If you teach choir and it is considered an academic class, it needs to be treated like every other class.
This is not about Validation
I don’t believe giving homework is to prove that our class matters; giving homework is a way to foster improvement. By giving assignments outside of the classroom, we are empowering our singers to learn on their own. If all the expectations of learning come from us, we have set ourselves up as the experts and the only way to seek knowledge.
Homework is a way to have students work on their own, seek out others, do research, practice in a guided manner, or collaborate with one another. In many ways, it’s what our students do outside our class that define the success of our program within the classroom.
Why We Should Eliminate Practice Logs
Practices logs should be buried, never to be seen again. In my opinion, all practice logs do is teach students to lie about how much they practice. Instead of practice time, we can be specific about what we expect our students to practice and find meaningful ways to ensure they are improving on the specific assigned activities while they are still home.
While they are still home? I bet some of you are wondering what I mean.
Instead of testing students in school, we can be “let in” to what they practice and how they practice. Here are a few examples.
1. Note & Rhythm Reading
Students needs to be able to properly label the notes and rhythms of their music. In my program we use movable do and count with 1+2+3+4+. I usually make a PDF of an 8 measure Sight Reading Factory exercise, and assigned it through Google Classroom. Students are expected to label the pitches and rhythms and submit it from home.
Once I see that students can accurately label pitches and rhythms, in class I move to more difficult skills. An in-class follow-up would be increasing the speed of their labeling. I time students and expect them to label their pitches (d,r,m,f,s) at a speed similar to the speed they would be singing the pitches. I use a rubric for developing this skill as I find that students that can’t label fast enough will not be able to accurately read the pitches when sight-singing.
2. Aural Training at home
Pitch matching is not an all-or-nothing skill. With that said, it tends to be close to an all-or-nothing skill when they are practicing on their own.
Sight-singing is a skill that can be worked on at home. I give weekly sight-singing assignments to all of my students. They are grouped into skill levels. I wrote a recent blog post that outlines the way in which sight-singing can be assigned and graded.
4. Use Choral Rehearsal Tracks
As I’ve written many times, choral rehearsal tracks are not the opposite of sight-singing. They are another tool to help singers. When you have high quality choral rehearsal tracks, your singers can practice their part in a multitude of ways.
- they can sing along with their isolated part
- they can sing with their part in one ear and all other parts in the other ear
- they can sing their part along with all other parts, but their part is omitted
- they can sing their part alongside a full recording
Depending on the singer and their skill level, each way can be useful.
I recommend Kinnison Choral Co. because I believe they have the highest quality choral rehearsal tracks on the market. Their tracks sound like full sections, rather than an individual singer and their recordings are the most stylistically accurate. When students sing along to these tracks, they will understand how to sing with shape: something that sight-singing alone will not do.
In terms of assigning homework, students can practice their part using any of the track ideas listed above. You then make a FlipGrid assignment. For their recording, they place the earbuds in their ear so they are listening to the track and record themselves on FlipGrid. This could also be done on a phone’s voice-memo if needed.
When students submit this way from home, they are choosing the take they are happy with; they are not forced to do this under pressure or in front of other students. In addition, this does not take up any class time and allows you to know how prepared they are.
5. Require students to watch videos and provide feedback
A picture is worth a thousand words; just a choral rehearsal tracks are a useful tool, so are live recordings. Not only can you assign videos for students to watch, you can use programs such as edpuzzle to ensure they actually did watch the full video. You can also overlay the video with text or your own voice.
Regardless of whether you use some cool program like edpuzzle or just “old-school it” with a Google Classroom link to a video, a follow-up homework assignment could be useful. Perhaps you can provide a google form for them to fill out.
There are so many reasons to have your singers watch a video. If your ensemble is singing that piece, asking your singers to explain differences in the ensemble’s phrasing choices, vowels, tempo, etc. Also asking more open-ended questions such as: what did they appreciate about this performance or what can our choir learn from watching this recording.
Again, this is an assignment that can be done on their own. Yes, it can be followed up in class, but giving the students the opportunity to watch alone and formulate thought on their own is something that doesn’t need to happen in the classroom. With phones and earbuds, students can do this on the bus, in the lunch room, in the car (as a passenger) etc.
Final Words: Homework is not a punishment
Homework is a means to make in-class rehearsals more engaging and effective. If students do what they can do at home, we can introduce new material in the classroom. The world is their classroom. We need to motivate them to want to learn outside the classroom; when they do, they will be more interested in what we have to say inside the classroom.