If you have students who are hybrid or remote, it is likely that Google Classroom has become your new classroom. This is likely where assignments are posted and work is collected.
There are some real benefits to making Google your choral classroom. I would like to share the unique things that can be done within the Google Classroom to speed up efficiency and possibly improve your program. Within my 7 choir hacks, I will share tips for aural training, sight-singing, distributing sheet music, marking up sheet music, taking attendance, and engaging in class discussion.
Here are my 7 Choir Hacks for Google Classroom:
Hack #1: Distribute all Sheet Music as an ASSIGNMENT
This year I have decided to be completely paperless. This allows simplicity for in-class, remote, and hybrid students. Posting sheet music as a PDF wastes no class time, sheet music is never lost, and there are no germs to be spread. HOW we post the sheet music within the classroom makes a huge difference in it’s effectiveness.
At first, I posted all sheet music as MATERIAL but with the help of my students, learned that creating an ASSIGNMENT for each sheet music is a way more effective approach.
When you create an ASSIGNMENT for each piece of sheet music, it makes an individual copy for each student that is stored in Google. This means, the students do not need to download the sheet music onto their device; instead they just need to go to Google Classroom and click on the assignment (sheet music) and their individualized copy will pull up.
Since each singer has their own individual copies, they can mark it up. On a chromebook, most students will use Kami, but there are other annotation apps for the chromebook or ipads they can use. Google Classroom automatically connects to Kami on a chromebook, which makes annotating simple.
Here’s the best part
By creating a separate assignment for each choir score, each student’s individually marked-up music is fully accessible to us at all times. This means, we can always see their personal score. We can check to see what markings they have made and continually assess their progress in developing this skill.
Compare this same task to being in a traditional rehearsal and either walking around the room to briefly look at their musical markings or collecting their music to assess how effectively they are marking up their music.
Hack #2: Use Meet to Record important parts of the Rehearsal
If you are using google meet, it could be helpful to record portions of a rehearsal that may be helpful for students to access later. In my choral program, we recently gave a workshop on home recording techniques in preparation for creating a virtual choir. By recording the workshop, students now have the ability to access the information at any point in time, especially just before they are ready to make their home recording. One benefit of this platform is that the video only displays the presenter and/or the person speaking; as a result, students who watch the video at a later time can be fully engaged in just the content. Also, keep in mind the content posted in the classroom is only viewable to members of the class. Any time you record a meet, the video is automatically emailed to you afterwards. It’s quite easy to take that video and post it for your students.
It could also be useful to create a video on google meet when the students aren’t there that can be viewed for homework with a follow-up assignment.
Hack #3: Know When to Share Your Screen vs When To Digitally Share Material
When students are remote there are times when it’s most effective to share your screen and other times it’s significantly better to post material for them to simultaneously access on their own. Any time I choose to share my screen, it’s always by sharing a Chrome Tab. Sharing a chrome tab means we are never sharing our entire screen. This prevents the students from ever seeing something they shouldn’t be seeing on our screen.
When is it a good time to share your screen?
In small groups, I frequently use Sight Reading Factory and give each student one example at a time. As a result, several positive things can occur: I can use my cursor to point things out to them as they are singing while the other students who are muted can either observe the performing student (same as they would in class) or practice the same exercise while muted.
I also share my screen when working on aural training. I post my aural training sheet on the screen and this allows for students to perform individual exercises, one-by-one, or take turns on the same exercise.
When is NOT a good time to share your screen?
When listening to an audio or video recording, I always opt for posting the recording under material and asking students to remain on camera while remaining muted. It is easy to post a YouTube link or audio file for all students to hear.
What I love to do is post a recording and create a 1 question assignment about the music. When I receive responses from all students, I know they have finished listening to the recording and had some time to independently reflect on their experience. Once I’ve received responses from all students, we can begin a discussion on the recording.
Recently I posted a recording of Elaine Hagenberg’s Alleluia, performed by Dr. Andrew Crane’s Bringham Young Singers.
I posted this as a “question” with the YouTube link in the assignment. This is what I asked:
I’m attaching a brand new work/performance, composed by Elaine Hagenberg and sung by the Brigham Young Singers. I’d like you to watch the video while listening and explain what you feel when actively engaged in their performance. The piece is “Alleluia” – the lyrics are posted as they sing.
What did you feel/think of when listening and watching this performance?
This gave the students an opportunity to think and process what they wanted to say. I was able to read each answer as they came in, but instead of reading it to the class, I used their written responses, as they immediately populated, to foster an engaging conversation.
Hack #4: Teach sight-singing to an entire choir over Google Meet
This approach is simple. Put up a sight-singing example by sharing your screen. This will allow you to point to things in the music. For me, I always use Sight Reading Factory because I can set specific and varying parameters each and every day. I can use endless examples, one after another, wasting no time at all.
