Posts Tagged ‘success in learning’

Since the waters have been calm and rather uneventful, it’s been a while since I have written.  My year with my piano studio was amazing and as I often tell the kids, “I have the best piano students in the world”.  The one thing that makes this group unique is that they are very good friends and have fun together with music.

After our May recital, I typically start fresh with new and lighter music for the summer.  I try to incorporate pop music (which I try to discourage during the school year) , focus on easier literature to build reading skills, and I don’t get too upset if the kids don’t practice.

As I said in another blog, my students often surprise me with music they have prepared on their own or surprise me by working on duets and play them for group lessons.  Well, after our recital there was a lot of whispering and giggling, more than usual, so I knew something was brewing.  What was going on?  They were placing bets against each other.  Two of the kids decided they wanted to play Rhapsody in Blue as a duet and the others were waging bets on whether or not the duet team would have it accomplished by our September group night.  They were putting money down on the table for or against the deadline.  I have a small studio, 3 elementary kids and 7 high school kids.  But there was $22.00 down saying the duet team could not reach the target date.  What incentive for the duet team!

This is what I call positive peer pressure.  They have so much fun sharing their music and they really look forward to the group  nights.  Group nights are once a month and  very informal, but the students perform for their families in a mini recital fashion.  Pieces are to be memorized, which gives pointed goals every month.  This is especially hard for advanced students.  They are often memorizing more than once piece at a time preparing for future group nights.  However, it’s ok to replay a prior piece or to choose a piece from years gone by, although that  hardly ever happens.  The students look upon that as an embarrassment, which once again motivates them to progress.

Well, the duet team has been working during the summer.  For the most part, notes are learned and we are now working on musicianship and conversation between the parts.

What’s my bet?  I would put money down that they will perform Rhapsody in Blue in September.  What’s your bet?

I’ll keep you posted.


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Being a Suzuki teach, I have group nights once a month where students and their parents gather for an informal performance.  The students are expected to play a minimum of one memorized piece but I keep the atmosphere relaxed and non threatening.  In doing so, everyone looks forward to these nights.  The students don’t get uptight about performing and the parents like seeing the progress of all the players.  Everyone likes the social time that follows.  Because we gather each month it is comfortable and familial.

Last week I hosted my second annual ‘parents only’ night in my piano studio.  Instead of coming as a family and having performances, the parents came as adults, not parents, for  wine,  imported cheeses and candlelight.  It really was so nice to relax as a group and chat about topics other than music.  It gave me the opportunity to hear about their jobs, interests,   and how they fit into our community.  It gave them a chance to get to know me other than as a teacher.  It also gave the opportunity for them to talk about their child without their child at their heels.

The parents in my studio are very loyal as piano coaches at home, come to all lessons, and support my instruction.  It felt good to be able to do something nice for them, to let them know how much I appreciate their efforts.  It enhances our working relationship.

As adults, we continue to thrive on positive reinforcement.  Three years ago I had a principal at school who was a top notch leader.  He was professional, kind, interested in each one of us and made each of us feel very valued.  In turn, I found that I worked very hard to please him (I also did it to please the kids and myself) because I wanted him to be proud of me.

Not bad motivation.  Do something nice for someone today.

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Although I had a very rocky start to my week at the Kingston institute, once I arrived I basked in the experience. The “rocky” was in the travel. A trip that should have taken 3 hours took close to 10 and that was with the help of my devoted husband and Kingston colleagues. But only as this institute provides, I was greeted with hugs from the faculty, concern from the families and a beautiful dinner. Like the master card commercial suggests, priceless.

Priceless is the only description of my week at the Kingston institute. Despite my anxiousness in preparing, the week was, as always, one of the best. I say that each year in reflecting, but it all was truly special. The things with which I am always most impressed are:

1. the faculty

2. the families

3. the devotion of both the above

The faculty at the Kingston institute are by far the most inspirational, dedicated teachers with whom I have ever taught. Their creativity and sense of humor set them above and beyond, forming a team that bonds, learns from each other and supports each other professionally and personally. Although I see most of them only once a year, I know I belong, sharing a common goal to be all we can be for the sake of the students. There is an indescribable warmth we share. I can be totally myself with this group. No walls are formed. I don’t have to measure my words or choose my words with caution.

The compliments fly freely among us, recognizing the effort and mastery in each other’s work. We share the common thread of music education, but we each fill a unique niche. Combining our talent we create an experience that, in my view, is of highest quality. A purely positive tone among the teachers is obvious along with teasing, jokes and laughter.

