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Returning to in-person group lessons

online teaching Jul 06, 2020

As we near the end of our term/semester here in the UK, and government legislation is allowing us to go back to in-person teaching, I have turned my attention to what a group lesson needs to look like now, in the new (and temporary) norm.

Whilst I am writing a risk assessment to share with both my parents and other KeyNotes program users, I thought it would be useful to share my thoughts, with the understanding that all our contexts are different, not just in our countries and states, but in our own studios. Hopefully you will still find it useful.

I have read a few generic risk assessments provided by the music teaching unions, but I thought the best thing to do, would be to go through my lessons and work out where the potential touch points are, and where children may be too close to each other, if we kept to how things used to be pre-Covid.

Entry to the Classroom

My students have to walk up a few flights of stairs to get to my classroom and then at the top there is a set of doors, plus another set for my actual room. I will keep those doors open so that no-one needs to touch the handles.

I will have some hand sanitiser pumps on a table just outside the classroom for students to use as they enter. 

Parents Waiting

Usually, our parents sit outside the classroom, in a long corridor, and it does get fairly crowded! Some overspill into the other classroom. I am going to encourage parents to leave, with the exception being for those very young students who may find that too difficult, emotionally. I will make sure I have a list of all their phone numbers with me in case one of the students needs to use the toilet (our toilets are downstairs, so I wouldn't want to send a child on their own), and will definitely suggest they make sure they have been before the lesson (as I said I am still in thought-mode and once you unravel it all, there is a lot of thinking to be done!).

Lesson Starter

Tables and Carpet Space

Now thinking about the start of the lesson, we always sit at tables, and sometimes move to the carpet for our starters. I will probably only be able to have one or the other, tables or carpet space, and will likely opt for tables. In this way I can set them up so that the chairs are 2 metres (6ft) apart and I won't have to think about whether children have inadvertently moved closer, which would likely happen on the carpets! The tables are set up so that everyone is facing the front and, although I usually move them so that we are facing each other, I will keep them front-facing as has been recommended.

Pencils and materials

I will be asking students to bring in their own pencils. During the first lesson I will be giving them their workbooks. I will either have to put these in plastic bags/folders a few days before giving them out so they have been quarantined, or just get them to take one themselves, straight from the box! In terms of games, I will have laminated games and will have one per student, wiping with anti-bac wipes between lessons.

Teacher-modelling

After table/carpet time, we have a singalong at the piano, where I model the task, and I usually ask students to show me something on the main piano. This is going to need careful consideration and perhaps a re-think. 

First of all, we can't crowd around the piano like we used to (which is very sad), but even sadder, we can't sing our songs together. I may have to get students to stay at the tables whilst I play through the song, but it isn't ideal for them not to be able to see my hands. And there will be no sharing the main piano to evidence learning.

At the Keyboards

I am lucky in the sense that we will have no problems being 2 metres apart whilst at the keyboards. We have 15 in the room and I can have them sitting at every other one. This may affect how well ensemble playing works, but hey, it's got to work better than on zoom right?!

Giving feedback and guidance is an essential part of the lesson, so I will have to think about what this will now look like. I will look to the advice given to schools on this, as clearly school teachers will have the same issue of needing to give individual support, without getting too close. It may be that this is the point at which we wear masks/visors.

I will wipe down both the keyboards and headphones between uses.

End of the lesson

I will work a gap between lessons into my schedule so that parents aren't meeting on changeover and so that I can wipe down the keyboards/headphones. I will ask students to sit in their table spaces and for parents to come to the door one-by-one to collect them. I usually stand at the door, students line up, and I give them a sticker. Sadly I will have to re-think the stickers!

General thoughts

It has been suggested that we try to have our rooms well ventilated and so I will make sure all windows are open. There is air conditioning in the room, which I believe flows from outside, but will have to check this before I use it!

Of course I will move to online at a moment's notice if I have even a slight sign of a symptom. I will also encourage students not to come if they or anyone in their families have any symptoms. I am thinking about how I can offer online AND in-person at the same time, by setting up the zoom meeting on my laptop. I will have to see what the response is from parents regarding moving to in-person lessons.

In the UK, at the moment, things are looking up, but I am all too aware that, now we are moving out of lockdown, things could spiral again, which may well mean we have to remain online in September.

Or conversely, things may be looking even better (ever an optimist) and we may be allowed to sing! I think there is more and more being learnt about this virus and one thing that is coming out, is that kids just don't seem to have a part in it, neither as sufferers or as carriers, so it may be that they have a different approach for children's activities and schools as this knowledge is corroborated. I know that our government are saying it is essential to get children back to school in September, and to get them back into their extra-curriculars, because we need to do some serious nurturing of their emotional wellbeing, and sports, music, drama, dance, are all going to play a huge role in that.

Maybe you think this is just not worth it and you'd rather stay online? Hey, it's a personal choice. Whilst online has been going well, I am desperate to see and teach my kids in person, so I will take the appropriate steps to make it happen. 

As a side note, if I thought that the steps I had to take would be at all stressful for my kids, I wouldn't go back to in-person. But I think what I outline above, coupled with all of our joy at seeing each other again, they will be very happy and it will all be worth it!

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