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How Virtual Learning Is Changing the Performing Arts

Since the coronavirus pandemic closed schools last spring, those who teach extracurricular activities — band, choir, dance or other performing arts — have had to wade through unique challenges.

by Melissa B. Taboada, Austin American-Statesman / September 4, 2020

(TNS) — Senior Jaden Gardner, of Dripping Springs High School in Austin, Texas, tosses a rifle up in the air, mimicking a choreographed move just displayed by the instructor.

Jaden then squints back at a laptop set up in the driveway of the family home before once again attempting the maneuver. The video call stalls, showing the instructor in choppy and stuttering movements.

"It's a huge difference between being online and in person; you can't quite get the same experience," says Jaden, 17, lieutenant captain of the school's color guard. "You have to learn from one angle on a screen. That's difficult because some of the moves we do are complex."

Still, Jaden stays engaged and waits for the video call to run smoothly again, then begins spinning the rifle again.

Since the coronavirus pandemic closed schools last spring, educators across the country have grappled with how to best teach students online. But those who teach extracurricular activities — band, choir, dance or other performing arts — have had to wade through unique challenges. Sound delays through the computer have caused disruptions for students who are supposed to be playing instruments in sync and several dozen students on one video call can make it difficult for instructors to hear them play and give feedback. Students in dance may whirl off screen.

While some students in several area districts — Round Rock, Leander, Lake Travis and Pflugerville — will return to classrooms over the next couple weeks, the virtual challenges will continue for the others who remain online, some for the entirety of the school year. Teachers in some districts will continue to instruct both virtual and in-person students simultaneously.

"We've been teaching a while but this is new for all of us. It's like your first year of teaching all over again," said Holly Lyons, the dance instructor at Vandegrift High School in the Leander school district.

Lyons said while teaching remotely, she's had to slow down the pace in her classes and work harder to be more descriptive and provide better analogies with what she and the instructors want to see.

"We've been trying to pair our visualization words with the movements we want them to execute," said Lyons, who will begin instructing some students in person Tuesday.

Thomas Inman, a sixth grader at West Ridge Middle School in the Eanes district, is learning how to play the French horn.

His teacher gets close to the screen to examine whether the students are holding their mouthpieces correctly as they attempt to blow and telling them they should only feel the tips of their tongues touching it.

"I think it'd be more fun if I was doing it in person," said Thomas, who said another highlight of his day is his drama class where he and his classmates have been performing skits. "Sometimes it cuts out and I can't really hear that much. That's in all my classes."

Marianne Inman, Thomas' mom, said the fine arts have kept her children, including a daughter who takes art, engaged and has served as "a good brain break," from other online studies.

"These teachers blow my mind. I can't believe their creativity," Inman said.

Like those teaching core classes, the teachers who instruct extracurricular activities say they are doing their best to keep students engaged and thriving.

"One of the reasons the kids are in any extracurricular activities is the social interactions and connections they get to have," said Thomas Turpin, head band director of Westwood High School in the Round Rock district. "The kids are lamenting lacking that social interaction.

"Our philosophy is to keep this as fun as we can make it while keeping our curriculum and moving it forward."

©2020 Austin American-Statesman, Texas. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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