I remember when I first started teaching, being anxious about how I would manage to fill a 30 minute lesson! Now, twenty years on, I wonder sometimes how I can possibly fit everything into an hour’s session!!! I’m sure you’d agree, as you develop as a teacher, it becomes increasingly hard to manage lesson time. If I’m honest, at times I’ve wasted too much time on an activity in a lesson to the detriment of other equally important things. So earlier this year I took a long hard look at time management in my lessons with a view to regaining control!
How to manage time?!?
What a question! Someone once said to me:
“early in the hour, early in the day, early in the week, early in the month, early in the year, early in your life…!”
What an excellent philosophy. If we could all hold to that principle, what a lot we could achieve! Certainly getting quickly down to work at the start of the lesson is the first step to fighting the clock.
How do I cut the cake?
I try to split the lesson time 50/50. The first half of the lesson I work on “skill building” technique, reading skills, aural/ear training and theory. I call this area of the lesson with my students the “main course” as this is where all the musical nutrition and muscle building occurs!
The second and last half of the lesson I spend on two or three pieces. I call this the “desert (pudding)” part as it is often the area of the lesson that pupils look forward to the most; songs are the reason we all started learning to play or sing in the first place!
Breaking it down further, I like to try and divide each lesson into about six mini-sections. Why six? Well scientists have worked out that 10 minutes is the optimum concentration length of a human being (more on this in a future blog perhaps). Therefore, if a pupil is having a lesson for an hour, that equates to six, ten minute sections. Or a younger child is just having a 30 minute lesson, then the lesson can be split into six, five minute sections. It really helps to keep the lesson fast paced and exciting as well as hopefully achieving lots of progress.
To help with managing these 5 or 10 minute sessions I’ve bought two oversized sand timers (available from Amazon) helpfully labelled 5 & 10 minutes. They not only help me but also help pupils, especially the “talkers” visually be aware of the passing of time. As a fun alternative, some quite enjoy my “buzzer” app timer on my iPhone or I sometimes use my “clown horn” or “service bell” to announce the end of a section! I imagine there might be the odd raised eyebrow at this point! Well it’s all part of the fun of learning and teaching!!!
Any cake to take home?
Of course there is only so much one can do as a teacher when you only see your pupil for 30 out of 10, 080 minutes of the week! Surely therefore, the role of the lesson is very much helping pupils to learn how to practice. Six 5 to 10 minutes practice slices a day sets an excellent model for students and parents to follow at home in an effort to manage time and have fun into the bargain.
Long term time management
An interesting psychological observation is that if a performance or exam is coming up in another month, pupils tend to think that they have loads of time to practice even if it’s coming up next week! A little trick I’ve found helpful is to make a customised calendar (free at www.timeanddate.com) to show them the current date, to the deadline, so they can see exactly how many days are left. Even more effective is when they physically cross off each day that has gone. I also keep a count-down of how many lessons are left in the subject line of their emails to heighten their sense of urgency!
How do you manage lesson time? What ideas can you share that might help me or other teachers that read this blog?