The institute attracts a certain type of family because parents are expected to stay with their children during the week. The parents to go to class with the kids, eat in the dining hall and sleep in the dorms. Education is first among the adults. Mondays lessons are generally a bit quiet among all as they get to know each other. But by the next day friendships have begun and by the end of the week strong bonds are evident among children and adults.

My group classes were lively. Through games the kids absorbed much more in a week than I could believe. In my 5 year old class with 10 students the children were performing complex rhythms and doing rhythmic dictation by the end of the week. The adults were active in participating as well. The adults were comprised of parents and teacher trainees; I often had 20 adults per classes taking notes, playing games with the children and applauding the accomplishments. In such a positive, supportive environment children were happy to learn and took pride in their accomplishments.

The equation for learning: smart  + loving + creative =  a stimulating environment

These qualities were evident all week, thus breeding success.  Our hope as a faculty is that more families will join us in our mission.  We will return next year ready to give all we have to offer , sharing music in a loving, nurturing environment.

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It’s that time of year again. I pack up my classroom at school, say good bye to the students I’ve had and will mostly continue to teach in September, and then clean, clean, clean. But as I clean. the creative juices flow as I mentally prepare for my institute teaching. As I go through the shelves in the classroom I stash away favorite games, look in books for fresh ideas and brainstorm just what I can do to bring a new twist to my teaching. Please oh please, I pray, let the right side of my brain go wild!

I took an art class a couple years ago about drawing on the right side of the brain. The premise was to unleash the right side of the brain thus changing the perspective of the way one looks at objects. Since I have no artistic ability the learning curve was impressive. But more over, I remember my brain actually hurting after each exercise. That’s what I try to emulate now.

As I am packing I am thinking these things:

1. What manipulatives can I add to my bag of tricks?

2. How can I incorporate them into games?

3. How can I teach the most information in the shortest amount of time?

4. How can I make the students laugh and have fun?

I know that the last of these is the most important. I always have to remind myself of this.
Think, “more than music”, I tell myself. I think of my colleagues preparing as well. Are they feeling the trepidation and exhilaration as I am at the moment? Are they plotting how they can be the best teacher possible too? Of that I am sure.

And what about the students? I remember getting my children ready for the week ahead. Packing their clothes, practicing much more the week prior to secure their performance pieces, getting their hair cut, wondering who their teachers would be and would they love my children. One of my children’s highlights in getting ready was shopping for snacks. Although the cafeteria provided enough calories to gain ten pounds in a week, we packed bags of snacks for the dorm. During the shop, all rules went out the window. We packed soda, chips, candy and the biggest of all treats, sweet cereal which was absolutely forbidden in our home. God bless the teachers who had my kids at the end of the week. They acceptingly and lovingly taught sleep deprived children on a sugar high. What great memories!

My goal is just that. To create great memories for my students next week. How will I attain that? The answer is yet to be discovered. I will pack my bag of tricks, begin to assemble new games and remember to look my students in the eyes with the biggest smile and the most love I can offer. I will remember to see them as small children who are looking to learn, trying to be their best and willing to share their love……..just like their teacher.

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I just got back from Virginia for a Suzuki piano festival. Although I spent more time getting there than actually teaching, the rewards were plentiful.

The road trip was 8 hours. I considered flying until I realized I could drive with another teacher with whom I work at the Kingston institute. Not only was the drive fun, but it gave us the opportunity to compare our music curriculum, discuss the future of education and share some good laughs. I decided that I could log the drive as professional development hours that are required by my school district. We compared our choral rehearsals, discussed teaching recorder, shared our favorite lesson plans for elementary students and the future of our careers. It was truly delightful!

We arrived just in time for the piano recital given by Valery Lloyd Watts. Valery is consider to be one of the “most listen to pianists” as she is not only a concert pianist, but has also recorded all the music for the Suzuki literature. I love watching and listening to her play. Her passion and expertise helps me to teach my private piano students. She also gave a lecture for parents. Her passion for music combined with her love for children always set me on the right track.

But my real purpose in being there was teaching. I taught private lessons and repertoire classes. I was set for a long day of teaching children whom I had never met. I needed to be at my best. Not only did I need to be above and beyond brilliant, but I needed to assess instantaneously and be creative in my approach to make learning fun. Wow!!! What an endeavor! Needless to say, there is part of me who is absolutely frightened to go into this situation and part of me who knows this is not a big deal because I have been teaching forever. However, once involved I am humbled by the master work of my colleagues and the bright eyes of these darling children.

