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Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Teaching and Practicing Tip: The Timer Game

Written by Paula E. Bird ©2013

I have a new game that I play with my students: The Timer Game!

I have a great kitchen timer. When the timer runs out of the time that I have set, the timer immediately reverts back to the original time that I had set. This is very handy when I am in the middle of a batch task, such as peeling tomatoes. I dip each tomato in boiling water for 30 seconds, and after cooling the tomatoes, the peels slip right off. What a hassle this dipping process would be if I had to reset the timer to 30 seconds for each tomato! The timer that I currently have is a real help here.

I have been trying to find another timer like it for some time now to use in my teaching studio. In the old days when I taught in my home, I used my old kitchen timer. I have had a teaching studio out of my home for many years now, and sadly, I had to leave my old kitchen timer at home. Searches on the Internet for a similar timer yielded nothing. Over the holidays, however, I discovered a new timer in a teacher supply store. What fun my students and I have had with the new timer.

For example, I have a few students who are beginning to learn Minuet 1. Minuet 1 is a semi-hard piece to teach. The students have recently come from learning Etude, which is fraught with learning potholes, so they are a little bit tired mentally and also wary of what this new piece will require of them. So here is how I made it a little bit simpler and a whole lot of fun. Parents find it easier to learn the song as well.

I wrote out a small chunk of the song on a half-size index card (2.5" x 3"). For example, I would put the first two measures of Minuet 1 on the card. I write out the card for the benefit of the child's practice partner, not for the child to read, but sometimes a child will look at the card as a reminder of what part of the song to play. I allow the child to play through the little snippet on the card until the child thinks he "has it."

I then set the timer for 15 seconds and ask the student how many times he thinks he can play that little phrase section of the piece in the 15 seconds. Ready? Go! The child plays the little snippet as many times as he can in the 15 seconds. Whatever number of times the student plays, I then note that number on the bottom of the card and in the child's practice handbook (where I put my teacher notes from the lesson about the student's homework practice assignment). I tell the child to see whether he can beat that number this week and that we will check it at his next lesson. Then we add another snippet of the song, maybe the next two measures.

I do not do much more than one or two measures in each snippet at first, and there are some places in Minuet 1 where one measure is tricky enough to deserve its own index card, like measure 5 or measure 6. We progress through parts of the song until we reach the end. After a few lessons, the student has the song. What a simpler process it has been to teach Minuet 1 since I started using the timer game.

I will tell you that the students really like using the timer, and what I have done here is teach them about the value of repetition. I have also used dice and Zuki beads and Ten Times Practice beads and counters and my own Rule of Four, and you name it, I have used it. These tools also work but in a different way. These tools require a set number of repetitions. With the timer, the game is different and the lesson learned is different. Here the student is working himself to better his skill. He does not know how many repetitions he will be able to produce. He is working to increase his personal number, whatever his number is. The student is finding his pace and working to expand it, not just repeating things over and over.

Of course, we need to repeat things over and over in order to over learn something, strengthen our muscle memory, and develop ability, but the mental process is the important thing. From a child's perspective, doing repetitions looks like doing something over and over for the sake of doing something over and over. We adults know why we are doing the repetitions, but it pretty much looks like drudgery to a kid unless we dress it up a little bit with games and counters. With the timer, I changed the mental picture to be one of curiosity and fascination and discovery. That is why this game has been so popular with my students and their parents, and the end result for me is that my students pretty much learn the song rather well in a short amount of time.

I use the timer in a similar way when a student gets stuck on a tricky fingering or bowing passage in other songs. We identify and isolate the trouble spot, the student plays the spot enough times to "get it," and then I set the timer to see how many times the student can do it in the time allotted. Before we know it, the student has mastered the little spot, and we have had fun in the process.

We also use the timer for our two octave G major scale, which we learn right before we tackle Étude. In this situation, I set the timer for 30 seconds and ask the student how many times the student can play the scale up and down in that time period. I only count the scale repetitions if the student performs them correctly, which means that the student plays the correct notes (C and G natural on the A and E strings), uses the fingerings I have taught (pinkie on the descent), and does not make a mess of the sound. At first a student may complete one or two scale repetitions in the time allotted, but as the student progresses in ability the student will increase that number. The record for my book 1 students is 5 repetitions. After the student learns how to slur, then the number may increase. Of course, my students ask me how many times I can play the scale, and their eyes pop wide when I blow through 11 or 12 repetitions in 30 seconds. Always fun to watch their faces when I do that, and I only do it if asked. I tell them that my record is not included in the studio record.

Keep in mind that the timer is just another tool. There are plenty of tools out there to play games. I do not permit myself to get stuck in a rut. I try new things all the time. I recycle old things on a regular basis. My students even request old ideas as well. When a child finds something they like to do, they ask to repeat that game as well. The timer has been quite popular in my studio lately.

Happy Practicing!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Monday Morning Check In: You Are Here

Written by Paula E. Bird ©2013

There are 52 Mondays in a year. We are on the fourth Monday so far of 2013. There are 48 more Mondays left, but do not count on the 48th one (December 30) to get much done that week, as it has only one day following it.

