Sunday, March 13, 2011

If Only I Had A Few More Minutes...

I'm lucky as a teacher in that I offer only 45 and 60 minute lessons. I can't imagine trying to cram all I want to get done into 30 minutes, but hats off to those of you who do so from week to week! However, even with the luxury of 45 minutes, I often find myself pressed for time at the end of the lesson and wishing for just a few more minutes! No matter how hard I try to plan, it always seems there's just one more thing that I need to get across even though the time is up. So what's a teacher to do when the clock it ticking and there's still too much to do!?

Unfortunately, once you've gotten to that point, it's almost too late to try and remedy the problem. Rather, it's important to plan ahead during the lesson. Being proactive throughout the lesson will keep the last minute cram sessions to a minimum.

I've written previously about flexibility during the lesson, and how to capitalize on what we can control, but now I'd like to offer a few tips on how to maximize weekly lesson times.

How to Avoid Getting 'Bogged Down' When Teaching: Tips to Maximize Limited Lesson Time

1. Don't Skip Warm-Ups!:
As tempting as it may be, these are essential to the lesson. Warm-ups help the student relax, settle in, and focus for the lesson ahead. Skipping warm-ups can negatively impact the entire lesson.
2. Gimme a Break: Kids have a hard time focusing for extended periods of time. If you expect a child to sit at the bench and be fully engaged for the entire lesson, you're going to be disappointed. To keep a fresh focus, taking a mid-lesson break to do some other music-related activity away from the bench will give the student fresh focus when they return, meaning that the end of the lesson will be more productive.
3. Stick to Your Guns: Do you have a timeline before you begin? Do you have a good idea of what you want to accomplish and how that's going to pan out over the timeframe of the lesson? If not, you're setting yourself up for disaster! Know what's on the list to accomplish before the lesson- and do your best to stick to that schedule. Flying by the seat of your pants never works- trust me!
4. Let it Alone: If you find yourself with limited time and a planned task to accomplish that you know you won't be able to get to- skip it! Yes, skip it! Instead, pull out another activity- a short game, worksheet, or do some sightreading. Trying to cram at the end won't do you or your student any good. Then, plan to hit that area first the following week.

As teachers, we have to be insightful, sensitive, and intuitive. When do we spend a bit more time focusing on a certain aspect, when is it best to move on? Is a student engaged, do they need a break? Are they comprehending what I'm explaining or do I need to try a different approach? This is all part of what makes teaching such a challenge-- and what makes it so rewarding! I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you avoid last minute cramming at lessons and how you work to keep your students focused!


  1. I give 30 minute lessons to beginners, and 45 minute lessons to intermediate students. It is hard to get it all in! With my intermediate students, I sometimes do not listen to all their songs at one lesson. I listen to half one week and half the next. I also sometimes do not listen to the whole song, especially if it is one they are going to keep working on another week or two. I don't think that would work for beginners, I think they need the encouragement from you taking time to listen to everything they've done.

    Sometimes things don't fit in a lesson like I thought, or we have to spend more time on an aspect I didn't plan. Such is life! There is always next week! I've learned to try to figure out, what would be most important right now? I like to tell people, "I'm as flexible as a slinky!" :)

  2. Nicole- Thanks so much for your input! I totally agree with your approach to intermediate students. I have several students working on multi-movement works right now, and it's impossible to cover it all! So we usually pick just one movement to hit in our current lesson, and then they keep working on the entire piece over the course of the week. It's all about finding a balance.