Posts Tagged ‘general music class’

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Tracy’s COVID Teaching Story +

June 24, 2020

Music teacher extraordinaire

Tracy Williamson

My musical career started in 4th grade when I picked up the flute in the beginning band at Metcalf Middle School in Exeter-West Greenwich, RI. My middle school music teacher, Joe Smith, was an inspiration to me and all my classmates. He was quirky, fun, and taught us interesting and different music.  It was truly an amazing middle school music experience. I would definitely say that he inspired me to be the kind of teacher I am today. 

I went to Boston University for my Bachelors degree in Flute Performance and to Boston Conservatory after that for my Masters degree in Flute Performance and Music Education. I then moved up to Maine and finished my certification requirements through USM while playing in the Southern Maine Community Orchestra and continuing to seek out performance opportunities in the area.

My first teaching job was at Marion T. Morse Elementary School in Lisbon Falls teaching K-5 General Music and beginning band. I was hired at Gorham Middle School (GMS) in 2003 when the school was built and I was tasked with developing a brand new middle school music program that had not previously existed. Currently I teach General Music to all 6th & 7th grade students, Chorus for middle school and Steel Band to middle and high school students. My amazing colleague, Rose Skillling, also teaches GMS General Music as well as the Band and Jazz Band program.

I have always been a huge proponent of educational technology and the positive impact it can have on music education particularly in schedules where we see students so infrequently. dHaving Apple devices, a large portion of my curriculum has been based in Garage Band for many years. So when our technology director announced that the entire 6th grade would be moving to Chromebooks a few years ago I had a panic attack thinking I was going to completely lose the amazing possibilities I had opened up for the students. I did some research and I found a couple of apps that would work on the Chromebooks in a similar way and thankfully administration was super supportive and on board with purchasing Soundtrap and WeVideo for every student in the 6th grade.  Unbeknownst to me, this was about to open up a whole new avenue of connections across the world for me and the students.

At the time, Soundtrap, a small company based in Sweden, was still only a few years old and not that well known. But there happened to be a Maine educator who had connected with them and taken a position as an educational consultant. I quickly connected with her, and we teamed up to present Soundtrap at the student MLTI conference the same year I introduced the software to my curriculum. From there, the opportunities for sharing student work, lessons, ideas, connecting with music educators, blog posts, and articles just kept coming. Soundtrap has since been acquired by Spotify and is being widely used by educators and musicians. In January of 2020, through Soundtrap, I connected with the Society for Online Music Education and was invited to direct a Virtual Choir project for the International Music Education Summit to be premiered in mid-March. There were a couple of other Virtual Choir projects out there that I knew about but this was to be a new vision, one that included collaboration amongst participants, making Soundtrap the ideal software to use. We had a handful of teachers signed up for the pilot project. Things were going calmly and smoothly, and then COVID-19 hit us.

With the swift move to on-line learning, every music educator in the world immediately started to seek out virtual ensembles for students to participate in. Our project was quickly populated with hundreds of teachers and students and my director position got a lot more complicated! I asked two Maine colleagues, Rachel Scala-Bolduc and Patrick Volker, to help create vocal practice tracks to support the diverse group of new participants. Another music educator who teaches full-time at a virtual school suggested I try a Zoom rehearsal for participants to help them learn the parts. She hosted a how-to-run-a-virtual-rehearsal webinar that I participated in which ended up being an invaluable resource. The edit of the recordings took many, many hours of organizing, communicating, editing, and figuring out how to make the best quality audio. At one point I was playing the tracks for my husband and he suggested just dipping the volume at a certain point and it made a huge difference! During another moment of frustration, I listened to one of Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choirs to get some inspiration and realized that reverb was a key component to blending the voices that I had yet to try. I am so thankful for this learning opportunity because it gave me a head start for what was to come with the extension of distance learning to the end of the year.

