MAEIA in Conversation: Remote Learning in the Arts

By Heather Vaughan-Southard

In preparation for Fall 2020, as MAEIA’s Professional Learning Director, I met with two arts educators who have spent the last six years teaching with the Michigan Great Lakes Virtual Academy.

Visual Arts educator, Carrie Vermaine, and Music educator, Jayme Williams, offered their best practices when it comes to setting up for fall, flexibility in practice, and a sharing of resources to help you start the year strongly.

You can access the recording of this discussion on the MAEIA Remote Learning page. Trust us, you’ll want to listen. That said, here are some highlights from our conversation to get you started.

Setting up for success

  • Connection is key! Relate in personable ways in writing and communications.
  • Adjust your expectations and your content standards.
  • Less is more. Think deeper and not wider when arranging content and time for projects.
  • When communicating, consider the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, (FERPA) and district/school guidelines.
  • When possible, avoid connecting through social media platforms other than your program’s official page.

Syllabi must haves:

Contact info- Use Google Voice to talk to students and families without sharing your private number. Google voice documents your conversations and allows families to text and call AND you can have your classroom phone forwarded to Google Voice for convenience.

Contact boundaries- Setting the hours of when students and families can contact you is important when working from home. Be clear with this communication and the follow through!

Calendar- Outline what is happening, and when. Life in remote learning features variables not present in the classroom- like siblings and family events. A calendar clarifies expectations. If a student needs to request a deviation from the calendar, with an extension or substitution, documented due dates support those conversations. Being flexible with students can help them succeed in this learning model. If they need to ask for support, asking them questions like, “What is your self-selected due date? What is reasonable? How do I communicate with you if I don’t see your project by that due date?” teaches them how to create appropriate expectations and accountability strategies.

Outline of content and assignments- Giving students and families an idea of what will be covered, when it will be covered, and when assignments are due helps them prepare to be successful in your class as they manage their home environments and student learning. Describing what kinds of activities, materials, and amount of time per assignment can help them meet your expectations and the learning objectives.

Plagiarism policies- Put in writing what plagiarism is and how it is handled in your school. Help students understand what it is and what it can look like in the arts. If you suspect a student of stealing content, ask for clarification! This can be inquiring about their process, their choices, and more. Consider what you know of the student’s previous work or if students have siblings at home who may have completed this assignment before. Ask before confronting. Once the word “plagiarism” is introduced, it can bring hostility into conversations with students and families that can get in the way of the learning we want students to have.

Change the prompts from years past and invite students to provide progress critiques. This can allow you to check in with their process and engage in formative assessment. If students ask if family members can help, remind them that their hands are the only hands on their art. Conversations with family members can guide the process and engage in conversation, but not make the product.

Provide resources and how-to videos- Providing a list of platforms or software that students will need furthers the likelihood of completion and achievement. Creating how-to videos for each step of the way can seem overwhelming at first, but it will go a long way in trouble-shooting issues for multiple students and families. Teachers can even share their how-to videos in the MAEIA Arts Lounge to ease the burden on each other.

Share the expectations of what materials are needed and how they will be used. This can range from webcams and headphones to how to raise a hand or engage with others virtually. Expectations can also include the district’s COVID plan.

Explain how to turn in work- Padlet is a convenient resource for this and the link to the class padlet can live in your signature line, where it is always easily accessed. Privacy settings in apps such as Classkick and others allow you to view student content before it is shared with the class.

Creative Content

When it comes to deciding what to teach this year, with less time and more unique tools, we need to adjust our expectations. Our conversations emphasized the following points.

Think deeper, not wider. Prioritize your standards and organize your time to allow for more listening, more discussion, and more skill-building beyond our typical performance-based content. In most years, within performing arts classes, we spent most of our time preparing for performance. This year, we have the opportunity to emphasize content that supports and deepens how we reflect upon artistic experiences. It can be issued safely in face-to-face learning environments, and it allows for rich experiences in remote ones. As such, using the Create and Respond strands (which include Analyze and Connect standards) within the MAEIA work promotes a well-rounded arts experience.

Less is more. For each assignment that can take one day in face-to-face learning, it will likely take 2-3 days in a remote model. Rather than assigning longer, more elaborate projects, break concepts into smaller segments of a larger work.

Social-emotional learning happens in arts education. Even in a remote learning model, the more consistent and calm we remain, the more regulated students will be able to remain. In our work this year, and in accordance with the Governor’s Roadmap for Fall 2020, social-emotional learning must be a contributing factor to the function of arts education. The good news is that these are natural pairings. When we engage in the creative process, we move through the phases of social-emotional learning as outlined by the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL). These are: self-awareness, self-management, relationship-skills, responsible decision-making, and social awareness.

And finally, the surprises.

When asked what surprised these seasoned arts educators in their transition to virtual teaching, they mentioned:

  • The engagement of students and their desire to connect more personally with their instructors.
  • The ability to teach through inquiry-driven methods that enables students to deepen their thinking.
  • How students feel more comfortable sharing in this environment because social pressure is less pronounced.
  • It is easier to modify assignments and accommodate IEPs and 504 plans within a few clicks.
  • Communication is easier and more efficient.

This academic year has already proven to be paradigm-shifting. When we come together for conversations like this, we can support each other and our students more effectively and feel less alone as we progress through time.

To learn more about how you can benefit from MAEIA’s new communities of support, follow these links: the MAEIA Arts Lounge, the Michigan Collaborative Scoring System, and Better Together in the Arts.

Heather Vaughan-Southard serves as MAEIA’s Professional Learning Director. 

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