down to the essentials, and make sure you're listing concepts and skills, not materials (if you aren't familiar with that distinction, read this post). For mine, I have a list of rhythm and pitch elements, expressive elements (dynamics, tempi, articulation), instrumental and vocal techniques, and harmonic and form elements for each grade. The list I normally have for my scope and sequence goes into much greater detail, but for this year I am just listing the most important ones- the concepts and skills that I build on year to year and that take time to process.

2. Map out skills and concepts by month

I am planning for 2-3 concepts per month, depending on how much time needs to be spent on each one, and a few of them (the rhythm and pitch elements in particular) I'm listing multiple times spread out over the year. The key here is I'm not planning too many things in each month, because I want this plan to be transferable to in-school or distance teaching, and I know I can't weave in multiple concepts in the course of a virtual lesson the same way I can in the classroom. I'm also realistic about the possibility that even less time could be given to music instruction altogether, and if there are breaks in the school year or significant absences I want it to be manageable to catch up.

3. Start lists of ideas

Now that I know the most basic concepts and skills I want to cover, I can start thinking of ideas to teach those concepts in different settings: how could I teach treble clef letter names if we're in the building but socially distancing, or if I'm giving online assignments? I'm creating lists of ideas for both scenarios by concept so that when the time comes, I at least have a starting point no matter what situation I find myself in at that time.

These are the things I think we can do now to make our jobs easier and more effective in the fall without wasting time and energy trying to predict the things we can't. This will be an ongoing process of adjusting and adapting, to be sure, but it has helped me to have something concrete to look at and feel confident that I have a roadmap for the year, no matter what else may happen. I know this whole situation can be stressful and overwhelming, but I hope this helps us all focus on the things we can control and try to let go of the rest!

If you want to get started on long-range plans this summer but are overwhelmed by the process, this free email course includes all of the templates and step-by-step directions you need to put everything together:

I'm continuing to compile all of my school closure-related posts on one centralized page- click below to visit:

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

Distance Music Lesson Ideas: Composition

Composition is one of those areas that actually lends itself to distance learning in many ways. Students can explore individually and take as much time as they want to work on their compositions, they can express themselves more freely if they're hesitant to share with classmates, and if they have technology access, they have so many more tools at their fingertips than they would have in most general music classrooms. Whether you're sending home packets, putting lessons online, or teaching live virtual classes, here are some of my favorite lesson ideas for teaching music composition.

1. Online Teaching

With online teaching there are so many options for composition! If you're able, I recommend creating a video demonstrating how to use whatever online tool you're asking students to use by showing your screen (with something like zoom or screencastify). Give students a clear but simple direction for their composition and set them loose!

My top recommendation by far is chrome music lab song maker. It is so easy to use even for the youngest students, the notes are color-coded to match boomwhacker colors, and students can save and send their compositions to their teacher very easily! There are a million ways to use this tool for assignments, but my favorite use is to give students a specific set of solfege notes to use to create a melody (which varies depending on the grade). I show them which colors they can and cannot use in their melody and then send them on their way. It's the perfect way to experiment with composing using the specific solfege notes that they've been working on this year!

My other favorite online composition tool is mario paint music composer. I love that it has lots of different timbres to choose from represented by different icons, and it has you put the notes on the actual staff (including treble and bass clef)! This one is perfect for upper elementary and middle school to practice using specific letter names in both clefs, compose in specific time signatures (there are several choices in the program), or write music for a video game (more on that below). It's also easy to save songs with this program, and there are several choices including saving to a url or as a file download.

One of my favorite units for upper elementary / middle school is actually perfect for distance learning: music of the movies! Students can watch YouTube videos to learn about movie music composers, explore how music affects a film, and learn about Foley artists (who create live sound effects), then they can choose music to go with a specific scene of a silent film, or create music to go with the scene themselves (using one of the online tools above) and practice adding their own sound effects using objects around their house. I have all the materials and plans for this unit here.

Another of my favorites from brick and mortar teaching that translates well to distance learning: video game music composition. Students create the concept for a video game and then add music to go with each scene. In the lessons I do (resources linked above) I also have them explore video game composing and learn about some famous composers for video games. It's a great way to get students thinking about communicating a clear image through their music, and it definitely sparks their imaginations.

2. Packets / No Tech

If you're sending home packets or hard copy assignments that don't require any technology, composition is still a great way to go. Send home one or two very simple composition worksheets (you can see some examples of what I use here) that include clear directions and a rhythm/ pitch bank so they can practice notating independently. You can also encourage creativity with a choice board like this one (feel free to copy the image below for your own use!):

3. Virtual Teaching

If you're teaching live classes virtually, you can of course use any of the ideas above by explaining and showing the assignment and then sending them off on their own to work on their compositions, but there are other fun things you can do as well, like having share sessions where students share the compositions they've created before your class session, or improv sessions where students take turns improvising. It's impossible to perform things simultaneously but taking turns will work even over video calls!