As soon as our school announced the closure in March, I set up Zoom virtual rehearsals with the Chorus classes right away. We continued rehearsing just the same as we had in school. The only difference being, I couldn’t hear them as a group and they couldn’t hear each other. We experimented together, recorded during Zooms, recorded after Zooms, talked about other apps that might accommodate multiple singers, but we just kept on our path of our end-of-year performance goals and figured out everything together along the way. The students continued learning music we had started in school and also learned new music purely through our virtual rehearsals. In the end, they have recorded six pieces of music during our time home due to COVID-19, all of which I am turning into virtual choir videos to serve as our “spring performance”. While this is certainly not an ideal scenario for ensembles to rehearse, it is temporary and it can be successful!  

Unfortunately, because the steel pans are housed at school, and the steel band program is extracurricular, that is now in a bit of a holding pattern until we know the future of getting back into the school this Fall.  I have been researching apps that could provide some type of virtual pan experience to get the students by in the meantime and I have been in communication with our facilities department about potentially holding outdoor  parking lot rehearsals for steel band next year.

General Music Class was another whole challenge when we moved to distance learning! At GMS, students have 7-9 week rotations of Allied Arts. Both the 6th & 7th Grade Music Classes were about halfway through the rotation when we moved to online classes so we had established relationships and structures ahead of time. However, the student rotation change to a new Allied Arts class was scheduled for right after April break. This meant students and teachers connecting with and getting to know each other for the first time in a new content area, virtually.  As an Allied Arts team we worked together to help our current classes connect with the next teacher through Google Classroom. In Music Class, we introduced a Tabata composition project that combined physical activity and Music to help make the Music to PE transition smoother. The last rotation has been a challenge. It has been difficult to connect with kids with the asynchronous model that our district adopted due to many class meetings happening simultaneously. I have learned a lot about what I need to change in order to effectively teach new music concepts to individuals in an online format as opposed to a full group in person where we utilize a lot of repetition and group collaboration to help support learning. Although there are plenty of other variables in a new grouping of students, there was a marked difference in the performance of the General Music students who started before distance learning and those who started purely in the online format. This summer, my colleague and I plan to meet to talk about some of these challenges and make plans for how we can better teach General Music class should we remain in distance learning this Fall.

There have been a lot of worries circulating amongst Music teachers with research studies outlining the risks of the high transmission rate of COVID-19 through singing and instrument playing in conjunction with news of music educators being laid off in districts around the country.  The best thing we can do right now is to show our communities and administrators that, despite temporary limitations, music can and should still continue in our schools regardless of whether we are in the building or learning remotely. Think of solutions that will work and suggest them to colleagues and administrators before something is suggested for you! That also requires creativity, experimenting and out of the box thinking from all music educators. During the last few months, I had an overall participation rate of about 80% in my chorus students with a couple of overwhelmed students asking to drop and a couple of students asking to join because their schedule was suddenly free to do so. I had students completing Music Class work first thing in the morning saying they liked to do “the fun stuff” first. I had parents emailing about how much fun they had helping their child compose music or how amazing it was to hear the final virtual choir recording after hearing their child singing their part alone at home. The more success stories we share, the more everyone will continue to see the value in continued music and arts education whether we are teaching in the comfort of our classrooms or through the virtual world.  

Here are the various end-products I’ve worked on with the GMS Virtual Chorus:

“I See Colors” – May 2020

Audio recorded in Soundtrap, edited in Garage Band, video collected in Flipgrid, edited in iMovie, collage and effects in WeVideo:

 

“Home” – April 2020

Audio recorded in Soundtrap, edited in Garage Band, slideshow videos of staff messages collected in Flipgrid, compiled in iMovie:

 

“Between the Bells” – March 2020

Audio recorded in Soundtrap, edited in Garage Band, stock images from pexels.com, lyrics added in Adobe After Effects:

 

“The Tiger” – May 2020

Audio recorded in Soundtrap, edited in Garage Band, video recorded in a Zoom session, compiled and lyrics & effects added in WeVideo:

 

“The Never Ending Story” – June 2020

Audio recorded in Soundtrap, edited in Garage Band, pictures from the Gorham MIddle School Facebook page, compiled in iMovie:

 

6th Grade General Music:

“Tabata Soundtrack Project”  

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