When you teach a lot of students, it’s hard to keep an overview of what you’ve already covered. Once in a while I would hand out a “new” song only to hear from my student that we’ve already played it a year ago. The opposite also happened as well. I say something like, “That’s similar to the 2 string octave arpeggio shapes we’ve already discussed” only to get a startled look and the reply that my student doesn’t know what I’m referring to. And rightly so, because I haven’t covered it with him, but with some other student instead.
No big deal, right? Or is it? You get old(er) and bad memory and dementia are inevitable, n’est-ce pas?
Absolutely not. It has nothing to do with bad memory. It’s simply a fact that mix-ups can and do happen when you teach more than a handful of students.
Part of the problem is that when at the end of a lesson you picture doing something with a student in the future, that vivid image might get stored similarly to an actual past experience in your mind. So you might think that you already covered something while actually you just recall an imagined future lesson.
Tracking Assignments is a Must!
Even though I scaled down my teaching this year in order to have more time for music productions and this blog, I still deal with a ton of students, though not the 50+/week anymore as just a few years ago. What my prior growth years have taught me though, and what it boils down to is: you need a system to track your students’ assignments and their progress.
Hey, just think back to your own school years. Chances are that if the teacher didn’t know what the homework assignment was, then tough luck for the teacher.
Keeping track is your responsibility.
Fortunately, a simple sheet where at the end of each lesson you quickly write down the assignment is all you need.
Feel free to download the form I used to quickly capture your student’s assignment. In the zip file you’ll find the form in European A4-size format, US letter size as well as a quick dummy sample with some additional, short instructions (all in PDF format). I hope it’ll be useful to you.
But tracking is only the first piece of the puzzle. It’s important, but not enough. If all you do is track the assignments, the main problem will creep up on you over time.
What’s the Main Problem?
With lots of students at varying levels of ability and different topics covered already, it’s easy to lose the big picture. You definitely don’t want to wade through literally dozens of weekly assignment tracking sheets with all your student data on them, just to double-check if you’ve already covered a specific topic with a student. Trust me – it’s a huge time-suck and frustrating on top of that.
The solution is a centralized data collection point. How’s that for a techy buzzword?
The Solution: Evernote to the Rescue!
Think of Evernote as your second, digital brain. Evernote is great for lots of things like collecting interesting snippets of information you find on the web, music and general data colletion, management of your collected data, even storage of files you need at your fingertips accessible from anywhere, like important PDFs.
I won’t go into all the possible uses. Let’s keep it focused on getting your teaching to a higher level of organization and setting up your system to get you going.
A simple spreadsheet for each student might look like a viable alternative at first. Unfortunately, putting my data in a GoogleDocs spreadsheet would not work for me. It doesn’t show up on my older SonyEricsson cell phone, which is not a smart phone in the iPhone/Android sense. But my phone is smart enough to let me access my Evernote data over the internet. In case you do have an iPhone/Android device, even better for you due to the Evernote app with even more functionality.
So that’s the killer feature right there, because now I simply can pull out my phone during a lesson and show my student what we’ve already covered and what therefore the next logical topic to study is. It always seems to impress the heck out of them and at the same time also shows them that I’m on top of things, organized and do have a plan for them. More on the having-a-plan part later in this article.
If you don’t have Evernote yet, simply sign up for a free Evernote account. You’ll also get 1 month of Evernote premium with lots of extra features as a special sign-up bonus.
On to the Practical Steps…
I’ve created a “Student Progress” note book. For every student there’s an individual note with the student’s name as title. And in that note I record all the relevant information from each lesson. You don’t need to get too fancy with your formatting, but a simple table does help in keeping your data tidy. I track the date, topic covered, notes and what I need to prepare or want to cover with my student in the near future.
Remember the “having a plan” from earlier on?
It’s also a good idea to write a couple of short-term goals at the very top, so you can always see at first glance what the current top-priority items are. To give you a better idea, have a look at this sample dummy student note I’ve prepared for you.
You can see the goals on top and the entries chronologically (in blog-style format) from the latest information on top, back to the very first lesson at the bottom. Additionally, it’s a good idea to add some tags to your individual Evernote notes. No need to go crazy with tons of tags, just a select few to help you sort your main groups.
The tags I use are: student, ex-student, acoustic, electric, guitar and keyboard.
Sometimes a student quits. There’s many reasons for that, it could be that he lost interest, doesn’t want to practice anymore, has discovered other hobbies to pursue, has to focus on something else like college, a job, etc.
Whatever it is: don’t delete the data! Keep it in Evernote, that’s what Evernote is here for. Change the status tag from student to ex-student. This way the student note won’t show up in your search results when you simply want to sift through your current students in your list view.
And in case your student’s circumstances change or he misses you badly and wants to resume his studies, you simply change the note from ex-student back to student. You have all the data, know what you already covered, have an overview and can create a new plan of action based on solid data instead of hazy memories.
The instrument specific tags are pretty self-explanatory, I think. They’re here simply for the sake of additional options when filtering.
A Few Minutes to Port Your Data into Evernote is All You Need
The downside and the price you have to pay is a few minutes at the end of the day where you need to port your data from the homework assignment tracker over into Evernote. A small inconvenience and well worth the effort considering all the benefits you get:
- centralized general overview
- safe data storage
- access anywhere via local application, web browser or cell phone
- sorting and filtering of data
- peace of mind and tons of saved time preparing material for your students
- perception of being on top and in control by your students
The last point alone is priceless, best of all, it’s not just a fake perception, you really are on top of things and in control.
Recommended Evernote Resource
A great resource to learn the in and outs of Evernote is Evernote Essentials.
However, it’s not necessary to buy this e-book, you definitely can figure Evernote out on your own and hopefully my explanations were helpful as well. But, if you are new to Evernote and want to speed up your learning process, I highly recommend Evernote Essentials.
Any Other Ideas for Keeping Track?
I hope this gives you some food for thought and makes your teaching life easier. If you have any questions, feel free to ask. Maybe you have a different method of staying on top of things or would like to add some additional twist on how to use Evernote to keep your teaching organized? Please share them by leaving a comment below.