When I started teaching piano full time, one of the biggest challenges for me personally was finding a method for lesson planning, tracking student progress, and materials.
The latter item I’ve mastered using Evernote (see Evernote Part 1: Studio Mangement), but the first two I struggled with for several years (I’ll avoid sharing the details of my failed attempts!)
We all know the best way to learn is to make mistakes and find a better way on our own, and that’s what I did.
One thing I’ve learned about myself is I’m a very visual person. I don’t do well simply making a note or two here or there for items I need to remember for students for their next lesson. I need to see the big picture. For one semester I even tried somewhat “winging it,” without writing down anything before the lesson and I felt kind of out of control and disorganized.
Finally, in 2014 I was inspired by an article in the September/October 2014 Issue of Clavier Companion written by Arlene Steffen, Stephen Hughes, and Craig Sale called “Lesson Plans: A teaching essential?” (I would highly recommend you read it!)
Thanks to their detailed article, my king spreadsheet was born.
Because a spreadsheet like this will be completely customized to your teaching style (and studio calendar), it doesn’t do me any good to give you a copy of mine. So, in this post, not only do I walk you through the details of what I include, but I’ve also created a video showing you through how to create your version. I’ll show you tips and tricks for using Excel like a pro!
Who is this for?
Before I go any further, one thing to keep in mind is that this sheet is for ME.
Students write their assignments down on their practice sheet in their binder during the lesson. (My youngest students just mark pages with tabs).
After I plan the day’s lessons, I individually select each students lesson (as seen in the image) and print a hard copy to have next to me during the lesson so I can make scribbles to myself noting any items that did or did not happen. Then, at the end of the day, I go back and update the sheet according to what actually occured.
*Note: To print individual areas in Excel like this, when you’re on the “print” page, under settings, select for it to “print selection” (not “active sheets” or “entire workbook.” I forgot to show this in the video – sorry!
Now, onto the details of how the sheet works.
Every column is a week of lessons. The students are in order according to their lesson time.
The left column is items we may cover within a lesson. (Just because I have multiple rows doesn’t mean I fill in everything each week. It just keeps me in check.)
The brilliant thing about it is that you can customize it however you like.
For example, Tim Topham likes to think of his lessons in 3 areas:
Technical Development, Creative/Exploratory Activities, and Repertoire. Thus, you could only have three rows.
Let me explain briefly each of the areas I use and what it entails.
R/T LSA – Audiation
This is for rhythm and tonal learning sequence activities I do at the beginning of each lesson (takes less than a minute) in alignment with Music Learning Theory and Edwin Gordon’s Rhythm and Tonal Register books. I also use Marilyn Lowe’s Pattern CD.
Sightreading, generally Piano Safari cards or the Celebration Series Four-Star Sightreading.
New concepts we may be discussing that day so that I can focus my activities and lesson around that new concept. Sometimes I might put down to review the new concept we learned the previous week.
New, review, memory, and by ear pieces are written here. I usually abbreviate the name of the book like “PS” for Piano Safari, “L” for Lesson, “P” for Performance, etc.
Games or some activity such as improvisation or composition
Music lab assignment. EMT stands for “Essentials of Music Theory” MLC is “Music Learning Community,” you get the idea.
Symbols and Spaces
I use the * symbol in a couple of different ways. For the audiation activities, it tells me the level of difficulty (easy, medium, difficult) they achieved.
For everything else, if I put one * it means I did not get to hear that item in the lesson that week. This helps me remember to do it first the following week.
Occasionally we may go two weeks without hearing an item in which case I put two stars **.
In the image above, you’ll also notice a space between pieces. This is how I show how many weeks they’ve had a piece. So, the first student has had The Hummingbird one week and the new pieces assigned at this lesson were Mr. McGill’s Boop Sha Bop and Hot Cross Buns. The second student had all three items assigned newly this lesson, and the third student has had Yellow Bird for two weeks, Fearless Fortissimo for one week and will be starting a new “By Ear” piece this week.
Customizing Your Excel Spreadsheet
In this video, I’ll not only give you a peek into my spreadsheet but will walk you step-by-step through how to make one of your own in less than 10 minutes.
Keep in mind this is just ONE EXAMPLE of how ONE PERSON tracks lessons. You may look at this monster and think “good grief, this is overkill.” Maybe you’re already brainstorming how you could do it a little differently or make it better.
Great! Do it – that’s exactly what I did!
This sheet has evolved little by little the past four years, and I’m sure every year it will continue to do so.
As you watch this video, keep in mind this question….
How can I apply this to the way I teach?
Having the ability to look at lessons from the previous year has proved invaluable. Two presses on the keyboard (Ctrl +F) and you can search for anything!
Did I assign that Christmas-theme note name worksheet to Lisa last year? I don’t want to assign the same one again.
Where did I leave off in my key study with Dan? Did we make it through E minor completely?
I forgot to write down when Jane started Lesson Book 1. Did I first give it to her in September or November?
Wow, I didn’t realize I had gone 3 months without much sightreading with Brad last year. No wonder he’s struggling reading 4ths vs. 6ths.
Do you see how useful it can be?
More on Lesson Planning
Other articles I’ve found useful over the years regarding lesson planning include: