Whether you are a general music instruction teacher or specialize in a particular instrument, chances are good that you’ve had to get familiar with what it means to provide distance education.
That’s not easy, particularly if you are accustomed to and enjoy individual, one-on-one interaction with your students. This new format also is unfamiliar to your students, and this may lead to feelings of disconnection and disengagement.
The good news is that many music and instrument teachers have been using technology to conduct distance learning to great effect for many years. Now, you have an opportunity to benefit from their experience and insight.
Distance education can be fun, flexible and just as effective as in-person instruction. However, it is helpful to have some tried-and-true tips at your disposal to ensure your success and that of your students.
Let’s take a look at some of the top distance learning tips for teachers.
1. Know Your Technology
You have choices when it comes to presenting lessons to students. If you’re employed by a school district, then you already may be aware that your school has an approved online platform. This platform should be ready-made for you to post lessons to your students while also providing places for you to interact with your students individually and as groups.
If you are an independent music instructor, then you have many choices for reaching out to students. Many teachers are relying on Zoom, Skype and FaceTime, but other options are available.
Regardless of whether you’re using a platform that’s provided by your school or the virtual meeting platform of your choice, it’s wise to understand the technology before you start using it. That means thoroughly exploring the platform and everything that it offers so that you can coach your students to do the same. The more you understand about online learning technology, the more you can harness it to build success.
2. Make Sure Your Devices Are up to the Task
All online learning environments have certain technical requirements to ensure that their software performs as it is supposed to. Accordingly, before you sign up for a platform, it’s helpful to ensure that your computer, mobile device, camera and Internet connection are all up to the required specifications.
If they are not, then you may need to look for a different host or find a way to upgrade your equipment.
3. Make Careful Lesson Plans and Have Alternatives Available
It goes without saying that music instructors approach each in-person session only after completing full lesson plans. It’s smart to do the same when you’re teaching in a distance learning environment.
Given the unfamiliar format, it pays to be prepared. The more familiar you are with the lesson you’ll be presenting, the more smoothly things are likely to go.
Of course, it pays to have some alternatives at hand if things don’t go as planned. If your student is bored, frustrated or impatient, consider switching gears to another exercise, game or activity.
4. Consider Lag Time
Accordingly, you’ll want to have your lesson plan at your fingertips as well as one or two alternatives for each lesson. This will save time and confusion.
Lag time simply is a reality of the online learning environment. There will always be a slight delay in the conversation that wouldn’t be there in person. This lag time also affects any music that is played during the lesson.
It’s because of lag time that it can be difficult for students and teachers to play together during online lessons. The best solution for this is to mute the student’s microphone. You won’t be able to hear what they are playing, but they can hear you. This means that they are able to benefit from your demonstration, and you won’t be bothered by hearing the lag time in their playing.
It’s also worth considering how lag time can affect conversation. It’s important to speak slowly and clearly to avoid interrupting your student, and it’s smart to counsel them to do the same. Lag time can make for hectic and confusing back-and-forth conversations if speech isn’t relatively slow and deliberate.
5. Set up a Designated Spot
When you’re teaching online, it’s vital for your students to be able to clearly see you and your hands. This means that you need a spot that’s well lit without being too bright and isn’t too shadowy.
Experimentation to find just the right spot and the right lighting may be essential before teaching your first lesson. This ensures that your students have a clear view of you.
Before the first online lesson, ask your students to also find a spot in their home that has good lighting so that you can see them as well. This will vastly improve not only conversation but also the lesson itself.
6. Keep the Lines of Communication Open
When you don’t have an opportunity for in-person interaction with your students, alternative means of communication become more critical than ever. Ensure that you have up-to-date contact information for all of your students including mailing address, phone number and email address. Additionally, make certain that you have this data for your student’s parents. This means that you’ll be able to reach someone when you need to.
After each lesson, consider following up with your student via email. The email could contain things like:
-A summary of the subjects covered in the most recent lesson
-A detailed list of the things that the student is supposed to be working on before their next session
-Reminders concerning upcoming events
-A progress report on long-term goals
It may make sense to copy the parents on this email so that they can work in concert with their child and be kept informed of everything that’s going on.
7. Consider Establishing a Virtual Café or Blog
If you want to create an easy, low-maintenance place where you and your students can interact, then consider creating a blog or an online bulletin board. You can make it a closed group so that only you, your students and their parents have access and can make comments.
A blog or online bulletin board provide you and your students with additional opportunities to connect, interact, ask questions and generally maintain relationships. This can be quite informal and support the lessons you’re teaching while also giving everyone some much-needed human communication.
8. Consider Using a Video Exchange
If you and a student are having a hard time connecting via Skype or Zoom, then try an easy alternative. Film a short video lesson for your student using the platform and technology of your choice.
Next, your student watches the video and records himself playing the exercises. This clearly is not the most efficient teaching method, but it can be effective, and it’s a crucial alternative when there are time zone differences or when you and your student just don’t have compatible technology.
9. Think About Upgrading Your Gear
If it looks like you’re going to be distance teaching for quite some time, and this seems likely right now, then it may make sense to get better quality equipment. This mainly refers to your camera and your microphone.
Most relatively modern laptops have a camera and microphone, but these aren’t particularly high-quality devices. This means that you may want to consider upgrading to a separate camera and a better microphone to ensure the quality of your lessons. A gear upgrade for your students also may be necessary if it is especially difficult to hear or see them.
Some of the best microphones include:
10. Practice Patience
This online learning landscape is new for many of us. Try to practice more patience than usual, and encourage your students to do the same.
Look to Prodigies Music for Solutions
Whether you are a professional music teacher or a parent who is offering music instruction to your children, it just makes sense to use all of the available resources at your disposal.
For many parents and teachers, that means making use of the fun and interactive lessons that are available from Prodigies Music.
Use our lessons to provide your kids with a comprehensive musical foundation or as a supplement to their current music instruction. Either way, you and your students will be delighted with our creative and thought-provoking lessons that are designed to foster a lifelong love of music in everyone.