Find 52 pennies and put them in a tiny jar or small container and place the container somewhere where you will be able to see it often.

On each Monday that follows today, I want you to take one of those pennies out of your container and put it in your pocket or give it away. Actually, giving it away to someone else would be the most appropriate symbolism for this exercise, in that the penny represents the Monday that you have now given away your time to someone or something else. As the year progresses, I want you to be mindful of how many less pennies, . . . er . . .  Mondays, that you have left in this year.

What were your goals again for 2013? I hope that you have crystallized your annual planning by this point. I know that I have. I am using the Best Year Yet online program, and I find it to be a useful way to keep track of my top 10 goals for the year. The program also provides ways to break down those goals into quarterly milestones, monthly goals, and even weekly goals if I find that I need weekly reminders. I can also score my progress in a quantifiable way through the program to keep myself aware of where I am doing well and where I need to devote a bit more time and attention. I find this to be a lovely program that will work at any point of the year, not just January. If you would like more information, [click here].

Goal setting is the first major step to achieve one's purpose in life and to accomplish one's dreams. The next step after setting goals is to actually go out in the world and do something about those goals and dreams. Break those mountains into smaller, more manageable parts of a longer journey, and then plan out smaller legs of that journey.

A good question to ask is: What are my quarterly milestones? Look ahead at the following dates and consider where you expect or desire to be on those dates:

  • March 31/April 1
  • June 30/July 1
  • September 30/October 1
  • December 31, January 1

For example, if your plan is to lose 20 pounds by the end of the year, then your quarterly milestones might reflect a lost of 5 pounds on each of the above dates. Or if your plan is to write a book or run a marathon, you might plan to have so many pages written or miles of training runs completed by each date.

Take a look within the quarterly milestones that you have identified. Break those goals into monthly steps. Then break those monthly steps into action steps to complete each week. Post these action steps someplace that you will see them frequently. Consider placing your annual goals and your current monthly and weekly steps in a place near your container of Monday pennies.

As you take out a penny each Monday, think about what that penny represents. The penny represents a week's time. How will you spend your "penny" this week? Will you sit on the couch and watch TV, play computer games, or party with friends? Will you go to the gym, clean your house, or read a book? Will you spend time with your family, learn a new language, or write a few pages of a book?

What is your Monday penny worth to you?

Take out four pennies today, because you spent three of those Monday pennies in the past three weeks. The fourth penny you take out today is for this week. You will now have 48 pennies for the rest of 2013. It looks like a lot of pennies are left in your jar, but that will change quickly as time passes. If you take a lot of baby steps for each penny that you picked out of your container, you will make a lot of progress in your year.

Enjoy your fourth penny this week. You will not see this one again until next year. Make it count!

Friday, January 25, 2013

Quick Practice Tip: Study Cards

Written by Paula E. Bird ©2013
Recently, a few of my parents and students got excited about making their own set of study cards. I provided the small cards and connecting rings, and the students made up their own batches of cards. Here is an example of how one mom put together study cards for her two book 1 students:

Here are the Twinkle Variations. I am a big fan of the Twinkles as a regular part of the practice program because Twinkles cement the foundation of the student's technique. Many technical problems can be cleaned up miraculously merely by playing two Twinkle variations per day, whether the student were in book 1 or book 6.

New Songs are the cards that the students are currently working on. These cards represent the most recent four songs that the students have learned or are learning. As the students polish each new song, we will eventually add new songs to this batch and transfer the polished songs to the review list.

These are the review cards, and I thought this parent had a creative idea to call this batch "Oldies but Goodies." Everyone has a different approach to review, but for this family, a systematic review program works well. The parent makes notes on the backs of the cards about teaching points and practice goals.

I purchased the rings and small cards at a teacher supply store, but these items are also available at some office supply stores and university bookstores.

Happy Practicing!

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Teacher Report Card

Written by Paula E. Bird ©2013
I wrote last week about a parent report card [here is the article link], and I promised to provide a teacher report card this week. Parents (and teachers), review the following statements and see if there are any areas that need attention. Parents, be sure to discuss these issues with your teacher.

The teacher's instructions are clear and understandable.

Be sure though that you as the parent are making an effort to understand and to remember the teacher's instructions. I have had instances of parents who do not follow my instructions well because they do not take adequate notes during the lesson and do not make an effort to understand what the child and I are working on. Sometimes parents are distracted by email or text messages on their phone. I had one parent who liked to go through her wallet and reconcile receipts. These parents are sending the message to their children that what the children are doing at their lessons is not as important as emails, text messages, or reconciling checkbooks. Really? Even if a child is at an independent stage in the lessons, would it not be better to look (and be) attentive to what the child is doing?

At some point in book 1, I may lose a few parents who claim that they are "confused" and that things are "so hard to understand" because the form of the songs may be a little bit more complicated than Twinkle. I understand when a parent truly is struggling to understand, but in many of these cases the parents did not seem to want to put in the effort to learn for themselves. Sometimes even parents then begin to insist that the child be independent at this point, even though the child is at early elementary school age.

