Do we need exams at kindergarten level?

 

A need for a survey at kindergarten level

– What is the percentage of parents who rely solely on schools to provide educational activities for their preschool children?

– Do students getting quality education in average schools have more support at home? What is the percentage of parents that support education at home? What activities do the successful parents do, to support discipline and learning at home?

– How can schools guide parents of children who speak another language at home, as regards after school education support? Do all schools provide enough guidance to these parents? And if they do, what is the percentage of  parents who feel it’s important enough to implement them?

How do parents know that their children are getting a minimum quality of education?

The EducationWorld India School Rankings 2016 recently conducted a survey of schools which I read in the Education Times and my first thought was, is there any authority checking up on the quality of education in the lowest ranked schools.

 

Do children enter the first standard of school, adequately prepared?

A lot of 10 year olds today can’t write a simple sentence without grammatical errors and can’t read a paragraph of easy text fluently. If they do well in school, it’s because they learn pre-written answers.

My teacher friends tell me that students who can’t speak, write and understand english (at the level appropriate after completing Kindergarten) are being enrolled in the 1st standard. Because there are no exams and all students pass irrespective of the knowledge they have.

 

So, how do parents know that their children are getting quality education at kindergarten level?

Kindergarten is the base for a child’s future education. The subject matter is easy, but teaching at this level is the most challenging. Teachers need to be very skilled and teaching techniques can and do have a huge impact on a child’s ability with language, which in turn affects comprehension, understanding and confidence in the later years.

A clear cut method of evaluating progress, and keeping children back until they have the knowledge they need, to move on to the next level make sense. What is the point of promoting a child to the next class, when the child is not ready?

 

When traditional piano teaching methods fail

The problem with focus

I started out teaching my piano students the ‘Read, then play’ method, because this is how I was taught. An increase every year, in the number of young students with focus issues prompted me to consider other ways of teaching, and I started experimenting.

My goal was to see if another way of approaching piano teaching could get my students to be super-attentive. But before that I needed to be very clear as to what the real issue with each child was. Knowing my students well, here’s a list of the possibilities I considered :

  1. Poor English language comprehension
  2. Difficulty understanding musical ideas and concepts like up/down, high/low
  3. Motor coordination issues due to lack of adequate physical activity
  4. Poor eyesight and an inability to see notes rising and falling
  5. Difficulties focusing due to excessive creativity and thinking about too many ideas at one time
  6. Selective focus – where students would focus only when it was clear to them that the topic was relevant to what THEY wanted to learn.

So much effort at getting my students to focus was a clear sign that using only the “Read-then-play’ was not working with my current batch of piano students.

A starting point

I can say with confidence, that for many Mumbai students education means learning pre-written answers, rather than thinking and answering questions. Some schools do manage to provide quality education despite large class sizes, but there are schools that teach the syllabus so erratically that it’s done mostly at the year end, in a rush. This way, even parents willing to support education at home are left wondering how to go about it.

The result is, a lot of kids have difficulty answering questions. The issue could be either poor language comprehension or undeveloped reasoning skills. And that’s where I started. I changed the way I teach theory, with a few students.

Just so you understand, here’s an example of a question from a Grade 1 theory book that a lot of Mumbai and Navi Mumbai kids have had difficulty with. “Draw a note on each line in the staff below.”

The students who struggled with this were kids who were familiar with line and space notes and who knew what a staff was. I ‘ve taught a lot of kids like this over many years of teaching.

The sad truth is that retention of music theory is poor because it is taught in a way that students simply don't understand it's relevance to piano playing and therefore, students often switch off mentally.

It’s the same with scales and aural awareness (feeling rhythm, singing, etc.) To the average student, it’s just a way to get marks in an exam. Students who play by ear have extremely well developed aural skills, but suffer because they often are poor at sight-reading.

Experiments with teaching ‘BACKWARDS’

  1. My students had to watch me play their piece, or a section of it and understand the chord structure, the key of the piece, scalic passages and use of non-chord tones by watching me play.
  2. Then, having learned to play it the piece, they had to write it down in their manuscripts.

I did a test run of this with some adult students and a couple of younger students (age 9 to 12) and my students got very very excited about it. The students in question were clapping, singing and counting in an effort to learn to play. Attention to playing technique improved, and the key of the piece, the scale and triads suddenly became important as it made memorising easy.

Most students were quite willing to write out their playing, but some needed a step by step approach and a little guidance.

Time management in class

Lesson planning suddenly became more complex, because there was so much to do.

