MNOHS music teacher Erin Winchell reports from the Minnesota Music Educators Association’s Mid-Winter Clinic this month.

Ms. Winchell with Penguins

Five years ago, I sat at the Minnesota Music Educators Association’s Mid-Winter Clinic and wondered if someday I would ever have a topic worth presenting to other music teachers. Anyone can propose a session for the Mid-Winter Clinic on anything related to teaching music. The main criterion is that the organizers want a variety of topics. Unfortunately at that time, every topic that I felt qualified to present on was something someone else had already taken!

Jump forward to last August when I realized that I did have something unique to present to other music educators.  Since I’m one of few online music teachers in the state, I realized that I probably knew more about online music resources and teaching online than anyone else in Minnesota. I filled out a session proposal, waited a few months and learned that my “Teaching Music – Online!”proposal had been accepted.  Great – now the only thing I needed to do was to turn what I do daily, online, into a coherent presentation and explain to music teachers how online resources can improve their teaching.

A performance-based music class, like band or choir, could be the perfect place for teachers to use online resources to allow students to complete assignments on their own at their own pace. Sometimes a director only needs to rehearse with a certain section of instruments or voices, which leaves the remaining musicians without anything to do (and any teacher knows this can be asking for trouble!). Many band and choir directors want to teach more music theory and music appreciation but are often pressed for rehearsal time between concerts. Any of these situations would be a good place for an asynchronous online assignment.

I do most of my online teaching asynchronously, meaning my students complete learning activities I have chosen for them on their schedule, not mine.  And although they don’t think of it this way, many music teachers already do some asynchronous teaching as well. If you’ve ever taken music lessons, you probably only saw your teacher once a week. In that time, you’d be evaluated on the music you’d prepared in the last week, receive some feedback and get a new assignment. You then spent the next week learning your new music…on your own time. Sure you had a book that presented music in a logical order and explained new topics and you could contact your teacher if you were confused about something. This music lesson approach is very similar to how MNOHS works, except without the weekly 1 on 1 meeting at a teacher’s studio – we do that daily online instead.

Before I could show music teachers great resources for teaching online, I had to teach them how to teach asynchronously without using a method book. To do that, I came up with these three teaching tips:

1. Think of teaching asynchronous assignments like teaching music lessons. In other words, give students a set amount of time, such as a week, and all the tools they need to complete these assignments.

2. Write clear directions, or better yet, use pictures or videos. Yes, students do need to be able to read and follow directions, but the directions shouldn’t be a burden.

3. Teach the technology – don’t assume that all students know how to use the software or websites that you are using.

With those tips in mind, I’m going to end with three free online music resources that I shared with my music colleagues that anyone, musical or not, may enjoy.

People often assume that teaching online and teaching with technology will somehow make teachers irrelevant but I am quite sure that each of the 100 teachers (!) who attended my MMEA session this month would come up with a unique way to use these three resources to meet their students’ unique needs.  How about you?  What would you do with these three resources?

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