As my chrome tab is shared, I have also posted a FlipGrid assignment (this can easily be linked to Google Classroom as an assignment). Students can then record themselves singing the shared exercise on FlipGrid while keeping themselves muted on google meet. Our school’s very generic chromebooks are able to simultaneously able to allow them to record a FlipGrid video while remaining on Google Meet.
By sharing your screen and asking them to complete a FlipGrid, you will have your entire class in one minute complete the same assignment and submit it to you. Since you will be hearing the same 8 measure exercise sung over and over again, it will be really easy for you to memorize exactly what it should sound like, which makes it quite simple to give feedback (if this is what you wish to do).
In my program, I frequently opt to use Sight Reading Factory with student accounts. In this case, I assign them an individualized assignment each week, and sometimes one in class as well. If I didn’t have the budget to provide student accounts, I would use my teacher’s account (roughly $35 and 10% off with code: Choral Clarity).
Again, this is a benefit for remote/hybrid learners as there would be no way in class to hear each singer independently.
Hack #5: Maximize at-home student engagement during hybrid rehearsal by minimizing the attention you give to them
Many choral programs, including mine, are using a hybrid schedule where half the singers are in school while the other half are home. Mix in the fully remote students, and it seems difficult to figure out how to engage everyone at once. I have a solution that has been really effective.
1. Spend 90% of your focus and energy on engaging the students who are live
This is super important. There are a few reasons. The first reason is because their sound can be molded. When in-person singers are singing, we can affect change. In this way, the students at home are either active observers or passive participants. We cannot effectively change what they are doing on the spot, so it’s way more important that we focus on what we can affect.
2. Require the students at home to participate fully at home
There are a few things that students at home can do differently. First off, they can sing without a mask. Next, they can practice extra things while our in-person singers are working on unrelated issues (if we are working with the Sopranos in-person, the remote basses can be practicing their part without interrupting us). They can repeat an interval or a phrase over and over again, even if we’ve moved on. It’s up to them to choose how to best engage in our rehearsal from home.
Keep in mind, there are other issues too that they may have to navigate: parents working from home, lack of privacy, etc. There will be times when students cannot sing full volume at home, but there is always a way they can actively engage. I ask my students to do their best to figure out how to engage with the choir.
3. Require your home students to submit a FlipGrid recording of their participation in the daily rehearsal
I require a 5 minute FlipGrid that is recorded during class. At the end of each class, all remote students are expected to submit their “practice session”.
I can also choose to be specific as to when in the period they should begin recording their FlipGrid practice session. This will require them to be engaged throughout the rehearsal and will also allow me to hear how they are doing on a specific aspect of the rehearsal. Perhaps I want to hear how well they know their part to a song we are working on. Maybe I want to hear how well they are vocalizing, or how well they are developing their ear during aural training exercises.
The bottom line is that the in-person students are getting my live attention and while I can’t see their mouths or hear them individually, I can impact change to their sound. I also have the opportunity to see and hear each home student individually. This allows me to assess and give feedback to everything from body alignment, jaw position, tone, etc.
Hack #6: Take Attendance for All Classes, All Year, using 1 Simple Google Form
When students are hybrid, there are lots of complexities; some students are home and some are in school. This makes for lots of confusion when it comes to attendance taking. I’ve found the best approach for quick attendance taking is by creating a simple google form.
Here are the questions I put on the google form:
- Last Name
- First Name
- Class (drop down)
- Remote or In-person (check-off)
This form populates into a time-stamped google sheet where I can sort by last name and see exactly when the students signed-in. I only need to create this form once and link it to the classroom. A great trick to ensure the most accurate attendance is to announce to the students, both home and at school, when you want them to sign the form. Students would have to be present to know when you are asking them to sign in.
Hack #7: Circumvent Google Meet’s Faulty Attendance Record with one simple sheet of paper
Google Meet finally created an automatic attendance-taking feature and managed to screw it up……….but I have a solution.
Google meet now automatically takes attendance and lists the length of time each student remained on the meet. At the end of class, it sends an email with this information. This is a great feature except for one thing: they list the first and last name of each student in one column which only allows alphabetization by first name. In most school management systems (or any system in the entire universe), attendance/gradebooks are alphabetized by last name.
It’s a royal pain to see 60 names alphabetized by first name and then match them with the school attendance system that has 60 names alphabetized by last name. Here’s the solution.
Simply, ONE TIME, on Google Sheets, create a Sheet that lists the first and last names of all remote/hybrid student in two separate columns. Now, alphabetize the google sheet by first name (the most ridiculous thing ever). Lastly print this sheet out and keep it right next to your computer.
After each class, when looking at the google meet attendance, just match it up to your self-created google sheet, and you will instantly see who was absent. Now you can input this into your school management system.
Last words about Google
Google is continually improving their platform. While this is great in theory, each change creates a learning curve on our end. I do, however, believe that education will never go back to the way it was. Yes, one day we will again be face-to-face and unmasked, but we will continue to utilize so much of this new and constantly evolving technology. When used properly, google classroom will help us to become more effective and efficient teachers, not just during the pandemic, but moving forward.