It’s been about six weeks since all of my violin teaching has moved online. Like so many others, I have had to learn a lot very quickly. In many ways, it has gone really well. I get to see all of my favorite little violinists every week! They are all making progress. If I had a magic wand, COVID-19 would disappear and I would be able to teach in person again, but for now, I’m making it work.
I am so grateful for the facebook group Distance Learning Forum for Suzuki Teachers. Without their help, I am not sure that I would have had the courage to try to do group classes at all. They have been invaluable with technical troubleshooting and creative teaching ideas.
Over the past six weeks, I’ve found a few things that really work for me.
A long ethernet cable. Plugging directly into my modem has definitely improved my connection. I bought a 25 foot cable to be long enough to reach from another room for about $15. It was definitely worth it.
Screensharing progress charts. I have progress charts for graduating from Pre-Twinkles and each book that all of my students are working their way through. I put them all on PowerPoint slides to make it easy to mark off each box. I didn’t really expect it, but many of my students seemed really happy to see that little bit of normal. I think it was a relief for them to know that we are still working on the same goals.
Screensharing to musescore. This has been a great group class tool. While in the past I would use rhythm cards to create rhythms for us to make together, while online it is much easier to type into musescore. For a few weeks I tried to use the whiteboard function in zoom, but my handwriting was a nightmare. This has also been useful for working on some basic sight reading skills.
Trading short snippets back and forth. When internet connections are poor and it’s hard to hear voices, I get very concise with my words. I point at myself, say “my turn,” play 1-3 measures of music, point at the student, say “your turn,” and listen. There have been many lessons where we do this for almost the entire lesson.
Sending short video assignments via Marco Polo. For a few of my students, I’ve enjoyed being able exchange a few short videos pretty easily. I even did an entire lesson this way when an student’s internet connection was particularly bad. When I have to send a longer video, I upload it to youtube as an “unlisted” video, but I enjoy that Marco Polo is just one step.
Relying more on the parents. I hope this is a newfound skill that I continue to use when we’re back to online lessons. Asking the parent to do something with their child that I would usually just take over, has been so effective. I think this is why some of my younger students are actually making a lot more progress now. I have finally learned how to teach their parents how to practice with them. I definitely have a lot to learn when it comes to parent education. This has helped me in a big way.
While so much is going well, I won’t pretend that everything is going smooth. Here are some things that have been a struggle.
Back pain as I sit more. Lately I’ve been borrowing a podium from my sister and have been standing more, but it still hasn’t solved everything. I think I just hold myself more stiffly in front of a computer.
Exhaustion. This article rang very true to me. Teaching over zoom is much more tiring to me than teaching in person. There’s more background noise, both on their end and on mine, as everyone is home. I am constantly worried about the internet connection. My attention is divided because my children are home instead of at a babysitter’s. It’s harder for me to read my students’ energy levels and moods. I’m just really tired all the time.
No ensemble playing. I have been sharing my computer sound through zoom to play accompaniments for my students, but then I can’t actually hear them play. It is driving me crazy. I miss just being able to play a duet with my student in time.
If you have any advice, I would love to hear it. What has been working for you? When do you anticipate going back to in person lessons?
McKenzie Clawson is a Suzuki violin teacher in Kaysville, Utah. She is a Suzuki parent of one 5 year old violinist, a 3 year old, and an Australian shepherd.
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