I hope this gives you some ideas to use, regardless of your situation, to get students composing. If you've come up with more great composition lesson ideas for distance learning, please share them in the comments below. Don't forget, I'm compiling all of my posts for school closures into one page for easy access- head to that page for more ideas:

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Ideas for Closing the Distance School Year

With the school year now officially ending without re-opening our buildings, it's time to think about how to provide some sense of celebration and closure without being able to gather in person. From school-wide events to special student send-offs and distance assignments for the end of the year, here are my ideas to try to end the year the best way we can.

Virtual Talent Show

I am so in love with this idea and can't wait to get mine going! While there is definitely more than one way to make this happen, my favorite option for this is Flipgrid. I am setting up a "grid" for the whole school with the talent show as the "topic". Students will be given the link to submit their videos one week in advance, and all the videos will go live on the "show date". A few tips to keep in mind:
  • Make sure the topic is set to be moderated. That way you can collect videos before the show date so you can have all the videos go live at once while giving everyone time to get them in, and you can obviously make sure the performances are school-appropriate before sharing them with the school.
  • Set a short time limit for the videos. I'm doing 3 minutes. 
  • As with an in-person show, set out clear guidelines for performances. What types of "talents" are allowed? Can they do group numbers with family members? What type of music/ clothing/ etc is appropriate? I am telling students to make sure they have a plain background and a quiet space to record to avoid distractions (or accidentally inappropriate things). Check with your district guidelines and school social worker to make sure you've taken everything into consideration.
  • Get explicit permission from families to share student videos before posting. I am requiring families to email me giving permission to share with the school. Our school grid is set up to only be accessible through our school domain so it's not a public website, but it's still the internet and still shareable if someone really wants to.
  • Consider turning off the ability to like or leave responses to avoid it turning into a popularity contest.
If you want to try out Flipgrid, Katie Wardrobe has an excellent tutorial specifically for music teachers- she has tons of amazing ideas for lessons as well- which you can watch right here.

Student Send-offs

We are a K-6 school so we usually have a special ceremony at the end of the year for 6th grade and for Kindergarten. There are lots of cute ways to celebrate them but one of my favorites is to set up a google doc for each student and invite staff to write messages, memories, and other celebrations for individual students. Then at the end of the year, save the docs as a PDF and send them to each student. Students get personal messages from their favorite teachers and they can keep it forever!

End of Year Lessons

I always like to end the school year with fun lessons that are active and keep the focus on student interests and community building. It's so much harder to do that without being together in person, but my favorite ideas that I'll be using are:

Choice Boards (give students a choice board and invite them to choose their favorite ones)

Song Suggestion Playlists (invite students to suggest their favorite songs to you, then add their suggestions to a playlist to share with the class)

Talent Show (same format as the idea above, but just do one within the class rather than school-wide)

This is most certainly not the way any of us would like to close the school year, but I hope these ideas help you still create memories and some amount of closure for your students and school community! Don't forget you can find all my posts on distance learning topics on this page below:

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Your Missing Students Aren't Behavior Problems

I have been trying to put my finger on what it is that bothers me about the way teachers are talking about all the students who aren't logging in or completing their distance learning assignments, and I think I've finally formed some concrete thoughts. This whole school closure situation is stressful for everyone. If you've been worried about low participation levels in your distance learning activities, I hope this will help re-frame your thinking.

The basic point is this: the students who don't participate in our distance learning lessons should not be equated in our minds with students who refuse to participate in an activity in the classroom. They should be equated with students who are absent. 

There are completely different issues at play when a student becomes defiant in a brick and mortar classroom- take some time to reflect on these posts on behavior and equity if you want to explore that topic. But in this crisis management, distance learning period we're in right now, we can't look at the blanks next to a student's name and imagine them deliberately choosing not to click on the music assignment out of defiance or disregard. I assure you, most of the time that is not the case.

The underlying thought process that I am hearing from the music education community bemoaning the lack of participation seems to go back to the idea that students are choosing not to do the music lessons because they (or their families) don't care, or because their lessons aren't engaging enough. I just don't think that's the case for most of them.

In many cases it's just a matter of not understanding fully what they're supposed to do, or having difficulty with one of the many technological steps required to simply submit an assignment. I'm sure many students and families don't know, or forget, that there are separate assignments, usually in a different place than their homeroom assignments, for music. 

