I am sure for all of us this is a challenging time and finding new ways to work in what is mainly a group and social activity has its moments! From navigating new platforms, losing the internet connection and having family interrupt you when you’re on an important call, we are all negotiating this new normality on a daily basis.
I have been working with pupils of all ages online but mainly on a one to one basis. I run an independent performing arts school in the West Midlands and a smaller practice in Warwickshire, plus I teach several private pupils. I am incredibly lucky to have a wonderful team of teachers who set work weekly for students whose parents and guardians then share their learning with us. There are several issues for us as an organisation regarding online dance classes where we are unable to correct or ensure safe practice without jeopardising our insurance. However, we can set home learning, and this is proving to be very productive and motivating for students. I have also been holding private sessions online for Acting and Speech and Drama. For under 18’s a parent or guardian must be in the session and they book the lesson direct and at a time to suit.
The first week of online lessons produced its own problems. One was the issue of sore throats and mine in particular. I soon realised I needed to warm up my voice before speaking and that this was vastly different to teaching in a session face to face, where we warm up collectively. The tendency with online working is to focus on the student and the general connection issues, such as will the picture freeze or will you lose the audio? The other thing I have noticed is that younger children tend to be very relaxed in their own environment and rightly so. However, the cartwheeling or rolling around on an exercise ball randomly left in a room, is not necessarily conducive to a great online class!
Some children want to have a parent in the room, others not and this can either hinder or help a child. I ensure the parent/guardian can see the child and even if I cannot see the adult in the room, it is good to know they are there. I would encourage all teachers to ask whoever is in the room to write down any notes and homework given. I’ve also noticed that pupils are engaged in the sessions but need to work in shorter bursts, so twenty minute sessions work well with 5 minutes either side to say what you will do today and to set learning for the following week.
I have also spent a considerable amount of time working with older students who are auditioning for drama schools or on recalls. Some have risen to the challenge of working to a deadline and ensuring they are given the best chance to achieve their future goals. I have been extremely impressed by many of them embracing the video audition, uploading to YouTube and generally presenting and performing a range of material in a professional manner. I certainly admire their tenacity and ambition to continue with their plans.
When teaching online my advice would be to structure the sessions as you would a usual teaching session:
- Outline the objective of the session.
- Teach a brief vocal and physical warm up to include breathing exercises.
- Main body of the session – to work on your monologue, or poem, song, mime.
- To observe, correct and feedback.
- To set homework and check the learning.
I’ve tried to limit the amount of homework given to pupils as many of my students are on quite rigorous home-schooling schedules and it is very important to remember students need to enjoy the work they are doing.
What has become increasing clear is that we will all need to adapt our ways of working, not only during lockdown but afterwards, as we ease our way back into our teaching practice. Clearly, much is gained in maintaining contact with pupils where possible and allowing them to be in control of their learning to a large extent. By this I mean it becomes a choice as to how much work is completed between sessions and it is important for us to remain supportive, knowledgeable and ensure that taught online sessions are productive and progress pupil skills.
We all recognise that we must now start to consider the implications of social distancing, smaller class sizes and more online working. Will this be viable for the future and how do we accommodate smaller classes with room hire costs and teacher ratio to pupil? As it is all unknown, I believe it is our resilience, creativity and love of our work which will continue, and we will find new and innovative ways of working to suit our learners and our individual circumstances. For now, it is onwards and upwards with the remote sessions, the cartwheeling joyous child and the wonderful progress made even at the most testing of times!!
Stay safe, stay home and keep smiling!
Carol Harvey-Barnes FRSA, Director/Teacher CHB Performing Arts, Examiner and Further Education Lecturer in Acting and Musical Theatre