Changes to Strings Classes Address Concerns of COVID-19

Room 231, where chairs have been spaced out to maintain a safe distance. Photo taken by Ms. Klassen.

Changes have been made to all courses this year in order to conform with the hybrid learning model, but some courses have had to adapt around other challenges as well. WCI’s strings classes are some of these. 

In a normal setting, instruments and sheet music would be shared and borrowed, and a teacher would always be available to give feedback during the daily scheduled class time. But this is no longer possible.

Mr. Piche, head of the Music Department at WCI, explained that with one cohort at home and another at school, he has to run two different classes at once.

“In a skill based course like strings, it’s not as easy and cut-and-dry to run the course exactly the same in person and at home as it would be in other courses,” he said.

His approach has prioritized written work at home and practical work at school. This way each student will end up doing the same work, but the order of that work has been optimized for each learning setting.

Precautions being taken in class include percussion instruments and chairs being moved into practice rooms, leaving room for students to spread out.

Mr Piche in room 238, which has been converted into a storage space. Photo by Mr. Piche.

The school has provided each student with two instruments, one for at home and one for in school, since there are only two classes running at once, and no ensembles are rehearsing. This means that nothing is shared between students, nor is anything being moved between home and school.

When asked what effects these procedures may have on the course, Piche said, “Sometimes, pedagogy is put a bit on the back burner for the sake of public health, i.e. quadmestering in the hybrid model. It’s not pedagogically the best thing for students, but it’s the best thing we can do while balancing safety.”

Mr. Piche interviewing in front of the board he uses to make theory videos. Screenshot from interview with Piche.

Dimpi M., a grade 10 student in Piche’s class, said that “strings class is more boring than it usually would be due to the circumstances […] there are less people in the class which means there’s less engagement.”

Piche spoke about some of the struggles of teaching in this way. Teaching a class that is wearing masks is “like you’re trying to put energy toward a wall. There’s just a heck of a lot less vibe.”

Piche misses running the orchestras, which he finds are more fun than regular class. He also said that not all students who are in orchestra are in a strings class, meaning that without the ensembles, he is missing a chance to be with a lot of the students.

According to Piche, there are also concerns about WCI’s magnet program, since grade 7 and 8 students may not have a chance to pick up an instrument before they get to grade 9.

Despite these stresses, Piche has come to terms with the potential effects of the situation: “I was more concerned with that in the past, I think I’ve come to a point where I’ve accepted that this is the new reality […] I need to release myself of that stress and anxiety and that concern because that’s something I don’t have control over.”

And in the face of these challenges, Piche is still trying to keep up a good atmosphere, feeling as though it is his duty to cultivate the best possible experience for his students.

Dimpi had good things to say about Piche’s attitude: “You can tell he is trying his best to make the class interesting. He tries to make jokes with everything he teaches and tries to make playing more fun […] With the given circumstances, he is doing a great job.”

“I’m the one in charge,” said Piche, “I’m ultimately the leader, so no matter what they do, I’ve got to be the one who’s saying, in every move that I do throughout the day, ‘yes, this is a different context, it’s not what we were expecting, but let’s try and make the best of it.’ I’m ultimately responsible for that.”