Nope, the young child is not yet ready to be independent and instead would benefit from the parent's making the effort to stay involved. Here is how I look at it. I have three and four year old students in my studio. If I can teach them the names of the eight notes of the A scale, then surely a parent can learn them too. If we expect young students to remember how to play the form of a song, then surely the parents can learn to remember the form. Anything that a parent expects a child to be able to do should be something that the parent can also do.

I recall an instance of talking with an adult who claimed that they just did not understand how Facebook or computers worked, and that the iPhone (or other smart phone) was too complicated for that adult to understand. I relate the story of the two year old sibling in my studio who picked up his mother's iPhone, swiped the screen on, and then called me. I note that most adults begin to work through their technology issues after they hear me tell how easy it is for extremely young children to figure out. It just takes effort on the part of the adult.

Oh yes, I have heard the arguments that personal communication is better than electronic and that some parents would prefer that their children not be exposed to the big, bad Internet, but parents, please know that your children are quite exposed to the Internet and electronics. It would be better if you, the parent, would be on top of this issue so that you could adequately monitor what your child learns from this exposure. You may keep your house devoid of electronics, but the rest of the world does not. Your church, your school, your neighbors, and your child's friends are probably connected and showing your child how to be as well. Stay on top of this so that you can adequately protect your child from what you call from the bad effects of the Internet.

The teacher explains the points that I should focus on during my home practice sessions with my child.

Be sure you leave the lesson with a clear understanding of what your child's teacher expects you to practice. I can give the parent a detailed list of things to practice, but I am not in the home the other six days of the week. I am not there to gauge the child's energy level, motivation, or other life difficulties. I rely on the child's parents to make those assessments during the week and to structure the child's practices accordingly to best meet the criteria of the moment. If a parent takes careful notes during the child's lesson, then the parent will have at least one lesson plan to follow -- the lesson plan that the parent observed during the lesson. I usually also suggest one or two other games or ways to practice things. If the parent makes a list of these types of practice techniques as lessons progress, maybe in the back section of the parent notebook or on a list of index cards or review cards as Sue Hunt suggests (here are the links to the interview and Sue's website), then the parent will have created a large basket that is full of practice tips and ideas.

The teacher shows me how to be a good home teacher to my child.

The teacher understands the child from the standpoint of a teacher. The teacher is not the parent. The teacher should be role modeling how to teach your child. If the parent follows this same approach and is careful to not to insert the "parenting" aspects at the same time, then the parent will be a more effective home teacher to the child. Parents who insist on regulating behavior during lessons and practices rather than building up a relationship that focuses on the learning environment, may have a hard time being effective home teachers. The teaching and learning environment should be happening at the child's lesson, and it is the parent's responsibility to continue the environment in the home.

A parent who frequently harps at the child about posture issues or who uses an unpleasant tone of voice (signaling frustration and exasperation) is not building a motivating learning environment. Better to turn this energy and focus into some sort of game that aids the student to become more aware of the student's behavior. For example, if the student cannot remember to hold the bow at the proper tilt, then set up a chip game. Place 10 chips on the table, and every time the student forgets to hold the bow at the proper tilt, remove a chip from the student's pile. I guarantee that the student will start remembering to perform the bow tilt correctly after losing two chips without my having to harp on it. The same thing goes for a student making squeaky noises because of speeding, or missing the finger tapes, or any number of other items. Playing a game and finding ways to make the practice sessions more fun will make the entire experience more enjoyable for both parent and student.

The teacher treats my child and me with respect.

The atmosphere at the lessons should be positive and nurturing. However, that does not mean that the teacher should allow misconduct on the part of the child or the parent. I believe that I show my parents and students respect by making sure that they live up to the best that they can be. I very seldom permit a parent or student to talk disrespectfully to each other or to behave improperly to each other or to me. If a parent is talking unpleasantly about the child or making snide remarks about something that the child and I are working on, I will call the parent on it. I will try and do it in a way that is pleasant, but there have been one or two times when I had to call a halt to unpleasant words coming from a parent. We all need reminders now and then, and I believe that I am showing my students and parents the ultimate respect by expecting them to adhere to a code of doing and being the best that they can be. The teacher's giving respect to the parent and student does not mean that the parent and student can misbehave or get away with improper actions.

The teacher understands my child and the best teaching method for my child.

The teacher makes an effort to understand the child's personality and learning styles and to choose a teaching method that best addresses the child's unique styles. The teacher explains to the parent how the teaching method will help the child to learn better. The teacher may also take time to help the parent understand what the parent's personality and learning styles are so that the parent can be a more effective home practice partner.

I would like to remind parents that the teacher is the expert in the music lesson arena because the teacher has spent many years learning how to play the instrument and how to teach music. The teacher should therefore be accorded the appropriate amount of respect for this expertise. Many times I have counseled young teachers who have parents who treat them with disrespect because the teachers are young. I frequently remind these young teachers that they are the experts in their instrument and in teaching, and they should not feel intimidated by the parent because the teacher is young or is not yet a parent.

My child enjoys the lessons and group classes with his teacher.

