MISSOULA — Imagine the difficulties that might come with teaching a class online, from not making the face-to-face connections that come with a classroom setting, to making sure all students have a form of technology that gives them access to an online class.
Now imagine the struggles that come with teaching group music classes like band and orchestra. According to Sentinel High band director Lewis Nelson, “Nothing can replicate what they can do in the classroom. It doesn’t matter what you do, you have, I can’t put everyone on Zoom to play at the same time…it just won’t work.”
For Nelson, and Sentinel and Hellgate High orchestra director, Ryan Davis, it’s the creativity of working with what students have access to.
“Kids have different technologies, so it’s been different to account for that. Who has recording devices, who has instruments at home," Davis said.
Offering flexibility is the key for both teachers. It’s more than just the musical tools they have on hand to work with. It’s also about offering choices to keep them engaged, opportunities they may not take advantage of in the classroom.
“Some are playing their instrument type choices, some are, you know, just working on music theory," Nelson said.
For the most part, grading is based on the student’s own evaluation of how they’re doing. However, Davis is making use of his own technology to factor in.
“I have been using a couple of programs that allow me to listen to students individually and one of them will actually do it through the computer or grade them and tell them what notes they’re playing correctly," Davis said.
In the end, it’s about keeping the students engaged as much as possible. With the possibility of students being held out of the classroom for the rest of the school year, there is some emotion that comes for those who have played their last note in high school.
“My seniors, I love them, thy have been with me all four years," Nelson said. "The first year was very special as you know and they stuck with me and you know I do want to do something special for them.”
He hopes that opportunity presents itself, if not by the end of the school year, then certainly by this summer.