Key Points from the Book for Music Teachers…
For those of you who are new to this blog, Brecklyn and I are trying to set up a world-wide violin teacher book club for music teachers to study teaching, child development, and business skills. It has been a little slow to get started as we have been trying to figure out how to have a book club when you can’t just meet at someone’s house. We have finally come to the conclusion that the best way will be discussion through our Facebook group and comments on the blog, as Skype and other video chatting just won’t work for this big of a group. I think it will be good for me to be able to thoughtfully put responses together through writing.
We still have some other things to work out, which is where you come in! Please vote on what books our club will read in 2016. I will take a tally by December 15 (so then I can buy all the books for myself for Christmas and/or put them on hold at the library.)
The first book we wanted to discuss as a club was How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. I loved this book and am planning on rereading it many times. This is a parenting book, but I found it relatable to many relationships I have: student-teacher, neighbor-neighbor, husband-wife, parent-teacher, etc.
Here are the top ten things I want to remember from the book:
1. Match the Emotion
In the past, when a student has been frustrated or sad in lesson, I have prided myself on talking calmly and serenely as they have a temper tantrum. Now I realize that this contributes to the frustration. When I match their tone, they feel heard and we can move on to the next thing.
Student: “I can’t do it! This is way too hard.”
Teacher: “I hear what you’re saying. It’s difficult. Let’s keep trying.”
Student: “I can’t do it! This is way too hard.”
Teacher: (Sometimes pulling my hair for dramatic effect.) “I hate high two’s! I wish that there were only ever C naturals! Aghh!”
This way the student feels heard, not managed.
2. Use a Note, Not a Lecture
I really want to encourage parents to take notes, so in the past I have never taken any notes or written much down for my student during a lesson (I take notes in my own notebook to keep track.) Reading How to Talk…. helped me realize what an opportunity I’ve been missing. It’s still important for parents to take notes, but if I send home a note with one practice focus, it can be really helpful.
Will you please remember me? I feel so lonely and forgotten.
The accents in “Witches Dance.”
3. Fix with One Word
The longer I talk, the sooner my students stop listening.
Old Way: “When you played that, all of the C#’s were really low, can you play it again with your finger reaching for your nose?”
New Way: “C#! Try again.”
4. Praise the Good, Ignore the Bad
Even when a student is not very good at a particular skill, occasionally they will play it correctly (surrounded by incorrect examples.) If you pick up on the one time they got it, they will start searching for ways to earn that praise again.
Old Way: “That was not in tune. You really need to listen for those ringing notes.”
New Way: “Wow, did you hear that last note? It was so perfectly in tune it made your whole violin ring! Do you think you could get all the notes in that song to sound like that?”
5. Don’t Cast Anyone in Roles
I loved reading Chapter 6 “Freeing Children From Playing Roles.” Whenever I think of a student as fitting into a role, it builds frustration in both of us. When I expect “the hyperactive kid” to walk in the door, I start the lesson uptight and prepared to discipline bad behavior. When I am in a lesson with “the talented kid,” I may not be listening or watching as closely for bad habits that may be creeping into his playing. Human beings (including and especially children) are rarely one thing or another. They have a huge mix of personality traits. When we cast someone in a role, the disrespectful parent or the child afraid of mistakes, we may not notice the good behavior that contradicts that role.
In a past post, I wrote about being “the nice teacher” or “the strict teacher.” I really don’t want to be either one. I just want to be a teacher that’s constantly trying to improve, and I hope that’s what my students see as well.
6. Avoid Defensive Questions
Ask questions or make statements that invite honest responses. Sometimes asking too many questions can make people feel defensive.
Old Way: “Did you practice this week?”
New Way: “What problems came up in your practicing this week that we can work on in lesson?”
Old Way: Awkwardly avoid any talk about money with parents of students.
New Way: “I was just going over my records and it looks like I don’t have a check from you yet this month. Just letting you know that you could mail it to me, or bring it to lesson next week.”
