A curriculum plan gives guidance to your teaching. But, when you individualize programming that is when the magic happens in your studio. This is when students & parents rave about how your studio fits them exactly. And, when students feel like they have a part in their piano lessons.
Last week was all about figuring out what needs to be taught & creating a general program plan for each level. If this is not something you have done already, click below to read the 4-step plan before continuing here.
Once you have a general outline for what you will teach at each level, it’s time to individualize programming for each student!
The importance of individualizing
We all want to feel acknowledged & appreciated for who we are.
But when we choose to teach every student exactly the same way, the message we send our students is “You aren’t important enough for me to know YOU & how you learn.”
Would you be interested in giving your best effort to a teacher or mentor that had this approach? No.
In my studio, we do a lot of studio-wide units. They cut down my prep time substantially, make it easy to mark labs & ensure students are learning about music beyond what is in front of them.
The way these units are individualized is:
- Once I have a general set of exercises or labs, they are tweaked to best suit individual programming.
- Students are given choice in what they would like to focus on & the order we approach these units.
- When appropriate, we ditch the prepared activities/labs & move into something that meets the students exactly where they are.
The last way takes place when a student genuinely hates the assignments & needs to approach the learning in a whole different way.
As hard as we work to make everything amazing for each student, sometimes it falls flat. It could have been something piano related or, in my experience this is more common, there is something frustrating or stressful going on outside of piano that manifests during lesson time.
And, that’s okay … so long as we are willing to pivot.
Piano lessons becomes a safe place where we challenge our students, but also pull back when they need a little break.
5 – Step plan to individualize programming
When individualizing programming, it’s important to create a balance between your time & student learning.There is no benefit to you burning out because you are re-creating the wheel for each & every student. Click To Tweet
1. Ask your students
This could be something as easy as a question in lesson time or having students set SMART goals.
Some years we have done something more formal & other times I knew my students needed a more relaxed approach.
A simple, yet powerful, question could be …
“Imagine it is the end of the year. What is the ONE thing that you accomplished that made piano lessons a success this year?”
Once you know this answer, be sure to add it to a student’s program plan!
After all your student just told you the way to get them to re-enroll next year, right?
2. Take into account your student’s strengths & areas needing improvement
As you look at the general program plan for each student’s level, make a note of what you will spend extra time on … & what will take just a little review.
For example, you may have a student that struggles with playing scales & chords.
You could add extra technique work to their programming. But, not many students like playing their technique work. Which means there is a greater likelihood it just won’t get done.
Instead you could add:
- Repertoire that:
- Covers ALL the keys a student will play in.
- Has quite a few scales in the melody & chord inversions in the accompaniment.
- You could work with your student to transpose into the keys they are struggling with.
- Warm-ups or labs that include:
- Whole body movement to mimic the feel of moving up & down the keyboard
- Theory on how scales & chords are put together
- Ear training to hear how each sounds
- Games that review the scales & chords
Notice that we are using every aspect of the lesson to give the student more practice with their scales & chords. Even though we don’t call it “technique”.
And if a student finds something easy, make a note that this will just require a little review throughout the year to keep it fresh.
This frees up valuable lesson time for what the student really needs.
3. Check for resources
It can be easy to get excited about teaching a wide-range of concepts to our students. But if we don’t have the resources for our students to practice them, we put our students in a tough position.
Let’s go back to our student that is struggling with scales & chords. This is the backbone of modern music so we need to get this right.
Do you already have:
- A selection of repertoire that the student can choose from?
- Multiple songs for each key
- Lots of full & partial scales
- Broken & blocked chords played in many ways
- Whole-body movement ideas?
- Apps or resources for ear training & theory?
- Games to practice in a fun way?
Whatever you are missing, that is what you will research & purchase.
4. Go through the plan with your student
Depending on the age of your student, you may do a quick overview or go through each point.
For young students, keep it simple:
- Exploring the piano in many ways
- Lots of different songs to test out those explorations
For older students, show the whole plan:
- The parts that you have marked as light review (“The things you are already good at.”)
- The parts marked as a priority (“The things we will focus on so you make the most progress this year.”
Be sure to show each student where their goal is listed so they know you listened & made their wishes a priority.
5. Make it real
Whatever your student chose as their goal for the year, this is the time to show them the first step!
For example, your student may have chosen a particular song as their goal.
First steps could include:
- Listen to 3 versions & decide on a favourite. (gives you feedback on what the student really likes about the song)
- Chords from the song … or the whole chord progression
- Scale that the song is based on
- Prominent rhythm pattern
- Accompaniment pattern (does not have to be in the same key if the student has not already played in that key)
Even if many of the points on their growth plan are the same as other students at their level, the fact that you are making their goal a priority speaks volumes to your students.
Taking steps right away towards a student’s goal is tangible evidence that their input into their programming matters.
Individualize programming the easy way
Having a general plan that gets tweaked for each student is what takes your from “good teacher” to “master teacher”.
Rather than starting fresh for each student, use what you already have & individualize programming from there.
Not only will you save a lot of time, but your students will appreciate that you have the energy to truly engage with them during lessons!
For help when finding the right repertoire, click below for the method book comparison PDF.