This statement seems obvious. The child should enjoy coming to lessons and group classes in order for learning to occur. However, when a child is reluctant to attend lessons and group classes, the parent may want to reflect on whether the parent has adequately prepared the child for lessons and group classes. A parent who has not practiced consistently and regularly before lessons and group classes will be raising a child who shows uncertainty and reluctance at lessons and group classes, and who exhibits dawdling and other acting-out behaviors.

My child and I learn something at every lesson.

Generally, the student and the parent should walk away from the lesson with a new lesson learned or a new insight gained. However, if the child and the parent are not learning something at every lesson, the parent may want to reflect on whether the parent is helping to make this possible by providing the fertile ground during the week that makes it possible to teach the child and parent something at every lesson, or whether the parent is dragging down the learning process by not following through at home with consistent and regular practicing. My practice handbooks are very helpful for me to show parents when I have to teach the same lesson over and over because the parent and student are not practicing my homework assignments in between lessons. The parent can do quite a bit here to make this statement ring true -- or not.

The teacher is available outside of the lesson to discuss any questions that I have.

I maintain a very full teaching schedule, and so I have limited time available outside of lessons. I prefer emails or other written communications rather than phone calls because I can spend a little more time reflecting on the communication, and I can answer the communications at my leisure at all hours of the day or night. I love answering parent questions, when the parents present these questions in the written format. I also answer questions during lessons as well, although it is much better to address these things outside of the lesson. Answering questions at lessons often takes longer than the parent realizes, and rather than be hurried in my answers because I am trying to keep to my teaching schedule out of courtesy to my other students, I would rather answer the questions in a more relaxed and thorough manner after lessons.

The Suzuki Triangle

So there you have it -- the Teacher Report Card. Notice though how much of the teacher's successful reporting will have a direct correlation to the effort that the child's parent puts into home practices, regular routine, consistent interaction during lessons, and enhancing the home learning environment. That is why the Suzuki world talks about the Suzuki Triangle: the triangle partnership between the teacher, the student, and the child. Every person at one of the points in the triangle is important. Each person at the point of the triangle has a job.

The teacher's job is to teach the parent how to be more effective as a parent, how to be a good home practice partner, and how to teach the child to play the instrument well. These are merely three items, but I could write a book about each item.

The parent's job is to play the recordings daily, practice the teacher's homework assignments daily with the child, set up a nurturing and motivating learning environment (listening, music concerts), and help the child to learn the notes and bowing of the songs the child is learning.

The child's job is to be a child. If the parent and teacher do their jobs correctly, the child will be able to be a child. The child will be able to learn at the child's appropriate pace. The child will learn things from his environment. The parent and child will have happy practice sessions in the home, and everyone will benefit together with happy and productive lessons and group classes at the studio.

I will not be writing a report card for the child, because I believe that the success of the child will be due to the efforts of the adults in the child's life. So, teachers and parents, let's all pledge to be the best teacher and parent that we can be so that our students and children can be nurtured by love to become fine citizens with good and noble hearts.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Monday Morning Check In: The Last Holdout

Written by Paula E. Bird ©2013
“If I try to use human influence strategies and tactics of how to get other people to do what I want, to work better, to be more motivated, to like me and each other – while my character is fundamentally flawed, marked by duplicity and insincerity – then, in the long run, I cannot be successful. My duplicity will breed distrust, and everything I do – even using so-called good human relations techniques – will be perceived as manipulative. – Stephen Covey, American author and educator (1932-2012)
I have a character flaw, at least, I think it may be a character flaw. I am the last holdout in voicing my public opinion when it relates to a public figure being involved in doing something wrong. Maybe I want to give people the benefit of the doubt, or maybe I want to believe that people really are good at heart and that the world is progressing in terms of truly being civilized. Maybe I want to be absolutely certain of the truth before I cast my vote to ruin someone’s career, reputation, and influence. Maybe I want to be careful not to form an opinion that will negatively impact or otherwise cast undue aspersions on other possibly innocent people.

I was probably the last person to accept the Clinton-Lewinsky “affair.” I just could not wrap my head around the fact that someone with such important responsibilities to so many people in the country and the world would take the risk of ruining his marriage, his reputation, his influence, and almost his job, for doing something incredibly stupid, in my opinion. I could not fathom that someone in his position would lack good sense and would take such a stupid risk for such a stupid return. I apologize for my strong language here, but I really do think the whole affair was so stupid as to deserve strong ridicule. I was embarrassed to finally accept that I was wrong, that someone really could make such a stupid decision. I still shake my head over that one.

Then there was the O. J. Simpson saga. I remember watching the police chase him down one of the LA freeways, and I kept urging through the television to back off and give him space. I know people who do not respond well when under the slightest pressure, and having police chase you down freeways that have been emptied and closed off from the public represents an incredible amount of pressure. Give him space, I thought. Give him a chance to think without pressure so that he will stop running away. Of course, we all know how that story ultimately turned out in the end after endless legal battles in the criminal and civil arenas, and again I have to shake my head at myself for wanting things to turn out differently, for wanting to believe that someone was innocent of doing something that would seriously impact his children’s lives in a heart-rending way.

