Parent Complaint about Group Lessons
Christy B., Tennessee
For those of you who teach mostly in groups, how have you addressed complaints from parents about group lessons and the student to teacher ratio? (Meaning they feel their child isn’t getting enough ‘piano time’ in their new group lesson)? I teach mostly small groups. But some of you I know teach large groups of 6 or more.
I have a situation where I had a small group of 2 kids in one class and another small group of 3 kids in a different class all in Foundation 2. One girl from the smaller group of 2 discontinued this summer, and so I merged the remaining single student into the other small class of 3 to form a new group of 4 students.
How would you respond to the email I received from the Dad (of the girl who was recently merged) after today’s lesson:
We have some concerns about the new class situation…
It would seem almost impossible for each student to get even 10 minutes of
teaching time with this many students. That is a lot of money for less than 10 min.
With this many students in one session, it is starting to feel like when I go to the Drs. Office,
and he has patients lined up in every room at the same time. Profitable perhaps, but not much
time for the patient.
Can anyone offer any suggestions here to address the Dad’s concerns? He obviously feels that he’s not getting his money’s worth (even though class went over by a good 10 minutes.)
Claire C., Pennsylvania
Some thoughts: When students go to their academic schools in classes of 20-30 students for a 30-45 min math class, does anyone criticize that they are not getting enough “teaching” time? In regular school students are supposed to do the projects, work in groups or pairs as assigned. Don’t see how group music lessons are much different.
Somehow the doctor’s office comparison doesn’t make much sense in comparison with music lessons.
Question-does this student practice regularly at home? If they do then the class should offer them enough to work on and perform in class. I’ve had private students who don’t practice (they say they do but I know they don’t) and I wind up using the session to have them practice. There is a cost for this type of tutoring-more expensive than a group lesson. Make sure if you offer private lessons that you charge a substantial premium for this service.
The most important part of learning an instrument is the time outside of the lesson when the student processes the information and work on the skills. Even with a private lesson, a student who doesn’t practice will flounder even with all the “attention”.
Alice W., Australia
I haven’t been teaching very long but I’ve also come across this problem many times. I equate learning to that which occurs in a class of 20 or even 30 students at school. I also remind them of the many different ways in which individuals learn and the ways in which students can learn not only from me but also each other and even through “teaching” or showing parents what needs to be done.
A comparison with a doctor simply cannot be made but a comparison with regular educational institutions can.
I would be firm but fair. Sounds like it may just be a disgruntled parent who is overly concerned with “value for money”. You could also politely suggest that they wait and watch to see the continued and equivocal progression their child is making and assure them that you can be confident that their child will still progress and a fantastic rate, whilst benefiting from the added insight and learning of their peers.
Carol P., Michigan
Has he actually observed the class? I only have one class of 4 at this point, but the parents who come to that class are completely sold. It’s the most fun hour of my week. It seems to me that the kids in that class pay closer attention and are more engaged. I sometimes ask them to kindly critique each other, especially before a recital. For instance “What do you think was the best thing about that performance? What still needs some work?” It gets them thinking in a different way. For playlist review I have one student toss dice for another and choose a level, for example, if they roll 7 they might say “play the seventh song in level 2”. That’s just one example of fun activities that we do in a group.
I have the class kids do a joint project at the recital to kind of get it out there if front of the others who aren’t in classes. I also refer those “not class” parents to the “class” parents and hope that a helpful conversation will come out of it.
I think now that I’ve seen how much better groups are than private lessons it’s easier for me to “sell” them to the non-believers.
Sandy L., Nebraska
As Neil says in the TTM’s when talking about shared lessons, “we learn in groups.” I do not remember exactly where to find his discussion of this, but I have 2 DVD’s from my initial training on shared lessons, as well as the training for FIS’s. I think you would find Neil talking about shared lessons quite a bit on either of those, and the discussion would include participatory and observatory learning. It might be a good idea to go back and reference some of that before e-mailing the dad back. It will help you get your talking points down.
For what it’s worth, my students who have been in private lessons progress much more slowly than those in groups of 2, 3, or 4, or higher. Private students have no opportunity to learn from their peers.