As always, the energy in the room sets me on fire. The children come in bright eyed, eager to learn and eager to show me what they know. In the chairs lining the room, the parents sit nervously hoping that their child impresses me and also a bit anxious in sharing the love of their life with a stranger. The combination is electric.

But the minute the tiny fingers touch the keys, all apprehension dissolves. I go into my intense teaching mode and the child follows suit becoming a little sponge. After each session I breathe a sigh of relief and satisfaction. The students leave with what I sense to be pride and motivation. It’s a win win situation for all.

After the long day of teaching there is an equally long recital where all these little darlings perform. How brave they are and how dedicated they are to be in this high tension, formal setting on a Saturday afternoon while their friends are probably playing video games or playing outside. The children step up to the piano with a smile and a purpose.

Now that our goal has been fulfilled, my colleagues and I relax with food, drink and conversation. I consider myself so fortunate to be with these brilliant teachers. Not only are they masters of their craft but they are fabulous human beings. We laugh, cry and share much of who we are both as professionals and as individuals.

Once again, my colleague and I get in the car for the long journey back to New York. We are completely spent and completely satisfied. I beg to ask, who learned more this weekend? The bright eyed young musicians or the seasoned educators with whom they studied? I think we all know the answer.

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I was just surfing around and found a post from a person who was sort of doing an informal survey of what people practice when in a practice room. (sorry for not giving more detail or credit to who’s blog this was, but I don’t yet know how to link from one to the other)

Below is what he found:

  • Some members spend all their time to (sight)read (hard) pieces.
    These people are usually good sight readers. Some said that they don’t memorize well.
  • Some other practice memorized pieces only.
    They have good memory. Most of these people sightread slowly or too shy to sightread.
  • Several of them practice learnt pieces.
    This can be re-reading (not sightreading!) pieces or practicing memorized pieces.
  • The rest practice pieces to be performed on concerts, exams, etc.
  • Very few people practice improvisation

I found this informal survey very interesting and useful. Here’s what I noticed:

1. People like to practice what they already know or what they have previously learned. They call it “practicing”, and to some degree it is, but I think a more appopriate term is “refining”.

2. People like to “practice” pieces that are familiar, such as pieces they have heard others play, folk or pop tunes, anything in which the melodies are already in their head.

In coming to this realization as a piano teacher, I see three strategies for me with my students.

1. During the lesson, when I am introducing a new piece I have to make sure the student leaves with part of the piece being familiar. I have to make sure they can successfully play bits of it. That way when he/ she is home, he will have incentive to practice it.

2. Children need to listen to pieces they are going to practice or perform. Being a Suzuki teacher, I believe in this already, but I should follow through to make sure the child is doing his job and try to provide cds when necessary.

3. I have to teach the child what the word “practice’ means. Once again, I am already aware of this, but don’t always provide a plan of action with my students and parents. I say parents because I truly believe it is the parent’s responsibility to keep their child accountable.

In thinking about “practice”, I decided to consult the dictionary.

One definition was, “To do repeatedly in order to learn.” I am convinced that this definition is why kids practice the way they do. They often start at the beginning and play the piece over and over until they think it’s learned.

The definition I liked better is, “to engage in frequently” “to observe, to adhere to”. I think that if small bits of a piece are met frequently, then if we observe or analyze the bit and theoretically adhere to the bit, optimum practice will be achieved.

So good luck, teachers, parents and students. What is practicing mean to you?

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There’s a children’s song I teach in Kindergarten called ‘The Hokey Pokey’ and the last line is, “That’s what it’s all about.” So, I just had to play around with Wordle once again to see what my teaching philosophy was all about. I was very pleased with my first attempt (my blog called “Priorities in Teaching”) but I was curious what would surface if I copied in the text from many of my blogs.

In my first attempt, the words praise, respect and children surfaced in the largest font. I was sooo happy to see this. I truly believe that the largest factor in successful teaching is praise and respect. When a student believes in himself and he can trust his teacher his learning potential grows.

My second wordle attempt as shown above, is obviously a Suzuki music display. The words Suzuki and music are the emphasis. What I found interesting though are the words which are the next font down: children, parents, teacher. In Suzuki education the child, parent, and teacher are the triangle of learning. If one member of the triangle is weak, so will be the learning. Isn’t that true in all aspects of our children’s education?

I am glad to have discovered Wordle and am interested in using it in my classes in school. I think it will be a fun learning tool for children.

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