Then there are the events of this past week and the past year with Lance Armstrong. Again I held off from voicing my opinion or even forming an opinion. How could someone ruin his life and the lives of others in such a large way? How can this thing be so big and escape public notice for such a long time? In my defense, as an attorney I can understand how it is possible to make a decision to give up in order to get rid of a nuisance. In fact, lawyers nickname these sorts of cases “nuisance suits,” where a suit is brought against a company or other large entity or public figure for the purpose of gaining money, because the company may determine that it makes more business sense to pay off the suit rather than take it to a final decision in court. So I understood why Mr. Armstrong could finally give up the battle of clearing himself from all the charges leveled against him that had no backing in terms of showing that he had actually tested positive for doping. I could believe for the better that Armstrong was tired of the struggle and it made more sense to him to make it stop.

I was alright with that decision, although it saddened me that he had to give up so much of his life’s work in exchange for making this decision: stripped of his titles, his awards, his money. Then one day a friend strongly expressed an angry opinion about Armstrong’s ex-wife and her still writing for a big name running magazine, and I realized that with Armstrong’s giving up the battle, he also opened the door for many others in the world to be painted over by the same brush that had shadowed Armstrong. That seemed unfair to me, that Armstrong’s decision would impact negatively on so many others. I struggled with the entire issue and with what to believe was the actual truth of the matter.

Then the events of this week and the last occurred, when Armstrong was quoted in the media as considering an admittance of guilt so that he could be permitted to compete again. Then the actual admittance occurred on national television. The trial balloon disturbed me, because that was so obviously what it was – a test to see what public opinion would be. I was horrified to hear it. Then the actual event occurred with Oprah as the mediator. Will I never learn?

One of the first jokes we share in law school is the story of how a lawyer handles a lawsuit for a client whose dog bites someone. The lawyer makes these arguments:
  • The dog did not bite anyone (absolute denial).
  • The dog did not bite the other person (mistaken identity).
  • The client does not own the dog (standing to bring suit).
  • If the dog bit the other person, the other person deserved it (justification).
  • If the dog bit the other person, it was in self defense (self defense).
  • If the dog bit the other person, there was no harm done (remedy).
  • There was no dog.
  • Et cetera.
Lawyers can have fun with this. We can think up as many arguments as you have time to listen to them. The purpose of the exercise was to teach law students the process of forming arguments, and our current legal system allows the making of all of the arguments in the same case, although at some point, an attorney does need to focus the case in some way. And, of course, an attorney must be mindful of what a jury member (or judge) might think about the client because of the silliness of the attorney’s arguments.

So Armstrong was within his rights to make many of these types of arguments. However, the fact that he did so muddied the waters so much, that I believe his reputation will be completely ruined forever. Unfortunately, so will the reputations, influence, and lives of a great deal of other people, because Armstrong was quick to include “everybody” in his wrongdoing. I predict a lot of fall out from Armstrong’s announcement, and I expect that a great deal of time and energy will go into pursuing the final answer to this situation. I find it very sad when someone chooses to do something that causes him to fall a great distance, and I also find it to be tragic to take down a lot of other people in the process.

I enjoyed my years in the legal profession, because I enjoyed words. I learned a lot of great words and expressions, some of which are as elegant in logical construct as a Haydn symphony. Words and expressions like, “scintilla of evidence” and “appearance of impropriety” and "totality of the circumstances." Unfortunately for Armstrong, these same expressions came to my mind several times this past week as I fought against the whiplash effect created by his flitting around in the penumbra region.

Where am I going with all this? I started out this essay article by admitting that I had a character flaw in that I want to believe the best about people. I want to believe that people store up good fruit in their hearts. I want to believe that people actually are what they seem to be or what they say they are.

Whatever else goes wrong in the world, I will continue to hold on to this belief and expectation and to work tirelessly and unceasingly to influence the path of future generations in this direction. I will continue to work to change the world, one child at a time, one parent at a time. I will spend more time thinking about my life’s purpose and from this point on forget about the Clintons, Simpsons, and Armstrongs of the world.

Let me close this essay by repeating the quote with which I began, because I have been thinking long and hard about the message contained in these few sentences. I want to make sure that my decisions and choices lead me down a path that will be open and honest and provide a worthy contribution to the betterment of our society.
“If I try to use human influence strategies and tactics of how to get other people to do what I want, to work better, to be more motivated, to like me and each other – while my character is fundamentally flawed, marked by duplicity and insincerity – then, in the long run, I cannot be successful. My duplicity will breed distrust, and everything I do – even using so-called good human relations techniques – will be perceived as manipulative. – Stephen Covey, American author and educator (1932-2012)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Quick Teaching Tip: Teacher Note Cards

written by Paula E. Bird, ©2013

I have been teaching a long time, and although I had definite lesson plans in my earlier years, now I find that I have to be more flexible in my teaching approach. Once students reach a certain point in the Suzuki literature, I need to approach each student individually. Sometimes I even play "catch-up," where the student moves so quickly that I am addressing teaching points after the fact rather than as previews.

That is alright, though. Every student is unique and comes from a different environment than another student. Every student has a differently developed ability depending on the environment, the routine, the parents, and any number of other factors. So I go with the flow during lessons. I do have one tip that I use when I teach, and that is the Teacher Note Cards. I have put together these Note Cards while I teach, and these cards mostly pertain to later repertoire, any time after book 2, but mainly from books 4 and above.

