I have been a music teacher for 16 years, 13 of those in a traditional school setting, where I organized and directed musicals, concert band, orchestra, choir and student “coffeehouses.”
When I started teaching at Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy three years ago, I wanted to forge musical bonds with my students that were just as strong as the ones I created in my traditional classrooms. For some students, music is the subject in which they feel the most successful and confident. I wanted to make sure students in my virtual classroom had the same opportunities.
Enter the virtual coffeehouse.
I created “Coffeehouse LIVE,” a virtual environment where students can perform musical pieces in front of their peers, teachers and school administrators. They can perform live on mic and webcam, or they can prerecord a video of themselves performing and send it to me ahead of time to approve and share. Students can perform by themselves or with others, and they may bring in outside performers if they wish. Audience members participate by providing positive feedback and encouragement to the students.
I always include a guest performance, which is usually a recorded video of a professional musical performing group. I also recruit OVCA staff members who are active musicians to perform. Last year our Spanish teacher and I played a flute duet, and we have had several staff members perform vocal pieces.
Giving students the opportunity to practice audience etiquette in a concert setting is another important outcome. Students have four opportunities to not just perform but also to observe as audience members at a concert performance. Many of our students live in remote areas and cannot get to or afford a ticket to a community performance. Coffeehouse LIVE helps fill that gap.
Coffeehouse LIVE has become extremely popular in just two years. My students are so enthusiastic about it that, for some events, I get too many volunteers and I have to turn some away. Those students get first pick on performing at the next coffeehouse. I am so happy that my students feel just as involved and proud of themselves as they would be if they performed in a traditional setting.
Some people wonder if students in a virtual setting miss out on key experiences. Not at all. It has become apparent that teaching music in a virtual classroom is not all that different than teaching in a traditional classroom--it just takes a bit of creativity, innovation and thinking outside the box.
Erin Goodridge is a middle school music teacher at Oklahoma Virtual Charter Academy, which is a K12 Inc. partner school.
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