Westview Secondary music director Linda Jensen has a flute in her hand, and her MacBook is propped up on a trumpet case as she conducts a Zoom session from her dining room with her Beginning Band 6/7 class.
“It did my heart good to be able to connect, talk, and answer questions today with my band students,” she says.
Since the suspension of in-class instruction, Jensen has embraced new technology and come up with creative online exercises to keep her choir, band and jazz band students engaged with distance learning.
In late March, Jensen sent students an online survey asking them how they would like to continue learning to play/sing. “Overwhelmingly, they wanted to continue with learning the songs we would have for term three, had we been in the classroom,” she explains.
So, Jensen started by setting up a website where she could set up weekly notes to the students and lessons to keep them engaged. “I create video recordings of myself singing or playing their parts for designated sections of the pieces we are currently working on.”
To do that, she has set up a virtual recording studio in her dining room where she has all her instruments – piano, flute, clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, trombone and improvised percussion as well as a microphone and recording equipment to connect to her laptop. “I alternate between a playing/singing lesson and a listening activity.”
She is also Zooming with her Beginning Band 6/7 class once a week to help those students individually because they are new to their instruments and require real-time feedback.
For choir, she has posted the recordings of the three songs they are working on and then she posts a video of herself going through the two or three parts, along with publishing warmup activities.
“I also have recordings up for all the band classes to listen to and play along with,” she says, noting that she requests students to submit a 30-second recording of their progress by email.
Recently, she gave students a listening exercise where they were to try and find two songs that were similar to each other, such as David Bowie’s Life On Mars? and Shiny from Moana.
“I had some amazing results with that one.”
Another recent assignment was to listen to a virtual concert and answer 10 feedback questions. “I got this idea from Tim Burns at THSS,” she says.
Jensen is also playing her instruments most nights at 7 pm – either solo or with her 19-year-old son – as a salute to health-care workers.
Jensen finds that social media helps to keep students engaged. One week, she ran a series of photos featuring odd instruments and asked them to guess the names. She also posts tidbits of instrument knowledge, music cartoons and more.
“I am trying to keep the students enthusiastic about learning music, having them continue to play or sing and learn something along the way,” she says.
“I miss being in the classroom in a big way. I have always loved teaching through music, and this is a challenge for me right now, and I am sure for my students. Some of the students have sent me notes telling me they feel a sense of comfort in seeing me on the website and engaging in our lessons. Music helps us.”
— WSS Music (@WSSMusic1180) May 8, 2020