Many times during teaching I would think of ways to relate earlier literature to a student's current piece or technical difficulty. For example, in Suzuki Violin Volume 6, the last movement of the Handel D Major Sonata, I would discover that the student's ability to play a tight dotted eighth and sixteenth note rhythm had disappeared from book 2's Witches' Dance. So out we would trot a review of Witches' Dance. Perhaps a student would lose the Seitz Concerto No. 5, 1st movement (Seitz "2" in book 4) rhythm of the dotted quarter and eighth note learned in Chorus from Judas Maccabeus, so we would review that point from book 2 to fix measure 16 of the Seitz concerto.

These impromptu thoughts were the real gems of my teaching experience because they represented the years that I had developed my expertise. These impulsive thoughts were the little connections that I had made in my teaching study of the Suzuki repertoire. There were so many of them, because each student brought a unique discovery of new connections. Each spontaneous connection that I made seemed logical and brilliant at the same time and so often different from those thoughts I had with other students.

I began keeping Teacher Note Cards in order to capture these flashes of teaching insights. When such a thought occurred to me, I scribbled it down on a large index card (5" x 8") with one card per song. In the Seitz "2" example above, I included these notes about review:
  • Chorus from "Judas Maccabeus" for the dotted rhythm of measure 16
    measure 16
  • Variation C of Twinkles for the 16th note bowing pattern in measure 79
measure 79 bowing
  • Hunter's Chorus for the slur and bow lift section of the triplet slur and lift measures in measures 32 and 33
    measures 32 & 33
  • Bach's Bourreé from Book 3 for the high third finger in the E major section of the Seitz in measures 52 and following
measure 52
These are a few examples of the types of notes that I might include on my Teacher Note Cards. Not every student will need to review all of these items in particular when studying Seitz "2", but having generated a Teacher Note Card for the piece will bring ideas to the forefront of my mind, and the Note Card makes an excellent reminder for me of the piece's teaching points and relationship to earlier repertoire. So I find these notes helpful to pull up and review for me when a student begins to study the piece. I pass along the specific review songs that would help the student. If I discover something new while working with the student, I will add it to the card.

These Teacher Note Cards are my personal gems, as they represent my many years of teaching experience in the Suzuki repertoire. They resemble the teaching point and review cards that Sue Hunt provides in her book Review - Making it Fun, Gets the Job Done. If you are unfamiliar with Sue's work, here is the link to my interview with Sue: interview. She provides similar review cards for books 1-3 as well as reminders of teaching points and suggestions for fun review.

So my teaching tip today is to build your own set of Teacher Note Cards. This is a simple thing to construct. Buy a set of large index cards (or use a 3-ring notebook with plain notebook paper, one sheet per song), and begin capturing your own flashes of teaching brilliance. Many of my articles about book 1 and 2 contain examples of teaching points or review songs that could provide the foundation for your note cards. Have a look at Sue's books about review. You may find more information about Sue here and here.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

How am I Doing? (Parent Report Card)