  • My students have sight-reading targets, and some are on the second round of ‘The 10 Easy Piece Challenge .’
  • All my students learn some music with the ‘Read, then play ‘ method and will continue to do so.
  • And now  in addition to the above, some are simultaneously learning ‘Backwards.’ This means that we work simultaneously on rhythm, pitch, playing scales and triads, plus I teach them the theory that helps them put it down in writing.

It’s still at an experimental stage. My lesson plan needs to have lots of alternatives, so that it’s flexible enough to suit individual learning needs.

The upside is that students are excited and animated to an extent that surprises me.  I am now able to actually pinpoint student-specific difficulties with focus, and work at them better. Most of my students attend a 1 hour class once a week, and  fitting it all in and still getting time to talk about practise issues is a huge challenge for me.

Could using both ‘Read-then-play’ and the ‘Teaching Backwards’ method simultaneously in piano class, give me a way around focus issues, and help my students a higher level of competence in piano playing at an earlier level of learning?

Aiming low = reaching high?

Blog pic Why aiming low can lead to reaching high

The tried and tested path to success

“Aim higher than you want to reach. You may miss your target, but you will still reach your original goal”

This way of thinking has worked very well for me and many of my  piano students who wanted success easy. Who wanted to do just barely enough that was required to play their pieces well, who fell short when they played for an audience and then realised they needed to aim higher.

But it’s not working with my batch of new students, whether they’re young children, teens or adults.

The hard work required just does not happen  in the first year of piano class and students often get disheartened. Because everything is so far out of reach.

 

How my practise goals made me evaluate my teaching goals

I started out last year, in  April 2015 with My Personal Sight-reading Challenge. I’m a piano teacher by profession and I face a difficulty that all piano teachers face, which is getting time to practise.

Practising the piano is very necessary, if teachers want to improve the quality of their teaching. And yet we spend so much time  teaching, planning lessons and reading up on how to communicate effectively. We study teaching techniques and are involved in a host of other activities that are necessary to manage our teaching studios.

I started out my sight-reading challenge last year, with the goal of making a small commitment to myself  to play everyday, and it worked. You can read about it in The impact of 100 minutes of practise

I realized that having a very small goal that was achievable in a short period of time, got me going to the piano many times a day, and got me learning a lot more pieces than I usually do. And this made me think about what goals I set for myself, when I’m teaching my students.

 

The value of quantity

A few of my students took The 10 easy piece challenge. They learned 10 easy pieces upto set achievement levels, we recorded them and uploaded them online. Achievement levels set depended on the student’s weak area, and many of these were way below ‘performance’ level (the level of playing at which a student has mastered the piece).

The students were thrilled because they got good feedback at piano class. It was fairly easy for them and therefore getting piano practise done was not too hard a task for their parents.

These students suddenly moved from being the ones who did not get anything done, to the ones who were doing exceedingly well, and their parents were very proud of them. Their parents would motivate them by reminding them of how capable they were and they’re excited about piano class.

Progress was not always a straight line, and there were regular slips. Mostly though, it’s moving forward, and some students are now trying to do 10 more pieces.

Having a small easy goal makes students pay attention to their weak spots in new pieces, so that they don’t make the same mistake there.

The steps they take forward are very small. So small, that I need to point them out so parents notice them.

What makes them important, is that the student is taking them independently, without my help.

There’s value to quantity, that is, to learning more repertoire. It’s the only way for piano students to really master their instrument. Here are a couple of very interesting posts that every teacher, piano parent and student should read.

  1. The surprising power of quantity by Elissa Milne
  2. Which promotes greater learning – higher standards or lower standards  by Dr Noa Kageyama

 

 

 

The Power of Reading — colbybryant.com

In a matter of days, my daughter will have finished the first grade. She has, by all accounts, done exceptionally well this past year, testing at two grades above her age. To say I’m proud is too quaint of an expression for how I feel. This is, no doubt, partly due to her wonderful teacher, […]

via The Power of Reading — colbybryant.com

Discipline in Piano Class

… 2 Effective Ideas, which work to discipline the young piano student.

Daily piano practise needs discipline and yet, students need to want to play, because they think practise is fun.

Students who have fun in piano class, are more likely to enjoy practise, so it’s the responsibility of the piano teacher – to find that balance where piano class has discipline and students still have fun.

 

1) A time to jump, wriggle or walk around and a time to sit still

Sitting still at the piano often is an effort for young students. They wriggle and fidget or want to walk around the classroom or jump about…..And they’re allowed to do this.

They need to know that they can ask their teacher for a short break and do all of the above, provided they commit to coming back and sitting perfectly still at the piano after that.

