Inside Music Academy's Anthea Kreston: What Works Best for Learning Online

August 20, 2020, 12:47 PM · When we last spoke to violinist Anthea Kreston, she was about to start the summer portion of her newly-formed Inside Music Academy - a completely virtual music school that she had created in March in response to the increasing demand for online learning, due to the burgeoning pandemic.

Anthea Kreston
Violinist Anthea Kreston, founder of Inside Music Academy.

Summer has come and nearly gone, but the virus has not. In fact in the United States, the situation has only grown worse, and we face the fall with the knowledge that much of our children's learning will take the form of online learning.

Anthea, who is based in Corvallis, Oregon and actually had been teaching private lessons online for years, had some early inklings about the current situation. Her online student, Kevin, had found solace in his violin lessons during lockdown in Chengdu, China in February. Despite the widespread denial in the United States, Anthea could see that students here would face the same problems and would need the same kind of support, when it came to online learning.

After a summer of teaching more than 200 students from all over the world, amassing a top-notch violin, viola, cello and piano faculty and developing creative courses for kids, Anthea's Inside Music Academy will begin its fall sessions, on Sept. 15.

With so many teachers, students and parents gearing up for an online back-to-school situation this fall, I thought Anthea might have some ideas and advice to help teachers plan and help students cope. Last week we spoke about what has worked best for online learning, and about what Inside Music Academy will be offering for the fall.

Laurie: After your summer of teaching Inside Music Academy, what is emerging for you as the best kinds of musical learning activities for kids that work in an online platform?

Anthea: I am fortunate to be mom to an 8- and 10-year-old, so I saw first-hand what was working online in the spring with the public schools. The girls really weren’t connecting, and within in a very short time, we had transitioned as a family to essentially home-schooling. I have been teaching online for a number of years, and keeping things fresh, physically active, and keeping the communication open (how the student is feeling that week, struggles and wishes....) is a big part of what I do.

My kids missed, most of all, all the things that surround learning - spontaneous conversations and play, free-form. So I designed IMA with a lot of freshness and flexibility, in a module format, plenty on non-screen options, and with two, non-adult sections (lunch with a cool college monitor and practice buddies).

I also designed an actual building with a lobby, bulletin board, gym, library, homerooms and a principal‘s office, to have a place to meet and explore. We learn music together every week, design specific goals with each student, have flip-grid final recitals, and daily Nanoconcerts in our lunchroom - we have had 40 live concerts from James Dunham, Jeffrey Biegel, Black Oak Ensemble and Kenji Bunch.

It’s all very social and goal-oriented, but yet every week is designed slightly differently depending on the make-up of that particular week. We have learned so much music together - three Beethoven Quartets, Haydn and Dvorak, Gliere and Brahms. It’s been a great learning experience for us all.

Laurie: How can kids, teachers and parents avoid "Zoom gloom"? Is this a danger, if they have school online all day, then violin? Any strategies?

Anthea: We have had no Zoom Gloom, as far as I am aware. Every class has a monitor in it, and they are actively engaged with the teacher and make sure the kids are reacting and interacting. If someone seems sluggish, we all get up and run around the room or do jumping jacks, or someone gets their pet or tells a story. Every day, new, printable packets (theory, history, music dictionary) are loaded into the homerooms, as well as audio Rhythm Challenges that I recorded, and audio and scores to play-along Chamber music that I have recorded with other faculty in practice and full tempo. We try to change up the material in zoom classes every 8-10 minutes - starting group discussions, asking questions, performing for each other. We have electives from community engagement to podcasting, and the students actively create and produce their own recordings and projects to share.

Laurie: What are some of the best ways to get kids to actually interact with each other online? Can kids actually make new friends online?

Anthea: Absolutely! We pair up all students as practice buddies, and they practice together every day. Many get quite close and meet outside of class time. The lunchroom is many people's favorite time - with a talent show and other spontaneous things - it’s a real hoot and is all where our daily 1:39 Nanoconcert happens every day. I wanted to avoid what I noticed in online school in the spring, which was kids feeling lectured to, kids as passive recipients of information. We help each other, use the chat to comment on each other‘s performances, use silly quizzes to reinforce music history, compose pieces and learn how to harmonize together. At the end of every week, we have a huge Pachelbel Playalong, and everyone from past sessions is invited back to play with us. Our final Flipgrid concerts at the end of every week are also student-driven - they make video reactions to each other‘s performances - we have been hearing each other play everyday and are invested in each other’s progress. The older students have daily Flipgrid assignments which are commented on by faculty.

Laurie:Tell me about Inside Music Academy for the fall - how will it be different than in the summer? What is your logic behind what you are offering?

Anthea: We will keep the premise - social learning with vibrant content. We won’t be offering private lessons, though - we will be here as a support for the private teachers, families, and students - here to keep the joy and learning new and related skills which keep things fresh and exciting. We have two, six-week options - a Tuesday/Thursday option and a Saturday Intensive - both a bit different for those wanting to do both options - practice shack, music history/theory, play-your-trickiest-bit class, composition with Kenji Bunch, performance class, Flipgrid concerts, conducting with Adam Flatt, other electives - and 6-week projects (compose and perform your piece on your instrument, create a podcast, learn a whole piece).

Laurie: You are also a parent of two children - how are parents feeling these days? Will your kids be doing school online? What is this like for you, and how can music teachers be sensitive to parents' and childrens' schedules right now?

Anthea: Parents are pretty concerned these days, and they are doing their best to both support the public schools and to look out for the best options for their families, including supplementing education, keeping children safe and engaged, creating playpods and gathering resources. Fall IMA works with these ideas to create a community of support for musicians, a place that is relaxed but energized. It's designed to be a place to support the work done at home and to give families and students a place to go, practice with others, laugh, grow, and meet new friends. The students this summer have had chances to work with the highest levels of teachers - from Hans Jensen to Almita Vamos - from Suzuki to Paganini. We are all together, "Inside," and happy.

For more information about Anthea' Inside Music Academy, please click here.

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