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I'm volunteering at my high school, teaching violin/viola to beginners so that they can join the school orchestra, and I've run into a bit of a stump: they all started out as complete beginners, but their skill levels are starting to vary for various reasons.

Some of them already have experience on other instruments, which gives them an edge, while others either simply can't practice at home because they're homestaying or because they're simply swamped with homework (it's an AP/IB school). Often times there's the fundamental problem that some people are better at some things than others.

Complicating things more is the fact that some of them are already in the orchestra and want help with orchestra repertoire, while some want to work on different repertoire.

My new strategy right now is to let them practice in whatever ad-hoc groups they want, while I jump around (with another capable student from the school who also helps out) to give advice and try to keep them going in the right direction. I haven't tried it out yet, but I think it should at least keep everyone afloat, considering they're all surprisingly self-motivated for an ungraded class.

The "class" runs for about an hour a week and has around 8-9 students, though people usually stick around for about an hour and half until they get bored or tired. It'll be a juggling act.

Is there anything more I can do to either getting everyone on the same page without alienating/boring some students, or to keep everyone happy working at their own pace?

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Getting everyone "on the same page" is probably not the best option in this situation--it would probably end up being stifling and uninteresting for those with more aptitude, or the less advanced students would end up getting left in the dust.

If all of the students are self-motivated, then keeping each person moving at their optimal pace (whatever that may be) is ideal. The strategy you mentioned of jumping around, giving direction where it's needed most, and using students to help others is a GREAT idea, and I would even extend it to students within the course helping other students out. Having students teach each other is good for two reasons: the teacher-student will be required to communicate internal concepts (something they don't often have to do), and the student has a teacher who is 100% fluent with the same cultural landscape. (This improves communication, and ultimately, learning.)

If you can sectionalize your group into a few subgroups of similar ability, you could put together little string trios/duos--chamber music is great for musicianship even at a low level, and high school students should be able to accomplish quite a bit on their own.

The one hour per week is essentially going to be a practice session at its core, but you're putting it in an environment that allows instruction to occur as well--if you think of something that is important for all or some of the students, you can always gather the necessary amount of student attention so that your instruction is efficient as possible.

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Cool, good to know I'm on the right track. I had a little bit of an opportunity to try this out last week, but it's exam season and there weren't too many people -- so I'll have to try again this week. –  Rei Miyasaka May 10 '11 at 1:41
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