Last week I presented the general principles behind messy piano. This week I am going to look at a messy lesson in more depth.
As one-to-one instrumental teachers we have a potentially exciting and unique opportunity to explore how pupils can learn in new and deep ways. We are free to teach exactly how we like and, if we get this even half-right, the results can be very powerful indeed. The secret, I believe, is to plan lessons more, with the attention focussed on how and what pupils learn.
‘Get them to love learning and then you have a chance of getting them to love your subject’. 
THE 5 STEP FORMULA
Let’s try an experiment – print off a copy of the downloadable Lesson Plan, choose a pupil (ideally one that you already have some long term plans for) and use the 5 Step Formula outlined below to help you plan the next lesson.
#1 THE DESTINATION
Conversely, the place to start is at the end. Ask yourself how the pupil is going to move from where s/he is currently to where you want them to be by the end of the lesson. The critical question is:
Where will the pupil be by the end of the lesson?
The more specific you are the more likely this is to be successful.
Framing some well defined Learning Targets is very helpful with this. I don’t think that I am still particularly great at framing these, yet what really helps me is to use the name of the student and an action verb (listen, imitate, sing, play, describe, explain, improvise, transfer, create, compose, write).
Here are two possible Learning Targets: which one do you think is more likely to have a positive outcome?
- Danny will be able to play his piece rhythmically
- Danny will be able to count, clap and play a 4 bar rhythm that uses crotchets, quavers and semiquavers whilst maintaining a steady pulse
For a positive 30 minute lesson only one or two Learning Targets should be created.
#2 THE PLAN
Once THE DESTINATION has been decided the next stage is to move onto THE PLAN. With this you can start planning the route.
How will I guide the pupil through the lesson so that the Learning Targets are achieved?
One suggestion is to break the route up into small stages. For each one make brief notes on: teaching ideas, resources, method of delivery and timings:
- stage 1
- stage 2
- stage 3
- Call-to-action (CTA)
Of course, each stage will probably have different content such as technique, reading skill development, musicianship, known repertoire and new repertoire yet, and this is where the crafting comes in, with the Learning Targets weaving their way through them all.
If I know what the Learning Targets are, I look for every opportunity to include it throughout the lesson.
#3 THE LESSON
With THE PLAN in place THE LESSON itself can be considered. Think back to some of the best lessons you have given. They will share certain qualities.
How will the lesson be delivered and what activities might it contain?
- Making Music – an emphasis on making music should be paramount and central to the lesson. This might be the pupil playing, you playing to the pupil (and I don’t mean just demonstrating at the top or bottom of the keyboard), playing together or one pupil playing to another. Whatever its form music should be the dominant form of communication throughout.
- Teaching Hats – consider what Teaching Hats you will need to wear. Will you be teaching something directly or through coaching, mentoring or collaborating with your student? Ideally you should find yourself wearing at least a couple of hats at some point during the lesson.
- Lesson Pace – the Lesson should have a crisp and decisive pace to it. If you and the pupil get stuck on something it’s time to move onto to a fresh activity.
- Dialogue – with making music the primary form of communication there shouldn’t be the need for lots of talking and explanations. What there is should be a two-way dialogue between the two of you simulated by carefully phrased questions.
- Spirit – finally, it is vital to keep the spirit of the lesson in mind. Playful and creative at all times – get too serious and the learning usually disappears. Share your own passion for music and the piano openly with pupils – just by being enthusiastic you can inspire and motivate.
#4 THE REVIEW
Has the pupil reached The Destination?
- Danny can correctly count simple time rhythms from notation up to and including semiquavers
- He can clap a simple time rhythm accurately holding a steady pulse
- He can play a simple time rhythm accurately on one note holding a steady pulse with the other hand
- He might be able to play a simple time rhythm accurately within a simple melody line
#5 THE CALL-TO-ACTION
Specifically, what is the pupil going to work on during their home practice?