Planning Your Yearly Curriculum
One of the most difficult problems I had when teaching younger students was managing them over breaks from school. For many teachers in the US, it’s time for our students to start going on vacation and start rescheduling lessons, or maybe even outright cancelling them from time to time. But whether you live in a country where school is ending for three months or vacation is a distant thought, these problems arise for all of us who specialize in music instruction. These gaps in the teaching schedule always made it difficult for me to remember what I’d been teaching them and, though this probably isn’t surprising to other teachers out there, the students themselves never remembered what we’d been working on either. So I started trying to devise ways to better plan the curriculum in advance, whether that meant coming up with a way to structure a student’s lessons so that if we left off somewhere we both knew where we were upon starting lessons again or simply lesson planning while they were out of town with family or at summer camp. And with all that free time we as teachers might have before our students return to their regular music practice, there are many ways we can better organize and better prepare our lesson curriculum or lesson plan. We’ll also dive into how Better Practice, the leading music practice app, has many tools that will help us in this endeavor.
1. What level will your students be at when they return to lessons?
When teaching a larger number of students, one of the most important aspects of furthering their musical education is knowing when they are prepared for more advanced learning material. Some students might struggle with sight reading but have excellent technical facility on their instrument of choice, so it might be imperative to give them more challenging literature to take home to practice while keeping their sight reading at a simpler level so they can grow over time without feeling overwhelmed or discouraged. To that end, I would always make a list of my students, their strengths, and the areas they needed to improve more in and begin to plan which types of books, methods, or areas of focus would be best for them. Especially when you have some extra time, I found it invaluable to note where each student had progressed to and where they would begin from when starting up again after some time off in order for them to practice music more effectively.
2. Using Better Practice Custom Books
I started teaching private music lessons in high school and continued throughout college and even today. When I was first starting out, though, I didn’t have much knowledge of method books or acclaimed styles of teaching. I just taught what worked for me and tried to tailor it to each student. Nowadays I’m much better versed in teaching styles and methodologies, but even still there are some methods I prefer to teach that I’ve crafted myself over the years instead of using an eight edition pedagogy book. And I really would have loved to have had Better Practice’s Custom Books function back then to optimize my students’ music practice so much more effectively. I can’t remember the amount of times I wrote the same exercises and notes by hand for each student!
Better Practice offers a function known as Custom Books which allows teachers like you and I to compile our own set of teaching materials, exercises, and lesson plans into one place where the student can access it easily and consistently. And once you do it the first time, it saves directly to the app and you never have to put it all together again. That alone sounds like a blessing to me - as I type this I can still envision the exercises that I used to write for my students time and time again. As a teacher with limited time, this function allows us to capitalize on the time our students might be on vacation by not just compiling lesson materials for one student, but potentially for all of them!
3. Organize and Compile Your Lesson Materials
Now that you have those Custom Books set up, why not organize the rest of your lesson materials into the same place as well? Having everything in one place for you and your students to easily access is incredibly efficient and convenient and it’s something I’ve tried to accomplish for quite some time myself. With Better Practice, you can upload your own personal scores and sheet music as PDFs which you can then store permanently. Now not only is your material all in one place and easily accessible to you, your students can access it as well! I can’t even begin to imagine how much more effectively I would have been able to practice music when I was younger if everything I’d ever needed was so easily accessible. And after that, you could even go so far as to upload videos of your own personal performances, link to videos of performances for your students to watch, or even upload backing tracks that they can play along with all through the same online library. With technology becoming more convenient by the day, using music practice apps like Better Practice to have all of your lesson plans and corresponding materials in one place makes giving assignments that much easier and takes away all the hassle of copying exercises and organizing loose pages. And the best part is, once you do it, it will stay in the library and in the Custom Book so you never have to set it up again - all you have to do is enjoy the convenience of having all your material close at hand at all times!
4. Planning for Future Questions and Studio Substitute Teachers
As teachers, we very often hear the same question, perhaps even after explaining it a handful of times. So I like to make a note of all the potential questions a student might have with the various assignments I plan for them and answer them preemptively. Growing up taking private music lessons, there was nothing quite as unsettling as looking at a new piece of music and not knowing (or not remembering) just what my teacher wanted me to do. Now, though, I can just write assignment notes of the exact details and the most effective ways to practice an exercise or piece directly to the assignment itself in the Better Practice. That way, there’s no uncertainty for the student when they return and it’s time to practice and it saves you, the teacher, a lot of time repeating yourself! I think that efficiency is very important to how we practice music today. Nobody can predict every question a student will have (especially with the more creative ones!) but at least if you can plan for some common questions in advance, you can motivate your students to practice without the worry of them forgetting the instructions for a particular assignment.
What if you can’t be there one week? There’s always the fear of a substitute teacher not knowing exactly what to do with your students and perhaps the fear that those same students might craftily mislead that substitute teacher just to see if they can. These notes are also great for creating a specific guide through a lesson plan or curriculum you have planned so that even on those rare occasions you can’t be there. Without any uncertainty, your substitute can make sure to optimize the practice your studio is doing that day and you can be sure your students are getting the same attention and care that you’d provide for them yourself.
5. Plan for Your Students to Attend a Concert or Festival
It feels like we spend all of our free time as teachers lesson planning and devising new and clever ways to motivate our students to practice their instrument more effectively, even when those students are out of town. With this in mind, I always like to take some of this planning time and plan for something fun! Students love music because of the joy they experience when performing and listening, so taking your students or studio to a concert can be a wonderful way to remind them of how amazing music is, why they started learning in the first place, and to motivate them to practice music themselves. It even gives us teachers a way to relax and unwind after all this lesson planning we’ve done! I’ve attempted to organize students individually before which, depending on the number of students you teach, can be a real struggle, and that’s why using the Better Practice event scheduler is one of my favorite aspects of the app. You can create a page that your students see from the comfort of their own home (and won’t forget to mention to their parents) and you can organize everyone at the same time and in the same place. That concert at the end of the year now seems so much easier to manage and plan for. And when all of my students are sitting together, eyes wide with happiness at seeing such spirited live music being performed for them, excited to get back to practicing and learning again, it really starts to feel like all that planning I did while they were away amounted to something very real.