Shared Lessons, Private Lessons and Observatory Learning
Found in: Shared Lessons
From Samali D., Western Australia
I am responding to Kerry H’s e-mail about shared vs. private lessons in response to Cheryl G’s questions.
I found myself nodding in agreement as I read Kerry’s document about the reasons she gives to parents for why she believes shared lessons are preferable. Her response is so complete. Thank you Kerry for taking the time to so carefully craft your response.
When I began teaching SM the private lesson structure was what most of us did. Last year I made a total shift towards shared lessons. Currently 85% of my student base is in shared lessons. I have found all the reasons that Kerry has outlined about the benefits of shared lessons to be absolutely true in my experience. The learning environment of a shared lesson is that of community. This essence has a deep impact for all concerned in the lesson environment.
However it became apparent to me that it is impossible to teach shared SM lessons without teaching (at least some minimal number) of private lessons as there are inevitably those students that will never be able to fit into a shared situation for one reason or another. Despite the private lesson structure I was keen to bring as many beneficial elements of the shared lesson to these students that found themselves in a private lesson. This takes me to Kerry’s recent post.
Kerry made two specific points about observatory learning in private lessons in her e-mail:
- “Private lessons underestimate or undervalue the importance of observatory learning.”
- “Private lessons can be a little intimidating – the student has to come up with all the answers on their own for the whole lesson. This means they can be nervous for the whole lesson. In the case of shared lessons, the students get a chance to sit back and observe, allowing them to be in a relaxed state and just take in what they are watching. The students take turns at being the volunteer at the piano. The students are not nervous when they are observing.”
When talking to a parent at a FIS or on the phone I too would certainly use these points as part of the justification of why it is better for students to learn with others. Naturally the shared lesson environment lends itself for easy and natural facilitation of a large degree of “observatory learning” and “relaxed observation” throughout the lesson. Nonetheless I have found that a private lesson doesn’t necessarily preclude observatory learning completely. In practice I have been able to include some observatory learning in private lessons. This can occur particularly at the stage of processing patterns which I consider to be of considerable importance in the ongoing learning process of SM as a whole.
I achieve this in a private lesson with a child as the student by bringing the attending parent up alongside their child. Together, we (the student, parent and the teacher) process the patterns sitting at the keyboard with the practice pad on our laps i.e. into our fingers, into each others fingers, onto the pad then onto the keyboard. Sometimes I ask the parent to play the pattern first so that the child benefits from observing before she/he plays. He/she can also watch me play at the piano or on the practice pad. Sometimes all three of us are fingering on the pad. There are so many variations on this theme!
In the above scenario the parent does not become a student. I do not coach their playing or their learning process. I do not keep track of their playlist. I coach the child and facilitate the parent as an ally to provide extra learning opportunities for the child in the area of observatory learning. This can still work in the higher levels too. I taught Fur Elise in Level 6 to an 11 year old girl with her father alongside her (he does not play or practice). It was a wonderful experience for all (especially watching him sweating when I asked him to play the RH. He got it all right too!). Where there is an adult student I become their sole learning partner. We still process on the practice pad, into each others fingers etc.
In conclusion I do believe that there are enormous benefits to the shared lesson model. It is my preference for all my students. Easy facilitation of observatory learning is one enormous benefit of the shared lesson model. Nevertheless I believe that it is possible to include observatory learning in private lessons too, making it a benefit that all students of SM can gain from as part of their ongoing learning whether they find themselves in a private or a shared lesson.