Question

I took a two-semester course in piano pedagogy in college, and I am now teaching professionally. I do not feel that my preparation in lesson planning was adequate. Could you give me some help? 

Answer

Lesson planning is one of the most important teaching skills we have to learn, and if it was not covered sufficiently in your pedagogy course, we can try to fill in some of the gaps in a general way here.

I believe the ideal way to begin the lesson plan for a student is to think in terms of a year of study. This works best, of course, for a student we already know, but it can also be applied to new students that we don't know as well.

The long-range plan needs to include the repertoire we hope the student will be able to cover during the year; the technical program required by that repertoire; the theoretical skills the student will need to master; and other important areas like harmonizing, improvising, composing, ear training, ensemble experience, and performance opportunities.

I would expect to spend a great deal of thought and perhaps half of a working day on outlining the year's plan for a student. The next step would be to break the year up into shorter segments, perhaps three or four ten-week plans. The ten-week plan would show when the pieces of major repertoire would be introduced, related to public performance opportunities. There should be a rhythm to the styles and periods the student will be preparing for public performance, but remember that the student will also study much repertoire purely for musical growth and enjoyment that will not necessarily be performed in public.

When you get to the ten-week plan, it is time to work out the details of the technical program (finger exercises, scales, arpeggios, chords, chord sequences, etc.) and how you hope the student will progress, within each ten-week plan and throughout the year.

JUST THE FACTS

In the area of theoretical skills, depending on the student's level, you will want to plan ten-week segments of major and minor keys, harmonizing, transposing, improvising, and composing. And regardless of level, some ensemble experience, as a part of each year of study, is very important, both musically and in terms of self-confidence.

After making a general ten-week plan, you can get down to the business of a specific plan for each week of study. I have found that the best time to make the plan for next week is on the morning following the lesson. Things are fresh in your mind and you can still remember vividly what was going well (or not so well) at yesterday's lesson. This is the time for careful evaluation of how effectively your plan for yesterday's lesson matched the student's preparation, and what may need to be reconsidered as you plan for next week.

In connection with lesson planning, perhaps a word needs to be said about the length of a lesson. I have felt for many years that the ideal study plan for elementary students is a group lesson once a week for 60 minutes, followed by a private lesson three days later for 30 minutes. The advantages of this study plan are numerous:

o You see the student for 90 minutes each week, an incalculable advantage.

o In the group lesson you can cover all the discoveries, skills, and drills for 6-8 students in a single hour.

o The group experience creates a healthy and fun-filled learning environment that overcomes the "isolation" of a private lesson.

o Because students begin their music study in a group of peers, playing for and critiquing one another, there is almost never any problem with "recital nerves."
This leaves two all-important tasks for the private lesson:

building technical facility and developing artistic performance, both of which are easier to teach privately than in a group.

Back to lesson planning. Group teaching requires special skills and special preparation, so it certainly takes longer to plan the group lesson than it would to plan similar activities for a single student. But when the same lesson plan covers 6-8 students, the planning time is greatly reduced while the teaching effectiveness is greatly increased.

In a subsequent issue we will take up the plan for a single lesson. 

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