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How to Reduce Prep Time (Even When You Teach Online)

How to Reduce Prep Time (Even When Teaching Online)

I had no idea just how much time I was spending on prepping for lessons.  Until I started to track it.  Isn’t it funny how that works out?  At that point, I challenged myself with how to reduce prep time regardless of whether I was teaching in-person or online.  

In-person vs. online

There are many similarities between travel teaching & online lessons.  One of the biggest similarities, in terms of prep time, is they both require the teacher to have everything ready beforehand.  Whether it’s tools that can be used in multiple ways, apps that keep information at the tip of your fingers or bringing music to the student, it all needs to be done beforehand.  

Thankfully, this means that these tips will work equally well for in-person or online lessons!  And, they will work equally well if you are an ‘only in emergencies‘ online teacher, sometimes, or full-time online.

1. The one-stop-shop

Whether it’s students who say, “I didn’t know what to do”, parents who “don’t know what to print” or  just having things on hand during lessons, a ‘one-stop-shop’ for your studio is a must so you can reduce prep time.

Set up a quick way for you to share resources with your student both during lessons & during the week.

This could be something like a shared drive that has everything organized.  Or, a studio management system that has the same capability.  I’m a big fan of Google Drive since my studio families are already familiar with it because of school.  It saves me time training them in a new system.  And, with things divided into folders, each member of the family knows where to go to do their part of supporting success.  For example, my studio parents know anything in “To Print” needs to be printed.  Students have their own folders to check out based on the activity.  

2. Make it easy

All of us are busy.  We don’t need extra work on our plates.  Wouldn’t you agree?

In my studio, I tell parents & students that their programming will be personalized.  And, it is.  But, that doesn’t mean there can’t be overlap.

Don’t add extra work. Ask yourself, “What needs to be personalized & what will be used by many students?”

Things that can be used by many students:

  • Studio unit theme: This could be genre, activity, etc.
  • Themed-repertoire: Base a portion of your students’ repertoire on the unit theme
  • Music lab: Some activities can be geared towards older or younger students
  • Tutorial videos: Repertoire, technique, music theory, etc.
  • Warm-ups:  Use the same base activity, but tweak depending on your student’s ability or personal interests
  • Templates: Lesson plans come to mind, but there are many options

Things that should be personalized:

  • Repertoire:  Give students the opportunity to choose the songs they play (even beyond the studio theme)
  • Music lab:  Does it really matter what order these are done in?  No.
  • Notes:  Templates are amazing, but the details should be personalized
  • Praise:  Be specific & sincere.

Notice that much of what we do can be simplified?  The few tweaks needed to personalize are much faster than starting new with each student.  And this means you can reduce prep time at the same time!

3.  Keep it organized

I know you may be thinking of your bookshelves of sheet music & books.  Perhaps there is a games drawer that is overflowing.  We’ve all been there!  

Organize your resources so they are quick to find.  Even if they weren’t part of the original plan.

For repertoire, is it organized by:

  • Level?
  • Publisher?
  • Genre?
  • Season/holiday?
  • Composer?

I would recommend keeping everything by level.  It takes longer to organize at the beginning, but you know exactly where to look when a student suddenly needs a new song during their lesson.  By the way, isn’t it the best surprise when a student finishes a song earlier than expected?

For games, are they organized by:

  • Level?
  • Publisher?
  • Topic?
  • Season/holiday?

My favourite way of organizing games is by topic in my file cabinet (though this will change as more & more becomes digital).  Once I have access to all the games that match a topic (i.e. note-reading, keyboard geography), it becomes quick for me to scan & choose the right game level for each student.

To reduce prep time, get the organizing done before lessons not during.

4. Make it easy to follow

Those who know me well will know that I can overthink things.  This is why I tend to talk things over with my husband & parents.  There’s something about articulating a process or idea that helps me find the tweaks that need to happen.

The same goes for our teaching.  If you are having issues keeping track of what is going on during lessons, what do you think your students are feeling?  There have been lessons where at the end I’ve asked myself, “What on earth did I do for the 45 minutes?”  

Have a plan that’s easy to follow.  This ensures you can focus on guiding your students as they make their own discoveries.  Not what’s next on the checklist.

There are concepts we have to teach our students for them to be successful.  But, our students determine when they are ready for those concepts.  Not us.  All we can do is guide them with different activities so they are set up for success.

But because kids are notorious for flitting from thought to thought, it does mean we need to keep that in mind.   Rather than planning out every single second & sticking to that plan, roughly plan out what the lesson will include (so you aren’t left high & dry).  And, be prepared to grab alternate resources if necessary during the lesson.

How to Reduce Prep Time

Follow these 4 tips to reduce prep time … & your stress levels!

If you would like to reduce your prep time further, visit The Unfinished Lesson shop.  It’s my one-stop-shop for teachers!

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