Creating a physical setting that is optimal for student participation is one element that will help ensure that students receive the most benefit during your mentoring sessions. Some locations may have small practice rooms that can be a tight fit, or you may conduct your sessions in a larger unoccupied choir or other classroom. Making sure that the room is arranged in the most optimal configuration can make a huge difference in your students’ experience.
Regardless of the room size or setup, you will want to make sure all students can see you as you demonstrate any music or technique. Many students don’t have the option to study privately, and basic elements such as reading music, fingerings, embouchure, bowing, and other fundamentals that we take for granted may be a struggle for some of them. Positioning yourself so all students can see how you hold your instrument and your technique as you play can make a big difference.
If your sessions are conducted in a small practice room where it’s a tight squeeze to fit all your students, there are some steps you can take in how the room is set up to make the session more efficient. As noted above, do your best to make sure that you are positioned so all students can see you when you demonstrate, and if the situation requires you to be in the middle of a group of students make sure that all students are aware of any instructions you provide and can view demonstrations you make.
If the small room size becomes an issue, you can suggest to split students into separate groups, working with one set of students for half the period and the other set during the second half. Optionally you can suggest alternating students every other week, however in general it’s recommended to not have too much time elapse for students between sessions. This is something you can confer with the teacher on if this option is needed to determine the preferred approach.
One key to working in a larger room is to have the students set up in close proximity to each other and to you as you lead the session. You can make setting up the room in a more productive arrangement part of the students’ tasks to prepare for the session, and leave a bit of time at the end of the session for them to reset the room.
Keeping yourself near the students will help them to remain focused, allowing them to hear you better, while allowing you to better observe their technique and behavior. It’s also important that they maintain an ensemble feel, so they can hear and observe their fellow students throughout the session.
There are two primary sources of distractions during a session. One is how the students interact with each other, in particular when they are not playing and you’re providing instruction, and the other occurs when working in windowed rooms where students in the main classroom or outside traffic might create distractions.
By positioning the students closer to you in a large room setting, or by being in the middle of the students in a smaller room, it’s much easier to assert authority and keep the students focused on the work at hand. If you notice there are students who are particularly prone to or are causing distractions, you can specifying the seating arrangement to help reduce those situations, as appropriate for the parts each student plays.
If you’re working in a room that has windows, it’s recommended to position students so they can’t look out the window, and if possible position yourself so you can see any potential distractions through the window and bring the students attention back to the work at hand.
Regardless of the room configuration, don’t be afraid to try new setups or seating layouts, and work with the music teacher if there are any aspects of your sessions that you feel could be more effective.