We had one year end abruptly followed by another year of complete turmoil. What will this school year bring us?
Nobody knows how this school year is going to pan out. In fact, every part of this country along with the rest of the world may be facing different challenges at different times of this school year.
While we don’t know what to expect, we’ve had the experience of the past two years to become mentally prepared and physically equipped for just about any circumstance that comes our way.
Here are 10 Choral Teaching Tips for Navigating Another Unpredictable School Year:
1. Use Google Classroom (not your physical classroom) as your choir’s home base
Google classroom is a great way for students to receive all pertinent choir information. It can house all documents, schedules, and reminders. Instead of putting announcement on the bulletin board or smart board and/or handing our paperwork, we can train our students to receive their information through google classroom. In fact, this approach will limit the amount of class time spent on announcements. A daily announcement on the stream will be a great way to provide a consistent way for students to know what is going on in your choral program.
2. Make your choir guidelines adaptable
On a typical year, I recommend setting 5 Guidelines that are reinforced to establish a positive and constructive learning environment. In this case, between social distancing, masks, changing locations, outdoor rehearsals, and virtual settings, the guidelines may need to be more malleable. I suggest having a live document, accessible in Google Classroom, that can change depending on circumstances. An example would be:
- Please follow directions the first time they are given
- Please be on time and prepared when class begins (whether in person or virtual)
- Please keep all non choir-related material away
- Please keep your camera on for the entire class period with your entire face visible
- Please remain muted and press the “raise hand” button when you wish to speak
- Please raise your hand and wait to be acknowledged when you wish to speak
- Please keep your hands and feet to yourself and remain fully masked at all times
3. Make your Choir Handbook a live, working document
Just as guidelines will change for different environmental situations, expectations, procedures, dates, and grading requirements may change as well. If the choir handbook is accessible as a live google document, students and parents will always be able to access the latest information. A simple mention about the changes in the streamed daily announcement about the change in the handbook/policy change will allow for fluidity.
4. Digitize all physical choral repertoire for the year
Last year my choir did not use physical sheet music; instead we put all music in google classroom. All students were given the sheet music as an assignment, therefore they each had their own individual digital copy that I, as the teacher, had access to. This meant, I was able to see their individual markings. This year, I plan to give students physical copies of music (I much prefer real sheet music). While my goal is to use physical music whenever possible, digital copies are great for virtual situations, days when students are unprepared, or a quick, last minute distribution of music. The digital copies become the easiest point of access whenever unforeseen circumstances arise.
5. Utilize Flipgrid as part of your program
Flipgrid is a free platform that allows us to assign our students videos to record. When students are virtual, while remaining muted, they can use Flipgrid to record and submit their daily rehearsal participation. Flipgrid can effectively be used from home in conjunction with other technology, as listed next.
6. Use Sight Reading Factory in class in school and at home
Sight Reading Factory is the best digital sight-reading tool for rehearsal use, but it is also amazing for home use. During in-person rehearsals, you can set saved parameters and with one click, share several customized sight-singing examples in a row daily. This requires absolutely no preparation, will become habit, and can take up only two minutes of rehearsal time. When virtual, you can share your screen and do the same thing. In fact, with just the teacher subscription (just over $30 using code: choralclarity), you could use Flipgrid, and have students sing the assignment while remaining on mute. An even better approach is getting student subscriptions for just a few dollars per student and giving them weekly assignments or in-class assignments when virtual. The use of Sight Reading Factory will allow flexibility and adaptability to changing environments. I recommend Chris Munce’s approach for how to grade weekly assignments.
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7. Incorporate Rhythm Randomizer into your curriculum
Rhythm randomizer is a free website that allows students to practice rhythm. Similar to Sight Reading Factory, it’s really easy to use. This is something you can use daily in class, and in a virtual situation as you can put it on your shared screen and have students submit a Flipgrid performance.
8. Integrate Choral Rehearsal Tracks into your curriculum
Choral Rehearsal Tracks can be really useful if used properly. There is no substitute for music literacy and sight-singing, but not all music should be learned through sight-reading. There are so many different approaches to learning, practicing, and absorbing music. Depending on the quality of the choral rehearsal tracks you use, they can teach students how to sing with shape and musicality, reinforce part independence, and be a valuable way to practice at home or in a student-led sectional. They can also be used as the foundation for creating a virtual recording. Students can also listen to choral rehearsal tracks with earbuds while recording themselves singing on Flipgrid. This is a great tool for assessing how well students can sing their part.
I believe the best quality choral rehearsal tracks are produced by Kinnison Choral Co. because they have most authentic sound, the highest quality production, and the most options for singers to learn. For example, for every song, they provide an amazing demo, all individual vocal parts (sounding like a full section), a specific vocal part in one ear while all other parts are panned into the other ear, and one specific part missing in order to teach singers to hold their part against the rest of the choir. Choral Clarity has partnered with Kinnison Choral Co., and from this part moving forward, Kinnison Choral Co. will be creating all choral rehearsal tracks for our choral compositions. Here’s the demo recording of one of my compositions, Peace, where they created the demo and choral rehearsal tracks:
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9. Consider Using Repertoire from Publishers and Self-Publishers Composers who have flexible licensing policies
In this day and age where you would think everyone would be understanding, you can hear horror stories of major companies who will charge thousands of dollars to educational ensembles for a virtual video or a free live-streamed performance. I recommend using self-published composers such as Elaine Hagenberg, Jake Runestad, and Chris Maunu, who will likely be understanding and helpful when it comes to varying performance rights. I also recommend Graphite Publishing (10% discount with code: ChoralClarity21) for their great music and their ease of usage rights. All Choral Clarity music on this website gives you full license to perform any way you wish.
10. Focus on the Daily Experience over Performance
This is a philosophy I have used for the past 20 years, but it’s one that is especially useful during a time of uncertainty. With declined enrollment and performances that may or may not happen, it’s so important that we focus on growth; every student in front of us is one we can inspire. Performances are incredibly valuable, but they are not more valuable than the day-to-day choral experience. The experience we provide can be one of community building, music literacy, vocal growth, and cultural discovery.
I wish everyone a wonderful school year!