It all started a few years ago when I attended a Coffee Party organized by one of our local Piano Teachers’ Associations. We were introduced to a whole “new” way of organizing and planning lessons – all very helpful and inspiring. I know now that a lot of the ideas came from Dr. Martha Baker-Jordan’s Piano Pedagogy: The Definitive Text for Piano Teachers and Pedagogy Students.
One idea that was new to me at the time was the idea of custom-making assignment sheets, rather than using the old-fashioned notebook to write down assignments. The idea, of course, is that it wastes less lesson time. Why write some of the same category-words repeatedly every week if you don’t have to? Why write “arpeggio” every week if it’s already there and you just need to plug in the names of the keys. The assignment sheet could also have a spot where students record their daily practice (or lack thereof).
So I searched the internet and read the books. I bought the Practice Revolution (Philip Johnston) and its companion Practice Planner. I tinkered around on the computer and came up with a number of templates, incorporating the Practice Planner’s idea of a Piece Coach – a section in the binder where you have each piece listed on a separate page. Every week at the lesson you add the comments for that piece; the student can see at a glance the accumulation of comments over the months. This does seem to work fairly well for the most advanced students.
These days there are many examples of assignment sheets that teachers, including yours truly, have made available for others. There are also many available for purchase at the music stores; a lot of the method books are also publishing companion assignment books.
The big BUT here is that it has all gotten just too complicated – especially the models based on something like the Practice Planner – or not flexible enough for some individual students. If it’s too much effort for students to figure out what I’m asking them to do, it’s much easier for them to think that they can just remember everything I said at the lesson.
I am admitting a certain measure of systemic failure here. In the last couple of years I was constantly running out of assignment sheets, and dashing upstairs to print more off, consuming the lesson time that I was supposed to be saving (yes, this was a failure on my part to plan ahead more carefully). I also went through mountains of paper and ink. So this year I decided to scale back and make one generic sheet with room for 2 lessons per page – 4 back-to-back. The problem is, my writing ended up so small and squishy that I have barely been able to read it at the next lesson. I sincerely believe many of my students gave up even trying. Also, practically none of them ever actually tick off the practice boxes anyways.
So, last night I was debating going back to the old-fashioned notebook, but I have come to love the binder for many other things. I do give all sorts of technique sheets, exercises, rhythm drills, incentive-type pages, etc. as the year goes on and it is wonderful to have them all in one place. The down-side of just using loose lined paper for the assignment sheets is that they are so thin that the holes tear too easily. I like the thicker computer paper for that.
So I came up with 3 drastically simplified assignment sheets – one for Beginners-Grade 3 (Simplified Beginner-Grade 3), one for Grades 4-10 (Simplified Grade 4-10), and one for students in Artistry at the Piano ( Artistry Students). Yes, I’ll be using more paper, but less ink. And I’ll have enough room to write all the comments that I want in the spaces left blank for repertoire. And I’m subtly hinting to my family that a laptop and printer might be a nice Christmas gift!