How are you getting on with your group lessons online?
You are probably relieved to be able to continue your teaching, but know that compromises are being made. Well that's certainly how I feel. However I am determined to look on the bright side!
Perhaps most importantly, I love the fact that my students are able to get together, work with each other and continue to make music. But we can go bigger than that.
Here are five that have been most prevalent for me.
We are able to see our students set-up and often what we see explains a lot! You may notice that your student's seat isn't at the right height for them even to try to have weight in the elbow, you may even notice that, shock, horror, your child has stickers on their keyboard/piano, which explains why they find it difficult to identify the notes when they are in your studio.
This insight, although sometimes there is little we can do to change it, will certainly help us to know how we can best support our students when we are back to in-person lessons.
For some parents, it will give them insight into some problems with their set-up. For example, it might make them realise just how out of tune their piano is.
Gosh, even for me as a parent, it made me realise we were relying on our cello teacher's weekly hit-up of rosin, without which the cellos were sounding pretty terrible (due to our remarkable ability to lose rosin, I have now bought three of them, one for each cellist in our household!!).
Another positive, for me at least, is the parental involvement that is happening.
In my in-person lessons, my parents wait outside, as I find the dynamic and where children's attention is directed, makes teaching difficult with parents in the room.
However in online lessons, I really rely on parents sitting with their child, helping them to navigate, not only the piano tasks that we are doing, but also their general attention spans.
This makes up in some way for the lack of us as teachers being physically present. We can direct parents to be the teacher, to guide, to encourage and to celebrate!
Plus parents are learning too! That can only be a great thing!
With the knowledge that certain aspects of learning aren't all that successful online, we are covering off lots of general theory, musical literacy and aural work!
Yes we have had to pivot on what and how we teach. I am doing a lot more aural work, lots of quizzes that cover musical literacy, reading, and elements. This is because it works but also because the way we want our groups to interact with each other, have fun and engage, means that we need to provide them with learning content that allows for this.
Learning to play a piece bar by bar, section by section, just doesn't feel like a good use of our online time.
There are lots of teachers that are sending instructional videos for pieces prior to the lesson, so that they are not having to spend this time in lessons, which is a great idea.
I have also started offering practice hours where students can drop in and show me how they are getting on with their pieces and I can give feedback.
But in the actual lesson I want to do piano relays, listen to music that we can describe, carry out aural call and response, and play various games with some friendly competition.
There might even be an argument for giving pieces that are slightly easier than you normally would as there is nothing more frustrating for a child than to be trying to understand/master something without us teachers physically present to help! And they wouldn't want us to do this in front of the rest of their group either.
Yes I know there are breakout rooms but for some reason I feel a little reticent to put students in these, particularly the younger ones. Yes for my in-person lessons I have them working with their headphones on when we are learning a new piece, but I can very quickly see that everyone is on-task. I can't do this with breakout rooms.
This temporary movement to online teaching is also great for our professional development. As piano teachers, we are generally very good at seeking training and new resources, but I wonder how many of us were still very comfortable with what we were doing and almost able to do it with our eyes shut (metaphorically speaking!!).
We have had to be creative, innovative and really analyse how we are teaching, what is working, what isn't. I am sure that we will be continuing this process of evolution until we can go back to in-person lessons, but isn't that great for us as practitioners?!
Once upon a time, when I was a school music teacher, we used to rely on PowerPoint to help structure our lessons, but after a while we, as well as our students, fell out of love with it. Well, I can't tell you how much PowerPoint has come back into my life with a bang!
I can create presentations that keep up the engagement of my youngest students, with images moving on the screen and sound effects helping to keep their eyes on me (the screen!), and games set up with drum rolls when answered correctly, green/red colour-replacing for correct/incorrect answers, large sheet music on the screen, and generally, like they used to, helping me to structure my lessons.
Just the other day, as one of my 4-year olds looked ready to run away, I was able to bring his attention back to the screen by telling him to look out for the train, which rides along these tracks, stops at the station and then disappears, but keeps coming back (timed at 5 seconds intervals!!). Just my 2D face isn't always enough to keep their attention!
To see some of our PowerPoint presentations, visit our PowerPoint Playlist on YouTube.
When we are through this time, I will very much look forward to resuming in-person lessons. I like my students in 3D! However there have always been a couple of dates in the year where the school that I hire to take my group lessons, is not available, because of its Summer Fair or other similar events.
Sometimes they don't tell me about these until quite late on too. In the past I have managed to find another space, drag all my keyboards, give new parking and navigation instructions to parents, and take the lessons elsewhere. But this has always been quite a hassle! I will certainly be using online lessons in these circumstances.
Now that we all have the tools, the know-how (not only us as teachers, but also parents and students!) it will be a great option. I have watched on in sympathetic horror as my colleagues in the US and Canada have been unable to teach for weeks on end, or make a judgement call to cancel lessons at the last minute because of snow or storms. Well now you have another option too!
So while there are many reasons why I look forward to everything being back to normal, I can really see (and think it is important to be able to!) the benefits of this temporary shift. Without the mindset to see the positives, our much-needed creative and innovative action will not happen.
Be well, stay positive and know that you are doing a great job, Melanie 💜