Written by Paula E. Bird, ©2013

When I first opened up a serious private lesson studio, I wrote an article for parents to use as their own report card. The information is as relevant today as it was when I first wrote it for my studio newsletter. Here are the statements I included to help parents consider and evaluate their performance as parents of a Suzuki student. The comments in parentheses after the statements indicate what the important purpose is behind the statements.
  1. I take my child to his individual lesson regularly. (Progress does not occur if lessons are inconsistent.)
  2. I take my child to group lessons regularly. (Group classes provide valuable lessons in ensemble and leadership skills, and they help to motivate students to want to learn to play).
  3. I work with my child in daily home practice sessions. (Parents should model consistency and discipline if they expect their children to progress).
  4. I play the Suzuki recordings regularly for my child (at least 5 times per week or more; every day is best). (Playing the recordings is the parent's responsibility; listening is a foundation for music instruction.)
  5. Although I attend my child's lessons, I do not participate verbally in my child's lessons unless the teacher invites me to do so. (More than one teacher in a lesson can be confusing and distracting for the student).
  6. I take notes during my child's lessons for use during the daily home practices. (Parents can be more effective home teachers if they take careful notes and do not rely on the teacher's taking lesson time to do it for them).
  7. When I leave the lesson, I understand what my child should practice at home. If not, I ask the teacher to explain her instructions. (I role model to my child what a good student's behavior should be and how to be an effective learner).
  8. I focus on one thing at a time during my child's home practice sessions. (Too many things at one time confuse the child, increase frustration, and lessen interest).
  9. I do not talk too much during my child's home practice sessions. (Talking can be distracting to a child. It also can interfere with the child's natural learning pace, focus, and concentration).
  10. I let my child learn through her senses rather than telling my child what to do. (Telling the child what to play rather than letting them experiment is usually a sign that the parent is trying to finish the home practice session material too quickly).
  11. The home practice sessions last only as long as my child is able to concentrate. (Forcing a child to continue beyond their ability to focus teaches them how not to concentrate).
  12. I let my child learn at his own pace and do not try to rush through the practice session or quickly learn new songs in order to move ahead. (Expectations that are too high or go beyond the child's abilities indicate that the parent is trying to make the child match the parent's goals rather than the child's pace).
  13. I review earlier pieces with my child regularly (at least 4 review pieces per week, and sometimes more). (Review and repetition are a mainstay of the Suzuki method of instruction).
  14. I take my child to concerts or expose my child to other musical activities or performances. (Exposure to music in the child's environment helps to create desire in the child to learn. It also sends the message to the child that music and the child's learning how to play a musical instrument is important to the parent).
  15. I always bring my child's lesson materials and equipment to the lessons. (It is the parent's responsibility to come to the lessons prepared. The parent is the role model for the child. I do not expect 5 year olds to have the capability to remember these things on a consistent basis, although children will eventually be taught how to do this well. In the beginning it is easier if parents are in charge of this area until the child is an independent learner).
  16. I always come to lessons on time and help my child to have his instrument ready to go by the appointed lesson time. (The parents are the role model for the child).
  17. I create a positive learning environment for my child at home. ("Nothing has a stronger influence psychologically on their environment and especially on their children than the unlived life of the parent." - C. G. Jung).
  18. I am enthusiastic about my child's musical instruction and development. (The child has a strong desire to please her parents).
  19. I encourage and praise all of my child's endeavors. (A child whose parents are supportive will continue to want to learn).
  20. I allow my child the freedom to experiment and to fail. I ask rather than tell. (Children and adults are very sensitive to the way language is used and do not respond well to being told what to do. Asking questions is more effective than giving orders).
  21. I regularly consider the environment I have created and its impact on my child's development. (Reflection is the best way to make positive changes for the benefit of the child).
  22. I strive to avoid criticism and anger during my child's home practice sessions. ("Children will do what they dislike if they are scolded. However, if they do not have desire to do it, it will not develop into an ability." -- Shinichi Suzuki).
  23. I look for things to enjoy and approve of in my child's playing. (This is the best way to avoid criticism and to create the healthy habit of seeing a glass as half-full).
  24. I have not over-extended my child in his school or extra-curricular activities. (Too much is too much. Better to do a few things well then to do many things poorly).
  25. I understand and can explain the following statements of the Suzuki philosophy:
    • Talent is not inborn.
    • All children have talent.
    • Every child improves depending on his parents.
    • Parents are their child's most important teacher.
    • Parents are their child's most important role model.
    • It is the parents' duty to create the child's desire to learn.
  26. I treat my child with respect. I try to have an unconditional love relationship with my child by accepting my child as he is, being fair and predictable in my moods and discipline, earning and keeping my child's trust by not betraying him or hurting his spirit or heart, and displaying affection regularly. (Children want to please their parents. Showing a child that you love them unconditionally will build a strong relationship and bond between the parent and child that will last a lifetime).
  27. I look for opportunities for my child to perform for other members of the family or community. (This helps to motivate the child and creates a desire to learn).
  28. I make sure that the instrument and equipment are in good condition at all times. I do not delay in having the instrument repaired or tuned properly, obtaining new strings or a larger size instrument, or purchasing new music. (This shows the child that her activities are important to the parent).
  29. I model respect and courtesy to my child, the teacher, and other students during lessons. (Parents are their child's most effective role model).
How did you do? If there are any areas that you need help in, be sure to ask your child's teacher how you can improve as a suzuki parent.

I wrote the above report card a decade ago for the parents in my studio as a reminder of what we are trying to accomplish in the studio. I have a global view of what I am working to accomplish as a teacher. I subscribe to Dr. Suzuki's philosophy that teaching children (and adults) how to play a musical instrument will create fine human beings with a noble heart. I wrote the above statements as reminders to my studio parents of the importance of everything we do in and out of the studio.
Turn about is fair play, so stay tuned as I provide a report card for teachers in a future article.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Monday Morning Check In: Purge & Merge

Written by Paula E. Bird, ©2013

We are about halfway through the first month of the New Year. Take a few moments to consider the following questions:
  • What were your goals for this year?
  • Have you taken any steps toward achieving those goals?
  • Are you still pursuing those goals?
We often start a New Year (a new season, a new semester) with great guns blazing. We are all fired up about achieving something that seems very important at the time. A few weeks pass, and things appear differently to us.
When I look back on my life nowadays, which I sometimes do, what strikes me most forcibly about it is that what seemed at the time most significant and seductive, seems now most futile and absurd. – Malcolm Muggeridge (British journalist, 1903-1990)
Some things, however, have not become futile and absurd, and you know that you have no good reason to throw in the towel and give up. The cold, hard fact is that we have probably become lax in our pursuit. Our energy has flagged and waned, and our motivation has sagged. Things are getting tough now, right? What seemed like a good idea a few weeks ago or on New Year's Eve is now hard work and not as much fun in the process.

