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  • Writer's pictureJanis Aston

Focus on what you CAN do . . .

Instead of what you CANNOT do!

I know . . .

You cannot hear them singing.

You cannot tell if they are keeping the beat.

You cannot assess accurately.

You cannot use your instruments.

You will not reach every child.

You cannot give hugs.

The list goes on. You fill in the blanks.

And then . . .

Let it go!

I have the unique privilege of being able to observe my grands in their virtual classes. I watched music class last week. And guess what? They are enjoying it.

Yep! This crazy upside-down schedule that's driving all the grown-ups nuts is actually working as best it can for many kids.

Don't get me wrong. Online learning is not for every child and it does widen the socio-economic gap in education. Thankfully, there are organizations around the country that are helping to fix that situation. Online learning is not here to stay because it will not replace the warmth and interaction of in-person education. Especially for younger children.

But what to do now? While we wait? You want to move your students forward in their skill development, so how are you going to do that in these months of online learning experiences?

Focus on what you CAN do!


I sat with my 7-year-old grandson during his music class. He is not matching pitch. His music teacher, who is a friend of mine and former colleague but did not know I was watching, echo-sang a song with the class. At first, he did not sing at all. I think because the students are used to having their classmates sing the echo part together and now when he sings, he's "alone." So I gently encouraged him to sing and I sang with him softly. I was sitting close enough to help him match my pitch.

Encourage parents or caregivers to sing along to hep with pitch-matching. This involvement will help your students be more prepared when they return to your classroom. Show the parents and students how to make PVC "telephones" so they can hear themselves when they sing.

Be careful that the songs/music you play is age-appropriate and not beyond their skill level. One of the songs that my grandson's teacher played went into multiple harmonies at the end. The melody was also not repetitive. For the 7-year-old brain, this is confusing and makes it difficult for them to find the melody, especially when singing alone. They are accustomed to singing in a group which helps give that extra sound around them.

Use simple songs, simple melodies with the younger students—AB, ABAC phrases. Use fun, syncopated songs with the older students. Challenge them to discover the meanings of the lyrics. Re-write the lyrics in BreakOut rooms. Be creative!


Just like in the classroom, your students are going to move, They need to move!! So help them by playing lots of music with a variety of meter and beats. Encourage creative movement. Let them share their ideas by listening first and telling/showing the class how they will move to this music.

Make live engagement and movement the main part of your lesson and weave in the cute videos at the appropriate times.


I have been reading so many great online posts in the Elementary Music Teachers Facebook group from teachers who are focusing on what they can do. Delivering bags of simple, homemade instruments. I saw a picture where a teacher had her entire family, including grandparents, involved in making instruments and packing the student

s' Music Bags. Include instructions for how to make instruments. Then have students share what they made, how it sounds, how it makes high-low sounds, can you keep a beat with it or does it play a melody? When you do return to the classroom, be sure they bring their instruments to play together!

BreakOut Rooms

Most online meeting apps, Zoom, Google, Microsoft, Schoology, etc., have their version of "BreakOut Rooms." Ask for help. Find those parents who were going to be classroom helpers, friends who need a diversion, family members who need something to do. Enlist their help in monitoring a BreakOut Room for small-group discussion, recorder practice, creative projects. Even a place for "time out." I was sitting right next to my grandson. A retired teacher of 30 years. You will have those people also. Just waiting to help you!

Push Back!

I was an independent side-by-side coach in our district after retiring. And, even though I do not "officially" do that anymore, I have still been in touch and working with a few elementary music teachers.

One, in particular, has been given an almost impossible assignment. He not only has to meet with the students once each week in class but also has to assess and post assignments. And here's the real kicker—his class meeting is with ALL of the students in one grade level for 30 minutes each afternoon. Specifically, he sees ALL Kindergartners on Monday afternoon (80+) online from 1:00-1:30, ALL 1st graders on Tuesday, 1:00-1:30, and so on for the rest of the week.

Really? Are you kidding?!?

I wish I was. If you can, push back when handed a schedule that is absolutely the worst for the students.

If you've been told, "Oh, it's OK. Just show videos," laugh and say,

Well, that would be the easy way out, wouldn't it? But I've got a much better plan. A plan where the students will continue the sequential learning experiences necessary for their music education.
Please come visit my "class" and you'll see how I use Higher Order Thinking Skills, encourage students to engage in a variety of activities that include listening, singing, analyzing, performing, creating, and finally connecting with other disciplines all while discovering music from the wide variety of cultures around the world and in our own community.

Asynchronous Assignments?

Research has already shown that today's child was spending way too much screen time BEFORE Covid-19. Avoid putting the students and the conscientious parents in overload with assignments and other things to do for your class online. They need a break!!

So . . . Push Back, if you can!

Finally . . .

This is not easy. But, if you think about it, we didn't sign up for "EASY," did we? Set your goals—daily, weekly, monthly—and make your plan based on those goals.

And . . . Focus on what you CAN do!

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