Learning through Lockdown

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With schools in England set to fully reopen in less than a week, Kerry Watson, Manager of Luton Music Service, reflects on what she and her team have learned in the process of providing online music tuition throughout three national lockdowns.


If anyone had told me, this time last year, that we would be in our third lockdown by January 2021 and that all of our whole class lessons would have to be delivered by video, I would have said that it was not possible.  In fact, on January 5th of this year, we still didn’t know if it was possible, but this is what was demanded of us by our schools.  So we rose to the challenge and on Sunday 9th January we sent 46 videos out to our schools, for 349 classes, reaching 10,470 children.  This was one week’s worth of music lessons, and we have continued to supply this number of videos, every week throughout the third national lockdown. 

How would we be able to deliver WCET lessons without instruments?  One of our percussion teachers, Billy, sums up the fear at first learning that we would have to make the lessons work at home and his creative process which will ultimately lead to a whole-town performance at the end of lockdown:

My very first thoughts when it became clear I would be delivering my whole class music lessons from home, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, were mostly worries. “How on earth would this work?”… “None of the resources I’ve spent years honing are going to be any use!”… Panic ensued briefly, but like most things, it was really only a matter of getting started.  How to get started though? For me, teaching whole class instrumental lessons is always about finding the right material, and this new challenge struck me as no different in that respect. Luckily I already had a junk percussion project that I had done in schools, which seemed a good option for remote learning. There was almost infinite flexibility of instrumentation, with lots of avenues to explore in the lesson videos each week – instrument construction, the wealth of existing junk/recycled percussion performances, timbre, beat boxing, body percussion etc. This should allow most students to engage fully, even if they were receiving a minimal amount of adult support.

One of our other percussion teachers, Adam, took a similar approach to Billy and composed a whole piece called DIY Drum Kit which incorporated reading, part playing and improvisation, all using plastic cups, bowls, saucepans and boxes.  But Adam also teaches WCET ukulele, which he said presented a more serious issue:

I’ve always encouraged ukulele pupils who want to buy their own ukulele, but at the same time I’m aware of the difficulties many families face that means a ukulele isn’t high on their list of priorities. As a result, around a fifth of my whole class ukulele students have their own ukulele at home. I wanted to encourage them to keep playing whilst also keeping all of the other pupils engaged. At this point a music teacher Facebook group came to the rescue suggesting a whole host of online tools that pupils could access. Chrome Music Lab was by far the most useful. It has tools that allowed me to explore ideas of major and minor as well as arpeggios and broken chords, a short optional tie in activity on the ukulele allowed me to keep those pupils engaged at the same time.

For many of our staff, acquiring the technical skills required to produce high quality videos was the main concern.  On Tuesday 5th January, we held a Zoom staff meeting and everybody shared their knowledge of online resources, including Chrome Music and Blob Opera. As well as acquiring a big bank of ideas, we paired up the less tech-savvy staff with those who were already confident with iMovie and Video Editor, and over the next few weeks, they helped each other to improve the quality and professionalism of the videos.

One of our KS1 teachers, Jo, explains how she felt when faced with the task of making three whole class lessons and two singing assembly videos a week:

Teaching via technology has certainly been a huge learning curve for me. Everything had to be prepared before the big take (it was  much like going on stage for a show), the props, lights, music set up, dog and children out of the room and the bird covered up to stop the squawking. Since then I have discovered Video editor, it is a marvel! It means I can do small video clips and slides! It was not until a few weeks in, that I explored the app and realised I could trim, add text to videos, add music...the world was my oyster! The idea of recording a lesson in January was horrific to me, I had no idea what to do or how to record it. Now, 7 weeks later, I can honestly say I enjoy the process!

We have had wonderful feedback from our schools, and have retained a strong connection with them throughout this lockdown; important for us as we approach a new round of SLAs. When schools return on 8th March, we are ready to return to face-to-face teaching, knowing that the children’s learning hasn’t been interrupted, and that the high quality of teaching and learning has been maintained.

 

Kerry Watson
Luton Music Service
February 2021

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