Maybe it’s my special needs teaching background. Maybe, it has to do with teaching at private schools. Or, maybe I just feel a deep desire to be organized (or at least feel like I’m mostly organized). Whatever the reason really is, each summer I make an annual growth plan for each of my students. Why would I subject myself to this extra work? Especially since I am not the type of teacher to push exams or festivals on students. Well …
- Many parents don’t have a music background. They have no idea what constitutes progress. But, they want to know.
- I am providing a service & should be able to explain why I get “paid the big bucks”. While I have never heard this exact phrase from a client, I think this viewpoint comes from teaching in private schools. One of my principals gave me good advice.
“Never go to a parent with a problem unless you are able to give an extensive list of how you have tried to solve it. They pay a lot of money for their kids to go here & you need to let them know why it’s worth it.”
~ A blunt, but awesome principal (paraphrased)
- Growth plans show students & parents a comprehensive plan to move them forward in their musical goals. This fosters a sense of trust & confidence in my abilities.
- Looking at the end picture of where I would like my students opens up a whole new framework of activities, repertoire, etc.
- I need a plan in order to be flexible. No plan means I drift along week to week without any idea of whether I am helping my student move forward. Having a plan gives me the freedom to slow down on a concept because I know that it is the foundation for what comes next.
- Allows me to consciously provide links between what my students are learning in school with what they learn in piano lessons. (Tons of research out there on how important it is to link new information with what students already know! Check out the Cool Cat Teacher, Piano Pantry, Colour In My Piano, 88 Piano Keys, & Tim Topham.)
The way (not) to create a growth plan
There are many ways to create an annual growth plan for your students. And, depending on which country you live or where you teach (i.e. school vs. private studio) there may be certain concepts or frameworks that already are in place. Some teachers prefer studio incentive programs to guide their students each year. (If this is your style, check out Music Educator Resources for a wide variety of ready made incentive programs.) It really is whatever works best for you.
I’ve had many different versions of growth plans over the years. I like to think that they have improved each year as I have tested out what worked & didn’t work for me. In talking with my clients, I have also changed the type & amount of information I share with them. Below is the progression I have gone through.
- No plan:
- Unmitigated failure since the best I could do was point to how far they got in their method book.
- Parents who were happy stayed happy. Parents who were unsure about continuing lessons found a reason to drop lessons.
- Plan based on method book only:
- Slightly less of a failure since I could actually SEE the concepts I was going to teach & look for materials. Still completely reliant on a method book.
- Showed parents every single learner outcome. They were overwhelmed.
- Plan based on Alberta Education music program of studies, with a little bit from the method book:
- More progress in the depth of concepts. Did not reconcile learner goals with how to actually do them in lessons or whether students could/needed to/were interested in the actual topics. We didn’t get as far as I had hoped.
- Showed parents all learner outcomes we accomplished. Still were overwhelmed at the list.
- Plan based on student goals & abilities, SOME from Alberta Ed (the wording really was great), with the rest from their method book progression & plans I found online.
- This is my approach for this year.
- Rather than scrapping the plans from last year, I used what I learnt from last year as well as my research & modified the goals. This was a MUCH better use of my time since I wasn’t recreating the wheel & able to pull on the collective wisdom of several methods & experts online.
- Parents will participate in student-led conferences twice a year. This has been a HUGE success the last few years & leads to greater involvement with practice times! Parents who would like the plan will get it, but otherwise it will stay a private document that I can use to articulate each student’s plan for this year.
How to create a growth plan in 5 easy steps
Alright. Perhaps “easy” may be a bit too optimistic. The steps below are not necessarily hard, but they ARE time consuming the first year. The nice part is that it gets MUCH easier every year thereafter as you can reuse & tweak aspects of your plans to better fit your students & yourself. So, if you prefer having an individual plan for each student this is your guide to creating a framework for your year.
- Look at past student growth.
- What have students accomplished in the past?
- Be honest with whether your students are in your studio for recreational or exam/festival purposes. Neither focus is negative. But, it does change what you will focus on in your research.
- Look to the piano experts.
- What general framework do several method books follow? These are tested frameworks that can serve as a great jumping off point for other repertoire & activities. Plus, you will notice a lot of overlay in the order of concepts.
- With a good amount of digging you can find yearly goals that other teachers have posted online. To be honest, while I did get some information it was vastly overshadowed by the amount of time & creativity in the wording of each search. Plus, we all have a different focus so no plan will be the exact fit.
- Ask other teachers for advice (online or in person). The sharing community in the education field is amazing! I am so thankful that I can ask for advice from any number of teachers.
- Look at your provincial/territory/state music curriculum.
- While I did drop quite a few of the learner outcomes, I still found it a useful exercise to go through the K-12 curriculum. Not only did it help me understand what my students were (potentially) learning in school, it also gave me another framework to consider for units of learning.
- While the music curriculum is based on a lot of research, keep in mind that it may be bloated with learner outcomes that music teachers are unable to realistically cover in their 1 class per week. Pull what works for YOU & your studio. Don’t worry about the rest.
- Pull the most realistic & most common goals from the provincial (etc.) curriculum & various experts. If it keeps coming up in your research, there is probably a good reason why. Put the goals into a document you can save for each grade.
- Take all that lovely data & make a plan!
- Start with the graded goals. Student A is going into Grade 1. Plunk those goals in!
- Next, really think about your student’s overall music goal. What needs to be added (or taken out) to help that student move forward?
- Bonus points if you add resources you already have that fit with the goal.
- Make a list of concepts where you need resources to support learning. (I am pulling from Music Lab Task Cards which is hugely helpful!)
- Begin a list of repertoire that supports the goals you want the student to reach.
- Pull those lists throughout the year so you can shop smart. (And, hopefully keep a bit more of that hard earned money by not repurchasing items. How many times have I done this? Way too many!)
Planning for the year … your thoughts
Will this be the final iteration of my student growth plans? Probably not. I hope that each year I develop better ways of guiding my students (& myself). My journey started out rough, but I felt things started to fall into place when I started to research ideas (including Teach Piano Today‘s article).
Since every teacher approaches this differently, I would love to hear how YOU plan (or don’t plan) for the year. What are some of the strategies that have worked for you? And, what are some of the pitfalls you have discovered?