Your students in group lessons are each getting a full 40 to 50 minutes of learning (however long your lessons are). They are getting much more than the private student, and for what they are getting, the price is an absolute bargain (whatever it is). Each student should be focused and learning the whole time. If each student is learning only when they are at the piano, they are wasting their own time as well as yours and their classmates. Their observatory learning should be active and engaged. I tell my students whenever someone is at the piano, they should be playing the same thing via air piano or on their leg. This requires their full attention on the person at the piano and the last one in a round robin often requires little to no coaching through new learning because they have it down by the time their turn comes.
Mary R., Michigan
Every single second of class time is “teaching time”. All kids should be gathered around the piano watching and listening when it’s not their turn to play. I’d have the “receptive v. generative learning” talk with this dad. The beauty of group lessons is the chance to take IN the information several times before being asked to generate anything. Also a higher energy environment, more fun for the kids–thus they are more engaged, and higher accountability–“If I don’t do my work the whole class may not be able to progress!!” People get testy about the money part, but truly it’s the ENERGY level in the room that is the greatest reason to teach in groups. Reading books is fun, but being in a book group doubles or triples the pleasure, ditto exercise and a million other activities. You are building a little community of music makers!! Give him my phone number–I’ll talk his ear off!
Shanta H., Minnesota
Just to piggyback on these comments about observatory learning being important, I think I remember this from somewhere in the training materials, or maybe from an ECL post a couple years ago: To the parent who says, “Yes, but how much time does he get at the piano?” I say, “He gets all the time he needs at the piano– at home, in the 6 days 23 hours and 10 minutes that he’s not with me. What we do in lessons is a coaching session. It’s up to the student (and their life coach) to take the new learning home and apply it and master it.” The real learning happens at home from the student’s hard work, we are just opening the door and showing the student how to walk through it.
It is true about private students typically moving more slowly in my experience as well. I often find that I have to take time to do an extra demonstration so that a private student can observe and fully grasp what’s happening.
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
All the comments thus far are right on. I would say to wrap it all up in a nutshell, consider the following:
1. Listen to the Foundation Session again…as previously mentioned, this is all about the purpose of the lesson being a coaching session – NOT where the actual learning takes place. These conversations are so important.
2. Look up the list that was posted on the ECL – I believe by Mark M. – on the advantages of shared lessons. Share it with parents – it may at the very least get their minds to consider wandering off the ‘private lessons are best’ track.
3. Consider how you communicate your belief in shared lessons – your confidence and enthusiasm in the process goes a long way. If you aren’t quite there yet, ‘fake it till you make it’, as they say. The more experience you have with larger shared lessons, the more convicted you will be of their merit.
4. You may want to share other teachers’ comments from this thread – I will add mine that my largest shared lessons (which have been 6 – 8 students) have been the most motivated and successful groups. They progress more quickly and enjoy the process more, hands down. It becomes a fun, shared experience rather than an isolating one where every step is done solo.
Those are just a few thoughts – gotta go teach now, but this is a huge topic, and one I love!
Rochelle G., California
I would just like to add one more thought to this conversation: not a new one, but stated in different words. Sometimes different wording works for different people. In a group lesson of 4, you are teaching (coaching) the group as a whole, not giving 4 private lessons. Then tack on all the other benefits already mentioned.
My largest groups are 6 to 8 students…they are more fun, progress more quickly, and the learning is broadened by everyone’s input, breakthroughs, etc.
Jeff O., Massachusetts
I would only add one thing to the discussion about “selling” parents on shared lessons: it is the experience of the SM teacher body (including me and maybe you) that students in private lessons DO NOT progress more quickly than those in groups. Of course, just because WE know that, doesn’t mean that parents know it, and it is counter-intuitive and counter-cultural, so it comes down to trust-the parents must trust you on this or take their business elsewhere. Some will leave over this, and that’s too bad for their children, but not for your studio.
Carrie L., Michigan
I find that using examples really helps in ‘selling’ group classes and also just being consistent about it and talking about it like it’s no big deal and just what happens at the studio.
I have 3 examples of students that would have quit had they not been in a group with others encouraging them. I also have an example of a student that I pulled out of shared and put in private thinking it would help him and it didn’t.. he learned much slower and I put him back in a shared lesson after a few months.
I would also share that the more confident you are about teaching shared lessons and its effectiveness the less problems you will have with having students move into shared lessons.
I do tell stories as well about students that were in private and moved to shared and now progress quicker and love it more.
Just this past week we put together two private lesson students that were both hesitant. By the end of the lesson they were setting up playdates and swapping phone numbers!!