A few weeks back, just before the start of the school year, the MAD2* DEEN committee for the Arts, along with LEARN, hosted an online web event to share insights on planning for, what is already shaping up to be, a historic year in education. Veteran music and performing arts educator Lynn Harper from Châteauguay Valley Regional High School (NFSB) shared her planning process for the upcoming year, teaching Music in Secondary 1-5. The following is a summary of the most interesting insights from the web event.

Full web event archive

Lynn Harper’s teaching reality is that she has students in school and also some students at home. On top of that, she is anticipating partial shutdowns, where some or all classes are home-bound for unspecified amounts of time. Her three main preoccupations are:

  • making expectations clear for students;
  • giving them choices;
  • keeping the personal connection alive during extended time away from the classroom.

Making expectations clear for students

What is essential, what are the essential learnings, what do I need, what can I do virtually…it’s all those little pieces
– Lynn Harper

Image of bird sketch to show art process from sketch to cardboard version

Bird sketch before rendering in cardboard

Lynn has her own website to house the process for each course she teaches because she wasn’t sure which platform was going to be deployed by her school board. Fortunately, her structure could easily be replicated on Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, or even through a simple Google Drive or OneDrive. While it is tempting to just upload PDFs of text-heavy documents, keep in mind that your students are unlikely to read them.

It’s far better to create documents where the text is larger, and there are images and direct links for students to follow right from the documents or pages. Dan Hedges, a social science consultant at SWLSB, uses Google Slides to create presentations that he shares with students. You could do the same for assignments, and embed audio or video clips, or links to resources. What is good to know is that any work you will do clarifying assignments and expectations will not be wasted and will be useful even after the unique reality we are currently living in.

Giving choices

In the arts, we are all about providing students with choices when it comes to the work they will submit for us. Whether it is choice of materials/media or subject matter, providing choices pays off when it increases student engagement in our course. In Visual Arts, materials might be limited by what students have at home – and that limitation can be part of the creative challenge. Lynn lets students choose their own repertoire, as long as it’s within their range of ability. She also gives a fair amount of flexibility in terms of how assignments can be submitted.

For example, students can hand in projects in the form of a written report, a poster board or presentation – as long as they fulfill the given requirements of the assignment. Lynn has also found that some assignments that were difficult for students to submit in the past because they had to be done in front of her, leading to stage-fright and anxiety, are now being readily submitted asynchronously online.

Keeping the personal connection alive

cardboard 3d image of bird, to show how humble materials can be used.

Cardboard relief sculpture of bird

What works for me? What worked for me before and how can I transition that into a mixed platform situation?
– Lynn Harper

Art making is often also about art sharing. Whether we create solo or as part of an ensemble, our art makes sense when sense is being made of it. One of the biggest challenges of teaching the arts during pandemic is how to keep alive the sharing of what we create. Lynn Harper worked hard at the end of the last school year to organize virtual open mics, group theatre performances, and other live events – all online. You might need to ask for help from a tech resource at your school or an ICT or Arts consultant from your board – or better yet, get your students involved in planning the event, especially in upper secondary. It can be as simple as an event held during regularly scheduled class times, or something special in the evening.


*MAD2 = Music, Visual Arts, Drama and Dance.
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Web event links

Lynn Harper’s website – www.cvrhighschoolmusic.com

Google folder containing all presentation files

Arts performances/shows go online

How “quarantine concerts” are keeping live music alive as venues remain closed

Dawson College art students, stuck at home for graduation, create grand virtual vernissage

Theatre student at U of T Mississauga takes the show online amid COVID-19

Dance Goes Digital During The Pandemic – WBUR – The ARTery

Featured Image Credit: Robert Keane via Adobe Spark