Take a few moments this week to consider whether your goals have changed or whether you need to renew your commitment, adjust your priorities, or give yourself a kick in the rear. Do not fall victim to the broken china syndrome, which is that natural inclination to break all the china in a set once you have broken one dish. Who would do that? Well, have you ever been on a diet and had a bad day? How easy was it to continue having a bad day after that first bad food choice? That is the china syndrome -- breaking all the dishes, er, diet rules for the rest of the day (and starting fresh the next day). But I wouldn’t break all of my china dishes just because I broke one, you insist. Good for you. Then you should have no problem getting back on track with your diet, your exercise plan, your new health habit, or whatever your goal plan entails.

This month I am focusing my thoughts and energy on the concepts of  “purge” and “merge.” I concluded that there are many areas of my life that drain time and energy from me, so I have dedicated this month to ferreting out those limpets and eradicating them. I have set my sights on a simpler existence in this early point of the New Year. I am erasing things now so that I have a clean slate to work with for the year. Perhaps you might benefit from some of my purge and merge ideas.

My first purge and merge idea was to unsubscribe from almost every email newsletter I receive. Some newsletters I have subscribed to for years, but this month these newsletters will now be a part of history. I kept a few favorites because I actually read them, but most of the other email newsletters and advertising emails went by the wayside. Have you noticed how many emails you get from a company merely because you bought something from them at one point?

I made it my January goal to unsubscribe from at least three of these types of newsletter emails per day. Sometimes I unsubscribed from more than three in a day. This task was not easy, because the “unsubscribe” information and link were sometimes buried in the boilerplate nonsense at the bottom of the emails. Here is my hint about handling unwanted newsletters and other announcements: when you get one of these emails, scroll immediately down to the bottom of the screen. The “unsubscribe” button lives somewhere in this area. After a few days of doing this, you will be able to unerringly find that treasured link that will free you from your email clutter.

It is now mid-month, and I have had two weeks to unsubscribe from much of my email clutter. Now I find it strange to receive a small number of emails every day rather than hundreds. I know that I will live through this weirdness. My next action is to get rid of the habit of checking my phone every few minutes for new email. Give me a few more days to develop this new habit of not looking.

Opt Out
My second purge and merge idea was to eliminate the junk mail that comes into my snail mail box. I went to several links and opted out of receiving future mailings.
  • http://www.dmachoice.org (Direct Marketing Association): I opted out of credit offers, catalogues, and magazine solicitations.
  • http://www.optoutprescreen.com: I opted out of receiving pre-approved credit offers. I have gotten several of these offers daily for years now. Think of all the trees I could have saved if I had opted out earlier.
  • http://www.catalogchoice.org: I opted out of receiving other junk mail items, such as catalogs, coupons, donations, etc.
Purge and Merge (Do the Boogie!)
I will probably be working on my third purge and merge idea for another month, which is to purge and merge the clutter to be found within my household. To do this, I use the 27-fling boogie idea from the FlyLady people (27-fling boogie), which contains two components: the throw-away and the give-away.

In the 27-fling boogie, I first walk through my house with a trash bag and put 27 different things that need to be thrown away into the trash bag. When I have reached 27 items, I close up the bag and put it out with the other trash to be picked up or taken to the transfer/recycling center. I do not look inside the bag or reconsider any decision that I have made about putting any item inside the bag. Then I walk through the house with another bag and pick out 27 things to give away.

I can do a 27-fling boogie in 1 minute just by peering into my clothes closet (or "junk drawer," or desk drawer). I anticipate a few boogies in the next few weeks. The FlyLady website (Flylady) is a terrific help for those folks who need a little something to urge them onto the calming path of a decluttered existence.

The merge part of my idea is to identify ways to combine several things or tasks into one thing or task. For example, my list of action steps might include varied activities, such as making phone calls, running errands, reading articles, writing or revising articles or books, or doing research. Rather than have a list of 100 things to do or 100 stickies representing things to do, I look for ways to merge activities or group things together in a fashion that will permit me to make even more progress while I am still in the the action mode of the particular activity. For example, rather than do one of everything on my list, I might group all my calls into one list of "calls to make," and then when I have the phone call momentum going, I will tackle my list of calls to be made. Similarly, when I am at my computer, I have grouped my "to do" items that apply to the computer into one list of "computer to do" items. By merging my activities into lists that are grouped by a particular activity, I can capitalize on the momentum of the activity. When I am in my "phone mode," I can crank out a lot of phone calls in a short amount of time. When I sit at my computer, I can tick off a lot of completed tasks in short order.

There You Have It
Those are my basic three steps and focus points this month. I recite the mantra “purge & merge” several times a day to remind me to keep on the lookout for items that fall into this category and can be thrown away, deleted, eliminated, or combined into one unit/file/task. The entire process provides a calming effect.

Take it on the Road
These steps also apply to your work spaces as well. I am currently clearing the decks in my office at the university, and my teaching studio is yielding up pathways we have not been able to walk in the past. Imagine being able to enter the office area without tripping over a box of something or other!

You may suffer a moment or two when you worry about letting go of the things you have decided to unsubscribe from, throw away, or give away, but you will quickly gain a sense of control and peace about the way things look around you and about the simplicity of the time you have available to you. In other words, you will quickly get over the silly idea that you need to hang onto something you have not worn or used in many years.

I keep reminding and reassuring myself that it was time to throw away that dress I had not worn once in the past two decades.