Shared Lessons

Handling absences in shared lessons

Joy O., Alabama

I’m starting to teach more groups, and my biggest problem so far is one or a few students missing the class. How do I manage make up lessons?

One student is in a group of two, and the moms are friends. She missed two lessons in a single month (attended, missed, attended, missed). When she came back, she was behind (one missed lesson was for a family funeral). But the week after that, she had only practiced the previous piece, not the one I taught in the lesson. I’m doing a make up lesson time for her today, but mom is concerned that they can’t learn more than one song a week. That pace would keep her behind.

I’m thinking of asking her, “How important is it for you to stay in a group with your friend?” I can’t have a group lesson with students who don’t keep up with each other.

Cate R., Australia

When I have a shared lesson and one misses, then I use the lesson to teach the child present an arrangement, a variation or composition/improvisation, or work on something that they might be struggling with. I email the parent of the absent child ASAP to let them know what we worked on today. When they return, I get the child who attended the previous lesson teach the one who was absent what they learned.

Susan M., Canada

I also send an email with details on the Foundation piece we covered and what video to watch. I keep the portion small. We cover an arrangement bit and I get them to explain to the other student the next week, and I do review of playlist pieces. In summer, I’ve videoed the lesson if a student goes on holidays and had an agreement with parents that they would keep up with the material covered. It has worked out very well without anyone feeling they have had a setback or wasted lesson.

Cheri S., Utah

Saying “How important is it for you to stay in the group?” tells the student that you’re willing to switch back to private lessons. I don’t think that’s where you really want to go. That would be YOU taking primary responsibility for their absence and lack of practice. Forever after, you’d be working longer for the same pay. An absence is the student’s and parent’s responsibility. Your job was to show up prepared to teach at the agreed time. You did your job.

I don’t know exactly what I do/say, but my parents are always anxious to make sure they stay caught up after an absence. This expectation probably comes across in everything I do/say. I give them the info they’ll need, with the assumption that they’re going to practice and be ready to move forward along with their class.

If needed, I make very short videos–just my phone camera pointed at someone’s hands, showing what we learned. They can be emailed or posted to YouTube directly from my phone.

Like other teachers I also cover things the absent student wouldn’t need right away, like an arrangement or even a special project, like a song that’s of particular interest to the student who did attend (with sheet music, lead sheets, or by coaching them on how to use a YouTube tutorial).

You do want to have an official understanding from the beginning. Once, I had a parent quit partly because she understood that makeup videos would always be provided for absences.

After that, I revised my studio policies. I also created a short Enrollment Contract, where they mark their initials next to key policies, and sign that they’ve read and agreed to all policies.

Joanne D., Australia

When one of my groups of 2 misses a lesson, she knows the has to catch up whatever she missed, which I email or text. If she comes in the next lesson and doesn’t know it, I get the other student to show her as it helps the other one to learn it better. Maybe also reassure the parent that they don’t need to learn the entire missed song in one week, and break it up into smaller, more manageable parts. You can still move forward while they slowly catch up.

Laurie Richards, Nebraska

I train my families from the beginning that they are responsible for finding out assignments from missed lessons. There’s no reason they can’t review any video sections covered. As for other projects not on video, many students will contact a classmate for help. If not, I look at it as an opportunity to have the rest of the class help teach the student in the next class – great learning opportunity for them as well under the ‘see-do-teach’ model of learning that Neil has mentioned. Because of the size of my studio, the only makeup lessons I offer are attending a different class as a makeup.

Patti P., Hawaii

I have a no makeup policy, and I use an online lesson app so if they miss they can easily see all the new assignments. An alternative is to just email them the assignment notes. I let them know when they enroll that if they miss for any reason, it’s up to them to catch up. Most of the time, they handle this without a problem. It might take a few weeks for them to entirely catch up, especially with variations and arrangements, but that’s okay.