This week’s blog post is written by Liz Giannopoulos, a member of The Community of The Curious Piano Teachers.
The last week of term can be an uphill struggle – especially at the end of the academic year. For the most part, exams have been completed (results may or may not be in), end of term recitals have been performed and the students are generally pre-occupied by summer fetes, school trips and sports days.
Everyone is tired.
Years of experience have taught me that very little practice takes place during the summer break and most students stagnate at best; some go backwards.
With all this going on, it can be hard to maintain enthusiasm in the final lesson of term. Yet a positive strategy can reap many rewards and as teachers we can embrace the opportunity to break from the norm and introduce something different.
There has been some interesting debate inside the The Community* forum about the value of written reports. If you do write reports, this is the time to share them with your students. Whatever your thoughts on reporting, the last week of the academic year provides an ideal opportunity to review students’ progress.
*The Community is a paid membership site, where The Curious Piano Teachers provide ongoing professional development and training to piano teachers worldwide.
Ask your students what they think they have achieved this year. Often their highlights will be different to your own, providing you with invaluable insight into what excites them. At the end of last term I was immensely proud of Henry for winning double gold in our local piano festival. Yet his personal highlight was performing a duet with his younger brother in our studio recitals. Rosie completed her ABRSM Prep Test but her top moment was learning Happy Birthday by rote to play for her Dad’s special day.
Directly linked to reviewing progress is the business of setting goals.
Every term I ask students to set their own personal objectives. These can range from learning to play their favourite film theme tune to mastering the next grade’s scales or exploring improvisation. Then, we spend some time thinking about how these goals will be achieved. This often leads to a useful discussion about regular and effective practice strategies and I will ask them to write a ‘practice promise’ for the forthcoming term.
Students can be inspired when you share your own aspirations for them – whether it be the promise of exploring pedal, working towards the next grade or developing a composition.
Bring in the Parents
If parents don’t usually sit in on lessons, you could invite them into the last lesson of term. The opportunities here are boundless. Not only do you create an opportunity to showcase the achievements to date and discuss future goals, but you can engage the parents in the learning process.
Many of my students love to ‘play teacher’ and show their parents how to play a tune that they have enjoyed or explain a scale. It’s not for the faint-hearted though – it will become immediately apparent how much of your teaching has really sunk in, or not! It can also reveal ideas your students have embraced and areas in which you may need to invest a little more effort next term.
Many teachers use games on a regular basis to reinforce learning. Here are some of my best-loved ideas for the last week of the term:
Trixstar’s Family Music Board Game – this is a favourite with my students, although the game needs to be adapted for lesson purposes.
Snap! is a familiar concept with a musical twist. My set is so well-loved that I’ve had to order a new one.
Teach Piano Today has loads of suggestions on their Pinterest board. My top pick for versatility is Micro Cars. You can adapt it to virtually any student/level and you don’t have to use cars. I also love their suggestions on how to use Lego in piano lessons.
You could use this time to offer shared lessons or overlap lessons too. All these games are more fun with more people!
Holiday homework needs to have longevity – yet without being overly taxing. The student should be able to achieve the goals without regular supervision.
There are a weath of creative projects to be found in books and online. And with a little thought we can create our own, tailored to each student. Here are 5 ideas I’ve used:
- Compose – use a visual or conceptual stimulus. For those opposed to manuscript paper and a pencil, suggest Noteflight which is free notation software for computer, tablet or phone.
- Research a composer or a piece of music. These resources from Making Music Fun include factsheets, worksheets, join-the-dots, word searches and listening maps.
- Find out about the history of the piano through Ducksters.
- Music and Minecraft – no, this is not a joke! It’s more inspiration from Teach Piano Today.
- Build a piano – here are the origami instructions (although lego or cereal boxes can be just as good!)
Setting a piece of music to learn over the summer holidays can be a risky business. Time off school often means time off everything. As a parent myself I know only too well how easy it is to let the day-to-day routine (and nagging) slip. And frankly, piano practice is tricky in a caravan or by a pool!
Yet if you pick the right piece of music and frame it in the right way, you just might be onto a winner. The goal here is simply to keep students playing over the summer holidays – anything too taxing will be put off until the ever-elusive ‘next week’. I find it most helpful for students to pick their own tune(s) and I usually offer a range of options that are comfortably within the student’s reach.
I particularly like the Piano For Fun series from Elena Cobb. The variety of styles, modern artwork and exciting titles make these books a useful addition to my lending library. Creating recordings during the lessons to be used during practice sessions at home can be a fun way of substituting ourselves during the long summer break. I simply use the Voice Memos app on my phone and text or email them to parents.
At school, children are often inspired by teamwork and we can use this. Offering duets – for siblings, best friends or musically capable parents – can double the motivation. I am a big fan of Rosa Conrad’s Delightfully Easy Duets which offer very accessible intermediate and beginner parts.
However, exercise caution when it comes to students working on exam repertoire. We all know how difficult it is to unlearn bad habits which could be ingrained over several weeks of unchecked practice. With that in mind, recordings come into their own once again. However, more often than not, I encourage students to polish and develop the sections that they have already learnt. In some cases challenging a child to maintain, what has already been learnt, until September may be enough!
Whatever practice homework is set over the holidays, setting a single achievable goal is the best strategy. No one wants to start the next term with an uncomfortable student and a disappointed teacher.
This week’s blog has been written by Liz Giannopoulos – and we’d love to hear about your no.1 takeaway from this article in the comments below! It might be a new resource that you’ve discovered or an idea that you can’t wait to try… COMMENT NOW!
Liz Giannopoulos is the founder and director of Encore Music Tuition Ltd – a thriving piano teaching practice in SW London which features eight tutors working with more than 130 piano students.
Liz gives private piano lessons in her music studio and at local primary schools. She also uses her experience and passion for both teaching and learning to coach and mentor the team of Encore Music tutors.
In 2015 Liz founded Battersea Piano Festival.
She is Mum to 2 musical boys and is a relentlessly keen piano student herself. Her family motto is “never a quiet moment”!