My students have been the unwitting participants in a new experiment this year. After hearing Marvin Blickenstaff mention it at NCKP, I’ve been testing the idea of writing out the piano homework before their actual lesson.
When I started teaching, I used a simple notebook for each student that they brought to each week’s lesson.
This really didn’t work all that well for me. I was distracted by trying to write in full, coherent sentences during the lesson – and students never, ever read it anyway.
Then I progressed on to a piano homework folder that I would place a new assignment sheet in each week. I was pretty happy with this system and you’ll find lots of free assignment sheets on this site, all of which work very nicely.
But when I heard this idea of setting the assignments in advance, I was intrigued. I’m always up for trying a new challenge so I set about finding a way to implement this in my studio.
Pitfalls of Assigning in Advance
Increasing Teacher Planning Time
What we don’t want to do is take an enormous chunk out of our (already hectic) week. How can we find the time to write out piano homework before each lesson…alongside everything else we’re doing?
The key here is to create a system, and I’m going to show you how to do that below.
If you have a system – this doesn’t have to take more than a few minutes per student. No more than you would spend lesson planning or thinking ahead anyway.
Reducing Flexibility in Lessons
Another possible pitfall that immediately popped into my head when I started thinking about this was a lack of flexibility.
I didn’t want writing out the assignments in advance of the lesson to mean I no longer felt free to follow a student’s whim or come up with a new idea on the spot.
One of the big benefits we have as one-on-one or small group teachers is that we get to adapt and change our plans in a way that classroom teachers can’t. We can tailor learning to each child – I didn’t want to lose that.
The solution to this was pretty simple. I left a few lines at the top of my assignment sheets for extra stuff. And if there’s something I don’t get to, I just cross it out!
Benefits of Assigning in Advance
Automatic Lesson Planning
This is the thing I love about my new system. It’s why I wanted to try it in the first place.
When you write out the piano homework sheet in advance of the lesson, you need to think through the lesson. This process prompts you to look up new resources, or pull out old ones that might be useful.
The sheet then acts as a great little reference during the lesson to jog your memory.
“Oh, yeah, I wanted to use that game first to teach them about the major chords before we practice that chord drill.”
Of course, there are other ways to do this. You could literally make a lesson plan. You could just think through the lesson and plan it in your head.
But – using this system is a two for one deal.
You get to lesson plan, but you also get a premade assignment sheet so you don’t have to make notes during the lesson.
Aware of Big Picture
I make all the assignment sheets for one student in one big document for the whole year. Each week, I just add a new page and put the new date at the top.
This means I can easily and quickly see what we did last week, and where we were at the start of the semester.
Now, I sort of know these things anyway, but seeing them all laid out is different. It can reveal patterns or issues that you wouldn’t notice otherwise.
The big picture can tell you so much. It can help you better plan how you move forward so that your students make better progress.
Teacher, student and parent copies
Student went to Grandma’s and forgot his piano homework folder?
No worries! You can just email a new copy. Or better yet, you can give the piano parent access to the Google Doc so they can always see what’s going on.
I love that we’re literally all on the same page (ha, get it?!) when it comes to the piano assignments. No student can tell me they didn’t know what they should practice – that’s impossible.
Setting Up a Simple Process
If you’re going to try this – and you don’t want it to suck up all your time – you need a simple and repeatable process.
Google Docs is a great way to do this because you can share it with parents, and everything can be available on any device, online and offline.
Use my Google Docs template (below) to get you started. You can adapt this until you have a format you LOVE, then just make a copy every time you need one.
How do you assign piano homework?
Have you ever tried assigning in advance? Are you tempted to run a similar experiment in your studio?
Let me know what you think in the comments or in the Vibrant Music Studio Teachers community on Facebook.