How do you teach singing? Different teaching models for different occasions

Here’s an interesting question: How do you teach?

“Well I stand in a room and instruct my students to do it better”.

Congratulations, you can stop reading now…

Have they gone? OK, let’s look at that question because it’s a doozie.

Your teaching model

How do you teach? This is not what you teach (the techniques, the information) but in what style do you teach it. Everyone who teaches uses a teaching model, either consciously or unconsciously.

What’s a teaching model?

A teaching model is “a pattern or plan, which can be used to shape a curriculum or course, to select instructional materials and to guide a teacher’s action” (Nelson L Bossing, 1970). So it’s the theory behind how you teach what you teach and when.

How many teaching models are there?

The internet definitely doesn’t agree on this. I’ve seen 4, 5, 6, 7 and up to 25 different models listed. And teachers/coaches will often swap between models (even unconsciously) depending on what they want their students to achieve.

Let’s take a couple of them that you might recognise in your own teaching or coaching

The Gradual Release of Responsibility model

The Gradual Release of Responsibility model was defined in 1983 by Pearson & Gallagher, based on the idea of the Zone of Proximal Development devised by Lev Vygotsky in the previous decade. It’s a structured path that gets the teacher to build “scaffolding” and then gradually take it away until the student is autonomous.

There are four stages

  1. Listen while I tell/explain/show the skill (focused lesson – I do)
  2. Try it out while I guide you (collaborative learning – we do)
  3. Explain what you’re doing while I listen (facilitation – you do with me present)
  4. Go off and do it – I’m here if you need me (independent – you do without me present


This model represents “built in obsolescence” for the teacher. You guide your students to end up not needing you. Gillyanne and I have used this as a basis for our teaching and coaching for years. We want you to be independent and to be able to do the things you want to do. We’re here if you need us to clarify or expand anything.

Incidentally, to fully stand behind this model as a teacher takes a leap of faith. It can feel lovely when your students come every week year after year – they appreciate you, they need you and they pay you money. But it doesn’t encourage them to have independent thinking or to find their own self-expression. If your student or choir finishes singing and looks to you immediately for feedback, or if you’re yelling encouragement at them while they’re singing, you might want to consider shifting to this GRR model.

Pros and cons

So the pros are encouraging independent thought, supported experiential learning for the student, and a sense of responsibility that shifts from the teacher to the student through the process.

The cons? Too easy to get embedded in the first stage – giving unnecessary detail, singing AT the student in a way they can’t manage or reproduce, micromanaging the student’s output.

Or keeping them in the second stage “no, stop, not like that”.

Or taking them to the fourth stage (independence) too early in the process “haven’t you done it yet? Why on earth did you do it like that?”

Probably the biggest con is the implicit fact that it works best on yes/no, black/white, structured processes. Do this and it works, do that and it won’t work. There is not much room for individuality or different ways of getting to the same output. You might learn to make noises on one note (congratulations…), but putting them into a song is by definition messier


The Differentiated Instruction model

The teachers focuses on one topic, but works to give each student a personal experience of it.

Differentiated learning 1-1 is very different from differentiated learning in the classroom. 1-1 is easier and you probably already do it (if you don’t, you should probably stop reading this and carry on telling everyone to do what you say – see the cons above).

We call it “working with the singer in the room” and we demo this in masterclasses or observed lessons. You have the knowledge and you select or morph that knowledge to fit the needs of the person in front of you.

Differentiated learning in the classroom is similar, although you have a group of people with different needs. We’ve been incorporating DL into our Accreditation programme and it’s made an enormous difference to the way our teachers and coaches are absorbing the techniques and skills we teach.

So we’re using visuals, videos, and hand drawings live in sessions to explain and highlight teaching points. We use the chatbox or unmute button so that people can express their opinions when they want in the way they want. The group training sessions are always open for questions and clarifications, and we build enough flexibility into each session that we can dive down interesting rabbit holes brought up by the participants without losing the flow of that session’s topic.

We use practical exercises and examples all the time so people can hear, see and experience how the tools they are discovering are used in real life in the industry. We’re also involving peer learning, buddy sessions and group chat for discussion, support and sharing. And while we don’t do essays, we do include lesson reports and student updates. But they can be on paper, audio, video, mixed media, any way the student finds the easiest to express themselves. We even had one Registered Teacher paint her report – it was stunning and reflected her ethos brilliantly.

We also record every group session and cut them up into small, clearly labelled videos (3-15 minutes) so that our participants can go back, check out a technique or process that they didn’t quite get in the live session. We also take the time to subtitle every video so if English isn’t your first language (and apologies to everyone but I talk FAST when I’m excited), you can go back and watch the videos with the subtitles to see what on earth I was talking about.

Pros and cons

The pros? The learning experience is very rich. You have the ability to tailor your information, instructions and techniques to the singer in the room (even if there are many of them). It supports different learning abilities and modes. Understanding is often faster, and it can raise motivational levels.

The cons? It makes our job more intricate, takes longer to set up and coordinate, and takes a LOT of energy. It’s definitely not cookie cutter, and it means we’re “on” a lot. It’s not for the faint-hearted or the lazy organiser. It’s a shift of focus that might take time to incorporate.

Why these two teaching models?

I’m highlighting these two teaching models as examples because in a way they’re opposites. And we’ve used (and still use) both. There are certain situations where the structured approach of the Gradual Release of Responsibility model is extremely useful and valid, particularly if your client is inexperienced. We use it occasionally on the Accreditation programme when there is a technique, thought process or concept that might be new to our participants.

We’re using the Differentiated Learning model more, partly because our clients are already knowledgeable in certain areas, and partly because the results, the outcomes, the solidity and new confidence of the teachers we work with is so, so rewarding.

There are more models of teaching, all of which can have their place depending on your teaching circumstances.

Do you recognise either of these models in your teaching? Let us know what you think in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you.




PS If you want to experience us putting both of these models into action live with singers, we’ve got a new set of More Than A Masterclass events online – check them out here and here



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