With many students spending the majority of their day online for school, it is important to not neglect their mental health and how they are feeling emotionally. One of the great things about the marching arts, and even music education in general is the opportunity for students to connect and socialize with each other. Unfortunately, we end up losing this with a fully online curriculum. Students lose out on the opportunity to talk with each other in between class periods, during lunch or after rehearsal. Gone are the quick chats during water breaks out on the field, while moving equipment back to the band room, and on the way to competitions. It is important to be able to give this time back.
Keeping Things Social Virtually
Your students have probably had enough lectures on Zoom. Online class meetings tend to be one-way, where the instructor or teacher just talks to the students and dumps information the whole time. This is probably not the reason your students signed up to do band, color guard, percussion, or orchestra. They joined because they wanted to make music and interact with other people who want to do the same thing. Unfortunately, due to the limitations of video meetings, it is not possible to play instruments with each other through the internet. However, it is still possible to maintain the social aspect online.
Encouraging discussion in online video meetings is not easy. You will need to thoroughly prepare yourself for what discussions you have in your video meetings. There are some key questions that you should ask yourself when coming up with discussions, such as “what will the students gain from the discussion?” and “how will you facilitate the discussion?” It will be awkward at first. People will be shy to speak out since they are not used to it. It is important for the instructor to develop and encourage discussion. You will have to try really hard to bring some conversation out of everyone. It is important to make the discussions unique. Five New Twists for Online Discussions provides some new ideas, such as having your students debate or have them role-play. Discussions do not always have to be about the lesson you are trying to teach.
Taking a couple minutes out of your lesson plan to just check up on everyone will be beneficial and keep your Zoom meeting interesting. Attention spans of younger people are already short and staring at a computer screen all day makes it even shorter. Breaking up your lesson plan into 15-minute bite-sized chunks will add variety and keep things fresh. No one wants to sit through a whole lesson for one hour straight. Make one of those chunks a time to chat with each other.
Tools to Use in Zoom
Keep your Zoom session interactive. Encourage your students to use reactions. Reactions will allow your students to give a response to what you are saying without actually having to say anything through applause or laughing emojis that will show next to their camera. Additionally, you can gain more ways for students to give interactions by enabling nonverbal feedback. This allows students to “raise their hand” if they would like to say something or give you an indication to go faster or go slower.
Another way to get feedback from your students is to use polls. You can ask your students questions and see what their answers are. Utilize their answers to start a discussion. Ask them why they chose their specific answer. Having them explain their answer can kick off a discussion between students.
If your Zoom meeting has too many students in it to make an open conversation, break it up into breakout rooms. Give everyone a chance to talk about what they want to talk about. Make sure that every student is engaged and try to give every single one of them the time that they have lost to talk with their peers. It is easier to manage smaller groups of students, and it prevents an individual from hiding away and not talking at all.
Remembering the Human
Everyone is handling the pandemic differently, and many are longing for everything to return back to "normal." It is important to remember that there are actual people behind their computers and cameras and each single one of them have their own thoughts. Bringing back the small conversations will give some sense of normality. This new format of online learning and teaching is a difficult journey. It is our job as teachers, instructors, or coaches to make the best of it.