 

2) Shouting and drama

Students love this! It works when a teacher is still at the stage when she’s amused and entertained by her students efforts to disrupt the class. The student understands perfectly well that the teacher is not angry and is just acting up a bit, and find’s it amusing – and therefore actually listens and accepts correction.

This helps a lot with children who are timid and afraid of a slightly raised voice. It helps them get used to a louder voice, in a non-threatening atmosphere.

 

Parents need to know that their children need small practise slots to start with and may need breaks during home piano practise, depending on their age, and their ability to sit still.

It’s a very good idea to discuss what should be allowed during home practise with the piano teacher.

Coping with the over-scheduled child in piano class

This is the child who never has a week-day at home after school… who does not get enough unstructured play time, that is necessary, for a child of his/her age.

This child has lot of hobby classes, and yet, never spends time on any hobby just for fun, only when there’s homework. This child is learning to just do what is required for each hobby class, and does not explore ideas of his/her own.

This is a child does not read at home – who goes for a reading class….who does not just put music on and dance madly, like we did – he goes for dance class…who cannot just stay home and draw for the pleasure of it – she goes to art class.This child, cannot just explore one hobby class at a time, until one of them fits…..he has to do them all – from age 5 onwards.

This child may grow to be an 8 year old, who has difficulty answering a question, if it differs from what he/she is thinking about….. often does not listen to what is being asked….. memorises very quickly and does everything by rote.

I can see what’s happening, because I’m sometimes struggling to help children learn. I talk to parents, and find, that they’re quite comfortable with their child’s hectic schedule, until things start to go wrong….until both the piano teacher and the child’s school teacher have the same problem – because the child – who has absolutely no learning disabilities, is still having difficulty learning!

My talking – about choosing 1 hobby (even if it means stopping piano class) and 1 sport activity to focus on, often falls on deaf ears, and I now know how it goes.

So, I’m doing what I can to change how I teach, writing progress reports in the homework book, with the occasional email, and finally, when I reach a point where all efforts have failed, I’m talking to parents because their child’s reaching a point where I can’t actually go on teaching…where, if I don’t let the student go, I’m at the risk of losing both my patience and my temper… And evidently, this is what was needed…..a wake up call!! An article worth a read : The truth about piano lessons

2 Options and the extremely indisciplined piano student

Children (5 to 10 yrs old) who are extremely indisciplined and disruptive in piano class, are almost always the same at home.  And yet, these are invariably children, whose parents are making a steady and constant effort to instill discipline, and, obviously not succeeding.

So, piano teachers have a choice :

 

Option 1 : Do teachers simply tell the parent to discipline the child  – knowing the parent is already trying and not succeeding?

As a teacher who interacts regularly with parents, I usually have a fair idea of what the child is like at home and find that asking the parent to handle extreme indiscipline results in the child being told he or she is badly behaved. Since these children usually have learned how to push their parents to breaking point, this sometimes results in shouting and very rarely, beating the child. And both of these just make a child more difficult.

 

Option 2 : Should teachers talk to the parent and see how both the parent and the teacher can both change our teaching and parenting techniques, and work together to get the child to change

This means that the teacher is looking at a child, who is naughty,  lacking in discipline, sometimes moody and bad tempered or cranky, or even attention seeking in a negative way, and saying  “The child is not the problem – it is just that I the teacher, and the parents, have not yet found a teaching and parenting technique, that works on this child”

This is hard for both the teacher and the parent, because, actually, we have both done nothing wrong. However, if both of us just stick to our existing ways of functioning, which have obviously had no effect on the child, the child is likely to continue being indisciplined and may even get worse.

Why the teacher finds it hard : The teacher sees the child just once a week, so in a way it should be easier for her to be patient. It should, but it isn’t always. There are times when all the students on a particular day come to class and argue, throw, tantrums, sulk, and refuse to learn – any teacher will relate to this. And since discipline is part of piano teaching, it has to be dealt with.

Parents find it hard, because they never get a break!

Parents will often find that their parenting technique, which works on getting one child to be very well behaved, has the exact opposite effect on the other child. And yet, the parents are the biggest influence on a child .. much much more than any teacher can hope to be. So, the parent still has a choice :

 

  • To continue using the same parenting techniques on both children, and accept that one child is just plain difficult

 

  • To accept that the indisciplined child simply needs a different kind of parenting, and try to experiment and learn what works

I see progress, and I see change, with the many many open-minded parents who interact with me, and are taking the time to give their children what they need, in order that  they learn better. It’s not always easy for the parents, or for me the teacher (since we both often have different ideas and sometimes strongly disagree with each other on how to discipline the child – though we both agree that discipline is needed). But, since we persevere, we eventually find some common ground and are able to work together to make a difference.