Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Meaning of Mean: Part Two


     Which one of these signs demonstrates how you teach? Are you a demander, like the exclamation point? Or are you a questioner, like the question mark? More than likely, you participate in many different expressive aspects of teaching, like this:

     If you are teaching a large number of millennials, you have probably already figured out that the exclamation point is not the best way to express yourself, unless is it a sign of energy and enthusiasm. If you put a period on the end of every sentence, that may not work as well as it used to either. I learned recently in the book "Because Internet" by Gretchen McCulloch that the use of a period in social media and in texts suggests passive aggression. My seventh grade English teacher would be appalled. Period.

     The best mix of expressions is the one that is non-threatening - a pause to let the student speak might be a dash, for example. Remember, millennials like to have input into what is going on. In some cases, you may need to ask for a pause in their speaking! However you do it - through dashes or question marks or commas or the ubiquitous ellipse - getting them engaged in the process is key to keeping them interested. While this is not a revolutionary idea, it is more important for today's students who prefer engagement to passive instruction.

     Engagement can include movement away from the piano. It can include use of manipulatives like blocks, crayons, movement toys, floor staff, even my ever faithful Wright-Way Note Finder, a simple quarter note on a string that rides up and down a vinyl staff. If you find computer games and apps to be useful, add them as well. However, it is my experience that students are more engaged with the novelty of 3-D objects since they already spend lots of time in the digital world. Watch them come alive when asked to join in a game of Koosh® Ball catch. Or enjoy rolling a 10-sided die for a random number of repetitions of a challenge spot.

     Getting back to the now-problematic period, telling students to do something that makes no sense to them rarely works these days. "Do this, period," just isn't satisfactory. "Here's why we are doing this" is an expression that is much more likely to be successful. For example, why should a very young student struggle to play hands together scales just because scales? (internet talk) In recent years I have delayed teaching hands together scales until it is more likely that they may have to play them in literature. They learn them faster with ease, and it makes more sense. Quite frankly, a lot of piano literature never involves hands together scales. (For some insight on this, check out this link:

     Millennials may also have a false sense of their skill level, which might be represented by air quotes. If they have parents/teachers/friends who have built up their self-concept beyond reason, this needs to be addressed. I had a student some years back who would come to a lesson with a piece her father had insisted was very well prepared, and it wasn't. He did not welcome my offered suggestions for improvement because he had praised her insufficient preparation. On the other hand, a different parent told her son that he needs to walk before he runs. I love her.

     My favorite way to approach this is not head-on criticism. Instead I teach them to self-evaluate. What did you like about that performance? Name three things. What needs to change? Name three things. This addresses the millennial's need to engage in a process that yields authority, or, as the common expression goes, agency. They are in control in a way that requires responsibility rather than abandoning it.

    Millennials will also have ways to record their practice and performance that are at their fingertips. Their phones can do this, for starters. I recently picked up a handy little flash drive that also records. The one I chose from the various models is called RecJoy, but you may choose another brand. It's not top notch music quality, but easy enough to use and transfer to iTunes for repeated listening. And it's inexpensive - about $20.00. Learning to listen to their practice can be another useful tool for self-evaluation.

     It is always perilous to expect every member of a given generation to behave the same way. Ten years ago, when I started this blog, I wrote a post called "No Method." As tutors, independent music teachers have the luxury of finding what works and what doesn't work for an individual student. Publishers of method books revise their output to allow for changes in cultural trends, and we can take advantage of new materials and approaches as needed. But it is helpful to notice how contemporary students respond in order to meet expectations effectively. Period.



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