Teaching Orchestra and Band in a Digital Space: Day 10

Routine & Balance

After ten days of teaching remotely, plus a week of keeping track of assignments the week before, while preparing to be a virtual teacher, this thing we now think of as remote teaching, is starting to feel routine. Teaching from my makeshift home office is starting to feel almost normal too. In fact, it’s surprising to me how this pattern has evolved over these three weeks.

At first I kept the same sleep schedule and my morning routine for the sake of not making too many adjustments. After all remote teaching was at first supposed to last for about a month. Then after a few announcements by the WA State Governor Inslee, then the CDC stating that this may very well be our collective reality at least until May, I started to change my mind set about this experience. I became more positive and started approaching long term solutions to some of the challenges facing me, my students and most certainly my family. After all, they too are stakeholders in this environment with me.

The routine is becoming cemented with me, so I’m sure my students are starting to feel it as well. Working from home is no longer the hurtle it was two weeks ago, and now I’m most concerned with the balance of working from home and still being a good father and husband for my family. It seem that the work-life and home-life balance I had been trying to figure out before the coronavirus era began, is still something I’m going to need to tweak and work out. Funny how the challenges of being a full time teacher during regular work hours and keeping an active performance career doesn’t really change in our current situation. I still need to find the time in my day to work on my ability to play the trumpet, and lesson plan for my students with the added advantage of becoming 1/2 of our home school faculty for our kid. 

New challenges are coming. Old challenges are evolving. The earlier wave of obstacles is becoming routine.

Teaching Orchestra and Band in a Digital Space: Day 9

Teams:

When considering the word “teams”, one inevitably starts to think about groups of people who work together. Until a few days ago, if you were to do a search of “teams”, using any internet search browser you’d likely get a bunch of sports related articles or sports related images. Now that we are hitting the 3rd week of working and teaching remotely because of covid-19, “Teams” as in Microsoft Teams is the only result seen on the first page when doing a web based search.

I am fortunate to work so close to Redmond Washington, where Microsoft is headquartered. My good fortunes also means, I get to work at a place which has a relationship with the this multinational tech giant. And I gotta hand it to them, Teams for educators works great. My school went from  teaching on our campus to teaching remotely almost seamlessly. Decisions were made, plans were sent and shortly after we were up and running.

 As an orchestra and band teacher, it’s been a great tool and a fantastic way of delivering instruction. As mentioned in a previous post, figuring out how to utilize the private channels in Teams as virtual practice rooms has been a game changer. Having students set up in small groups in these channels where they can talk to one another, listen to each other and help each others, make the idea that our class is a community a reality.

Teaching Orchestra and Band in a Digital Space: Day 8

Community and Service:

As part of my curriculum I spend time exploring the idea of musicians as part of a group of communities. It’s important enough to me, that I try to include work regarding music, community and service in every unit I teach. Some of the question I pose to students are; What roles do we play within our communities and what services we provide as musicians? Over the weekend I started to think more about ways we can work toward providing a service within our communities.

The obvious thing to do during this unprecedented time, is to create performance project using digital tools. This is not a new concept, nor is it unusual for my students to work collaboratively in virtual spaces and share their work with other students. The difference is, now I am insisting my students use a digital audio workstation to complete and turn in their assignments.

Thanks to the work of my counterpart, Soundtrap is the application we are working with at my school. My colleague is the choir teacher and also teaches a class called Understanding Music. She first used Soundtrap as a tool to help students understand structure, form and composition through creating/producing digital music. The site added another dimension to her students experience with music in general. Since it worked so well with students who were not in her performance based class, she thought to use it with here choir. As it turned out, she figured out it was a great tool for sending guide track to her students and listening to individual performers in her choirs. Giving her the opportunity to give specific instruction to members of her ensemble.

Now I’m in on the fun. I ask my students to record their performance assessments on Soundtrap and invite me to their projects. Once I have graded their recordings, I start to add drum loops and effects to their project and send it back to them. By modeling in this way the cappabities of this website, my hope is that students will start creating more project and inviting one another to participate in this space. Perhaps this is how musicians can build community and provide a service during the covid19 era.

Teaching Orchestra and Band in a Digital Space: Day 6

Project based vs. and Performance based curriculum:

Over the years I’ve gone back and forth between teaching a project based curriculum versus a performance based curriculum. At least for me, taking a deep dive in performance meant having students work on a challenging pieces of music and pulling curriculum from the practical application and the process of learning music for a performance. By contrast, when I’ve set a term or unit as project based learning, I give students a larger concept and have them create based on the theme. For these projects, I tell student “the answer is yes (for what every they want to propose doing), but do you have enough time to do and do it well?”.

With both options I tend to think backwards from a presentation to the introduction. The question “What would it look like if…?”, pops up often when I do this kind of thinking. It’s part of my process for teaching music in the school I am currently teaching.

Since we are in this moment working in virtual spaces, it’s only fitting to have students operate and be creative artist in these spaces as well. But with the uncertainty to an end for our remote learning environment, it seems fitting to combine the project and the performance based curriculum to test the limits of both within these spaces.  

Currently I am toying with the idea of having students do both, by taking them step by step through a design cycle in which they learn to use digital tools (DAW), that serve our performance needs as an ensemble. This seems like the only choice if students are to continue to be performers on their instruments. Especially in the event we get to meet in person back in our rehearsal space and have a few week to put together a performance. I’m certain it seems unreasonable, but that’s where I’m at as a music teacher whose class is based around a public performance and presentation. 

In making this decision for my classes, I have moved into a space where I need to bring several elements of music education together sooner that usual for me. For example, their performance assessments will be tied to theory assignments. The assessments will need to be recored and submitted online. In the past I would have student do all this work in person and do it all one step at a time. When I do it this way, it seems that piecing those elements together, berfore a performance (about 3 or 4 weeks), is a good way for the bulk of my students to gain a deeper understanding for both process and product. For many of my students that is usually the “aha moment”. The point where all those random exercises and assignment line up in their minds, and, it seemed as if it was logically constructed all along to the process of making music.

Perhaps this is my “aha moment”, as we continue working in this unprecedented time and space.

Teaching Orchestra and Band in a Digital Space: Day 5

Breakthrough Day:

Today was full of meetings (non-instructional time) and grading assignments. However, my last class of the day offered signs of encouragement. I met with the beginning band students and we started working with their instruments in an interactive space provided by the company which publishes the text books my students use. The sign up process took a bit of time, but eventually most of my students got on to the system and were using it successfully.

The class met with me in a general channel for a group activity around posture and the importance of breathing for performance with wind instruments. After completing a short assignment, students were given instructions in our class channel to sign up for the interactive space from their text book. Upon getting most of the students signed up successfully, they then transitioned into their perspective virtual practice rooms. The assignment within this virtual room was to practice, and optionally, record and upload their individual performance of the exercises.

Some students did manage to record their practice sessions. However, the heartwarming part was when I entered one of the virtual practice rooms to find a student sharing their screen and leading the rest of the group through the exercises. This experienced player demonstrated leadership beyond my instruction, and made me proud of all of my students as we adapt to this new normal.

In the words of the notable thought entrepreneur, Today was a good day.” – Ice Cube