Bindu Subramaniam is a singer, songwriter, Founding Director of SaPa in Schools and Dean at SaPa – Subramaniam Academy of Performing Arts. She is passionate about using intercultural perspectives and trans disciplinary education to create a systemic change, and develop social equality, cultural democracy and 21st century skills in children. With that in mind, she co-founded the SaPa in Schools program with her brother Ambi Subramaniam in 2014. Bindu was one of India’s first educators to develop a toddler-focused musical training module and has co-authored 15 SaPa textbooks in total. She writes the course material for children of all age groups, which has been translated into Tamil and Kannada.
The challenges around online schooling – especially for young children – are fairly obvious, and though schools and teachers have gone above and beyond for the last year and a few months, there are still gaps. This is primarily because it’s very hard to maintain the attention span of children online. Getting your child to stare at a screen for a few hours a day is easy; getting them to absorb and process what’s happening on the screen is less so.
As educators continuing to deal with unprecedented situations, we need to reevaluate everything we have been taught, everything we have trained to do, in order to create a better learning experience for our kids. What are the learning goals we need to look for in an online context? How are they different from what in-person learning can achieve and in what ways are they similar?
As music educators, for example, we immediately realized that the cornerstone of a general music program – group singing, was impossible in an online context because unmuting everyone in a meeting and asking them to sing together doesn’t work with audio lag. You’d hear a cacophony of voices in different times echoing back and forth and creating a very unappealing audio experience. One idea is to have everyone muted and singing along, and the student hears only themselves and the teacher. This works to some extent, but it is, at best a poor Plan B. So we started looking at changing our views. Instead of “How do we get children to sing together?”, we started wondering “How can we get children to engage positively with music online?”, and then “How many music help children while schooling online?”
Through the pandemic, we’ve been working with a number of schools to see how music and arts can help maintain attention spans and promote mental health and social emotional learning. Here are some of our best practices:
- A one-minute song or activity at the start of a class helps children settle, expend some energy and focus. You don’t have to think of something new every day; children enjoy repetition, so a handful of fun songs and musical games can go a long way. This helps children ease into the class and create a positive environment which is conducive to interaction and learning.
- Connect what students are learning with music or art activities to allow them to engage with the material offline. It could be a painting of a scientific concept, a math poster or a song in social studies. Be creative and allow the children to come up with interesting submissions. When children are at home, instead of trying to recreate the atmosphere of school, encourage them to bring relevant experiences and objects from home life to school.
- Short but frequent sessions which involve children standing up and moving help children focus and relieves stress and eye strain. Sitting at the computer without a break can lead to bad posture, back and neck aches and eye strain. All of these make it harder for children to focus and pay attention. As adults, we know the perils of online zoom calls and how difficult it is to focus, but it’s even harder for children who are naturally inquisitive and energetic.
- Play soft instrumental music in the background while having quiet work time. This helps drown out external noises (which can easily distract children) and create a calm environment. Music with lyrics can be distracting for some children, so instrumental music is the right choice here.
- Try out music-based Social Emotional Learning activities which help develop self-awareness and self-control. When children feel more in control of their environment, they not only learn, but do everything better. Set aside some time to get feedback and ideas from students. Not only does it help children feel like they are more in control of what is happening, but you might get some great ideas!
Even as we see cases rising and dipping, and schools preparing to open and perhaps close again, we must admit that at the very least hybrid learning is here to stay, and we have to figure out how to best the best use of the tools we have online.
As we continue to learn and adapt to our ever-changing circumstances, some questions to continually ask ourselves are: What are our actual learning goals at this time? What are we trying to achieve online? How can we make online something other than a poor plan B? How can we utilize online resources in a positive and engaging way? What additional support do our children need at this time?
When we don’t know what the future looks like, the greatest advantage we can give our students it to learn to love to learn. To pursue different interests and passions, to work hard, be creative, and never stop learning.