7. Give Choices
Children (like adults) enjoy feeling that they have some control over their life. I have noticed that my students really respond well when I give them choices in their lesson.
“Would you like to do scales or bow exercises first?”
“How many times in a row do you think you could play this perfect?”
“You pick one review piece, I’ll pick the other.”
“Here’s a list of pieces we can learn next. I want you go home, listen to all of them, and tell me which one you want to learn.”
8. Be Honest
When you are honest about your own feelings (even negative ones!) your students will learn that they can share things with you. It will also help them to treat you with respect and kindness.
Old Way: Build up frustration until I work myself into a frantic mess.
New Way: “It’s very frustrating for me when you start playing before I finish instructions. When you jump in before I’m done, you may not hear what I want, and then we’ll have to start over. Can you wait to play until I give you the go-ahead?”
In Chapter 3 “Alternatives to Punishment” the authors wrote about using brainstorming to overcome problems.
Teacher: “I’ve noticed that you’re feeling frustrated that you’ve been in Book 2 for so long and we’re not moving on to Book 3. I know that it’s easy to lose motivation when there’s nothing new to play. The problem is, I know about the songs in Book 3, and to be successful at those you have to be able to do ______ and ________ well. Let’s think of some ideas to solve this problem. I’m going to write all of them down.” Grabs pencil and paper.
Student: “How about you stop being so picky and we learn the next piece.” Teacher writes it down.
Teacher: “What if we learned a new scale for something new to practice.”
Student: “I don’t like scales, don’t put that on the list.”
Teacher: “We’re putting everything on the list for now. We can cross it off later.”
Student: “Okay. What if we learned a Christmas song?”
Teacher: “Oooh. I like that idea. What if you practiced every day for two weeks? Then I could give you a little preview spot from the first song in Book 3.”
Student: “Two weeks? How about one week.”
Teacher: “I’ll write it down.”
10. Show Respect for a Child’s Struggle
I’ve been playing the violin since I was five years old. I honestly do not remember learning how to put my third finger down. It seems so easy now, why is it so hard for my students? It’s easy to get caught up in your life and your abilities, when it’s more helpful to slow down and really think about the accumulation of skills. A lot of these basic skills are tricky at first. Calling them easy or saying “you’ll learn this in no time!” may make your student wonder what’s wrong with them for struggling. When you’re honest and say, “Getting a good bow hold takes a lot of hard work. It’s no easy task,” they will feel much more pride when they finally reach their goal.
Just like playing the violin, I think it will take some practice to be able to make this concepts a part of my life. I keep thinking I’m getting so good at it, and then I catch myself saying something I know is not helpful. Sigh. Still, I think the small progress I have made has created a new (and better) attitude in my studio.
Book club members (or others who’ve read the book): Have you used any of these techniques with your students yet? What has worked? What has failed? I want to hear your stories.
If you would like to vote on books for 2016 please comment and share which of the books on this list you would like to read. Feel free to name books that aren’t on the list.
Book list 2016:
Nurtured by Love by Shinichi Suzuki
Teaching from the Balance Point by Edward Kreitman
Playing (Less) Hurt by Janet Horvath
They’re Rarely Too Young…and Never Too Old “To Twinkle” by Kay Collier Slone
How Children Learn by John Holt
NurtureShock by Ashley Merryman
The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle
Teaching Genius: Dorothy Delay and the Making of a Musician by Barbara Lourie Sand
Principles of Violin Playing and Teaching by Ivan Galamian
The Savvy Musician by David Cutler
Making Money Teaching Music by David R. Newsam and Barbara Sprague Newsam
The Musician’s Way by Gerald Klickstein
Practicing for Artistic Success by Burton Kaplan
Mindset by Carol Dweck
Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn
Helping Parents Practice by Edmund Sprunger
The Inner Game of Tennis by Timothy Gallwey
The Dynamic Studio by Phillip Johnston
Music and the Mind by Anthony Storr
How Muscles Learn: Teaching the Violin with the Body in Mind by Susan Kempter