Conversations with an Elementary Music Teacher
Part 3: Lessons Learned from Remote Learning
This blog is the third installment of a recorded interview between Gregg Ritchie, Curriculum Specialist at McGraw Hill, and Kelly Lynch, an elementary school music teacher in Texas. You can find Part 1 of the interview here, and Part 2 of the interview here.
In this installment, Gregg and Kelly conclude the conversation by reflecting on teaching music to elementary students remotely and discuss lessons learned from remote learning about technology and classroom management.
Gregg: Looking back to remote learning, were there any specific things you adapted to allow for remote learning, to still promote camaraderie, the making of music together, but without the luxury of being in a circle or doing a dance, or using manipulatives?
Kelly: We adapted some games where normally you would hold hands, obviously now we’re not holding hands anymore. For a dance, rather than doing the dance, we might now show the form of the song with tennis balls — the kids are still having fun, and eventually we can get back to like what we used to do, but also, they’re having a lot of fun with the tennis balls.
When I saw them last year and I was teaching on a cart I would see them for a week at a time, so each child got their own bag of music stuff, they would use it for the week and then I would put it away. I was fortunate that I only had about two classes per grade level, so I could make like a class set, then I would put it away for a week, clean it, bring it out the following week.
We were doing things on Chromebooks, and we often used Google Classroom and Google Slides. I’ve brought some of that technology over for in-person teaching this year. In a proper and natural music lesson, there’s often this flow that happens, where the kids don’t really know what’s coming next, one thing simply transitions into the next. But now, back in the classroom, I found that kids miss not knowing what’s coming next.
Through the computer, they would see everything in the slide show that I used to put on the white board that had been in front of them. They could look ahead, and they enjoyed seeing what’s next. We might have focused on a particular rhythm to then transition into a song, and they would know what that next song is in advance.
Now, being in-person and not using Google Slides as much, I have a written schedule, showing the new song when appropriate, because the kids liked seeing the entire lesson, learning with the next step, or end, in mind.
Some teachers might be annoyed by that, or they would want to block it from the kids seeing a schedule. But my kids might know we’re going to sing and play “Naughty Kitty Cat” because they can see the cat manipulative on the next slide. And I’m like “yeah, so let’s keep doing what we’re doing and then we’ll get to that!”
Gregg: That’s amazing!
Kelly: This was all a learning curve for me. Also, when I was teaching and trying to push other stuff out to share with them, I also did it in Google Slides, with a lot of like videos of me teaching whatever I was teaching at that time. I still push everything out to Google classroom that I would have last year.
Gregg: Do they bring a Chromebook with them to class now?
Kelly: They have the option to, and currently, I only have my fifth graders bring them because I’m trying to get us back to what we knew as “normal.” They’re on Chromebooks all day long. Children need to function better physically next to each other, and learn how to interact, as that’s something we’re seeing is lacking. Many altercations between kids are now coming to physical blows, so the music room is a great place to learn how to function with each other and learn how to be social. Maybe this is because they were at home for so long, or simply all that emotional trauma that they’ve been through.
Gregg: What is it about the music room that makes it a good space for them to come?
Kelly: One thing is sitting in a circle; many are never in a circle anywhere else. When you’re in a circle, you have to make eye contact with people. We do things where you have to find a partner or walk in a circle. Like, you’re dancing in a circle, but you’re really close to other people, or you’re playing a hand-clapping game, and you have to touch someone else! A lot of them are like “I have to touch someone else?!”
Gregg: And they’ve often never done this before, even in other areas of their life.
Kelly: Yeah, so that’s why I think it’s important to keep doing what we were doing before the restrictions that came with the pandemic, and that we don’t rely too heavily on technology. We’re not having them sit there on their Chromebooks because they do that everywhere else.
Gregg: Is there anything that you wish would be done differently given the realities of the pandemic that would keep you from having that feeling of burnout?
Kelly: I think a lot of it was inevitable, however I think listening to teachers and not adding extra things on teachers is important. I believe a lot of people are hearing that now. I think the more teachers talk about what they need, and not just “oh, I have to do this because my principal says I do,” the better things will get. A lot of teachers on social media are saying we shouldn’t be asked to do this or that anymore, and that’s true. Schools — teachers and students — need more support with student behavior and in the classroom. Our campus alone could benefit from a full-time counselor.
We have a social emotional learning coordinator, and she finally got a Teacher’s Assistant this year. This is what I’m talking about, people advocating for themselves and asking for help. Hopefully things will get better, and I do look for the positive angle… I think for me, one way is that I can still train future teachers and they’re still finding joy. So, I feel like that was that was a positive for me in this whole pandemic, that there is still hope for music educators even if I’m going to take a break from it.
Gregg: Kelly, thank you so much for taking the time to share these reflections. I’m certain many who read and listen to what you’re saying will be able to relate… this resonates with other teachers. But also, for those of not in the classroom right now, we thank you for giving us a little window into your world and teaching life right now!
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