Are some students and families making a deliberate choice not to do music assignments and only focus on math and reading? Yes. Are they doing it out of defiance or ill-will? No, I don't think so. It's less like the kid sitting in class saying "I don't wanna" and more like the kid who has limited energy because they're just getting over the flu so they only go to school for part of the day and miss music class. Are there issues with valuing some subjects over others as a society that we should address? Definitely. But that's not the battle to fight right now. The truth is humans everywhere, whether they realize it yet or not, have reawakened to the importance of music through this experience. They're listening to it more, they're turning to it for comfort, they're singing, dancing, playing instruments more. When families and students make the choice to only certain assignments, I promise you it is because they have limited energy, time, technology, all of the above.

Let's also keep in mind that some students are doing the assignments and activities but we just don't see it. I know I've had a few parents comment in an email or on the phone how much their whole family has enjoyed their child's music assignments and I've just stared in disbelief because they haven't turned in a single assignment throughout the entire closure! We're not there in the room. There are more students participating, or attempting to, in our lessons than we think.

Why is this distinction important? When we have a student not participating in class, we react by trying to figure out what the problem is, whether that's with our teaching, their situation, or both. We ask the student why they aren't joining in, we enforce consequences, we reflect on our teaching to try to make it more engaging- in short there is a problem that needs to be fixed. When we have a student who is absent, it is what it is and we do our best to catch them up when they return. Maybe we inquire why they're absent from class, especially if they miss more than one class period in a row. Maybe we follow up to make sure they aren't missing class for avoidable reasons- did their transportation accessibility change? Are they dealing with a home situation that keeps them from coming to school? But we don't generally start looking for a problem to fix (outside the chronic absences)- we encourage our students not to miss class as much as they can, help students catch up on what they missed, and move on without placing blame on ourselves, the students, or the families.

Should we follow up when we have students who are chronically absent from our distance learning assignments? Sure. Of course we want to make sure that students have equitable access, help where we can with any difficult life situations our students may find themselves in, and make sure our kids are OK. But rather than treating it as an engagement issue, let's treat it as an attendance issue. Stop assigning blame to yourselves, your students, or their families. Teach the ones that are there the best way you can, and check in on the ones who aren't. We'll catch up when we're back together.

I'm collecting all of my posts, both for home and for music teaching, related to school closures on this page- check here for all my past posts and stay up to date on the latest:

Friday, May 1, 2020

April Favorites 2020

I didn't write a "favorites" post for March. I just wasn't ready to think about silver linings and finding the good yet. Life is still really hard in many ways, but now that I'm over a month into school closures I'm in a place where I can appreciate some of the highlights from life in quarantine. As is my practice with these monthly posts I'm pulling pictures from my Instagram feed to remember some of the "favorites" from my day-to-day, and compiling the articles I shared on my Facebook page from other bloggers. I hope this brings some much-needed joy and inspiration!

1. Distance Learning Planner Template

After realizing how fruitless it was to try to continue planning out my week using the same lesson planning template I had used when school was open, I threw together an attempt at a layout that would allow me to better track my new normal. It ended up being so helpful and I am still happily using it several weeks later! I sent this template out as a free download in my newsletter and I also posted it in my planner group on Facebook if you'd like to try it out yourself.

2. Work Spaces


I set up a space in our basement (which functions primarily as a play room for my daughters) with items I brought home from my classroom that I set up for recording teaching videos. I also set up my work space for the majority of the work I do day-to-day attending virtual meetings, answering emails, and responding to students online working at my kitchen counter. It has ended up working well for me to station myself in the kitchen because I have a built-in "standing desk", I'm next to the best window in the house, and I'm in a central location where I can prepare meals and monitor my children while I'm working. If you want to see a video tour and explanation of what I brought home from school and how I set things up for my teaching videos, click on the picture above.

3. Car Parade

I didn't get a picture at the actual parade because I was too busy soaking up the experience, but this poster that I brought home from my classroom was the one I put on my car. I organized a car parade for the teachers to drive around the streets where our students lived, and it was absolutely wonderful! I cried the whole second half of the parade- I just couldn't hold it together.

4. Music Education Blog Posts

It has been amazing to see so many in the music education community come together to share ideas and offer support through this crisis! Since I didn't write a "favorites" post last month I'm sharing all of the posts that I collected from March and April below- be sure to click through to read the full posts!

I hope focusing on some of the positives from the last month is helpful for you- I encourage you to pause and reflect on your own highlights as well! It has certainly been a good exercise for me. Stay well.