What It's Like Teaching Elementary Music During the Coronavirus
******Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. The article below is strictly to give you a glimpse into my classroom and hopefully inspire ideas for your own classroom. It is important that you follow guidelines set forth by the CDC and local officials. Every community is at a different stage with the coronavirus and it is changing every day. To give you a reference, our county had five active cases when we started school. This article is here to help give teachers ideas for their classroom, not a blueprint. Being one of the first schools nationwide to be back in session, please understand that we are still learning. Please refrain from taking a critical approach to the following ideas; instead examine them with an open mind to hopefully gain ideas that you can utilize in your own classroom.******
Returning To School
On June 8th, my school returned to full days of seated instruction. My school is a STEAM school, which means the school year is extended one month longer than the rest of the district. This is one of the reasons we were able to go back and finish the school year. Parents had the option of choosing between online or seated instruction for their child. Roughly 60% of the students attended in person, and the largest class size I saw during this time was eighteen students.
Teachers had around one month to get ready to come back to in-person instruction. We all expressed our ideas and tried to visualize what teaching would be like when students returned to the building. There were a variety of opinions that were expressed. We all had to work together and find a consensus to do what was best for the students. I did not agree with every decision that was made and neither will you. It is impossible for school administration to please everyone during this time, and grace needs to be given when necessary. Speaking up on safety issues is important, but there is a delicate balance between figuring out the most important issues to address and letting others go. When there were problems, I always tried to come to the table with a solution. Anxiety was high and many tears were shed, but we all got through it together as a staff.
School In Session
In order to prepare for the students’ arrival, our district and school brainstormed about how to keep our students safe. We decided that students would stay in their classroom for lunch, limit the number of students out at recess, map out where students would sit in the classroom for maximum separation, put “X” on the floor to show students where to line up, install hand sanitizer in every room, change pick-up/drop-off procedures, etc. We had a few half days with students before we went back to full days in order to help teach students how to socially distance and keep each other safe. Since we couldn’t hug our students, we found creative ways to show our students they were loved, such as air high fives, air hugs, and elbow high fives.
Advocate for Your Program
I became very well-versed in best practices for the coronavirus and music. I presented my ideas to my administration for them to consider how music would look in June. I informed them that singing was not currently deemed safe at the moment and that we could not safely sing during the two weeks of in-person instruction (we will re-address this issue in the fall when more studies have been completed). Enrichment teachers were initially told that we would be teaching on a cart, moving from room to room. I proposed that I could teach in the cafeteria since students were eating in their rooms. This would provide ample space for students to spread out. Administration approved the idea and I began preparing the space for music.
Teaching With a Mask
Teaching with a mask is very difficult. I found myself out of breath many times and had to slow down. While it was not required of staff to wear a mask, I felt that it was important for me since I teach all of the students in the school. If you teach with a mask, I highly suggest that you use a wireless headset microphone. The mask muffles your sound and it is very easy to lose your voice when trying to speak louder because of the mask. I went outside multiple times a day and took off my mask in order to get some fresh air.
Our school installed hand sanitizer dispensers in every room of the school. I required students to use hand sanitizer when entering and exiting the cafeteria. I used disinfectant wipes on instruments in between every class.
Since we could not sing, I found instruments to be an important part of instruction. I chose instruments that were easy to disinfect (boomwhackers, castanets, rhythm sticks, egg shakers, tubanos). Students did not share instruments, and when they were collected, instruments were placed in a separate bucket to be sanitized after class. I divided a table in half in order to have sanitized instruments on one side and unsanitized instruments on the other. Some communities may differ on the issue of using instruments; each community will have to decide for themselves.
What Did I Teach?
Since there could be no singing involved, I had to focus on a variety of activities. Here are some of the activities we did during the two weeks of instruction:
Freeze Dance- To start off, I played freeze dance so students could get accustomed to the new space, practice social distancing, and get out of their shell. Remember, many students had not had much social interaction for a while, so some needed extra time to feel safe and express themselves.
Music Books- Reading music books to K-2nd graders was a great way to add music to the classroom and promote literacy.
Poison Pattern- We reviewed note names and duration by playing poison pattern. The students love this game and it is an easy way to review concepts after an extended time away from school.
Boomwhackers- I used a lot of boomwhackers because they are easy to clean and I found they seem to relieve students’ anxiety. Hitting things always helps me with my stress level, anyway!
Drum Circle- For older students we focused on African drum circles. I used the book “World Music Drumming” by Will Schmid for most of my instruction. I find that drumming can have a calming effect on students and help them focus. This helped slow their heart rate, and many students expressed that they felt more at ease after the activity.
Sidewalk Chalk- On good days we would go outside and draw with sidewalk chalk. I used this time to review music notes and have students improvise and read each other’s rhythms. Students were given only one piece of chalk to use and then they sanitized their hands afterwards, since it is hard to sanitize chalk.
Music Form- Students would listen to a song and figure out the form. Then we would create motions for each section and spread out around the room in order to act out the form of the song. This can be done with virtually any type of music.
Chromebooks- While Chromebooks may be used in the fall for some composing, I felt like it was important for the students to be very active in their music making since they had just finished two months of online learning.
Thank you for letting me share my experience with you. I hope this helps provide some ideas you can take with you to your classroom in the fall. It is very unlikely that all of the ideas expressed above will work for your school, but I hope some will. Remember to be patient with those that disagree with you and take time to cool down before expressing your opinions if you think it is important to address them. I had to remind myself daily of this concept. We will get through this and we will make music again! Music will help get our students through this pandemic, and we can be some of the light in the darkness.
Need more lesson ideas for your classroom? Check out the links below: