Teachers – what do you do with students that don’t (or won’t) practice?

I’m very much blessed to have students that are really intrinsically motivated to practice, have a real love for the instrument and the learning and development process. As a result I’ve not had to do too much of the cracking of the whip!

In fact, my students are most apologetic when the big important things such as family, health, work or life(!) mean that their practice has taken a back seat for a week or two. This is so sweet and so endearing that they place such a high value on their learning process, and always makes me chuckle. I tell them that it’s ok – they certainly don’t have to seek my approval or “OK” for having done or not done practice during the week – and to take the pressure of themselves. It’s not all about the guitar all of the time – it’s true!!

I have had, however, the occasional student where practicing has started to lapse over a greater period of time. This is frustrating for me as a teacher to go over exactly the same ground for a number of weeks with the same student. More importantly it’s disheartening for me to see the student become increasingly disheartened with their own playing and lack of progress.

In discussing this issue with a friend recently, they said to me  “Why does it matter? So long as they’re paying you money, and they keep turning up.

Well, I’ll tell you why it matters to me.

If I took that attitude I might as well go and work at MacDonald’s (no offence to Macca’s workers – I used to work there myself in my yoof), or a consulting firm or in a shop or do any other kind of job. This is not just about money for me. This is my passion and I so dearly want to pass on my own skills, knowledge, learnings and understanding to help my students progress as players and people and to help support growth of the classical guitar.

So this, fellow teachers, is where we must be brave and ask certain questions, even if it means putting some of our income on the line. We must for the good of our students (and also ourselves) ask the question in this situation “why are we here learning the guitar? Is your heart in this and do you want to continue?” It might be that there are some issues going on their lives which are impacting them, and of course we can be very empathetic to their particular situation. Asking this question we can perhaps discern some of their story and support them.

Similarly we may also find out whether their journey with the guitar is one they want to continue on at this time. If it’s not right for them right now, this question may give a good opportunity for them. If they do wish to continue, but they just need a gentle nudge to pull themselves back in line, then you as a teacher stepping up and supportively asking these kinds of questions might just be the step to get them headed in the rigt direction again.

So, fellow teachers, I’m interested to know how you approach the issue with students that seem to be dropping off the practice. I’d love to know your approaches.

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Motivating Students

This one is a topic that came up through the survey at the end of last year. A number of you are also teachers and wanted to hear a bit more about my thoughts and experiences on teaching. So here we are! It is an interesting topic and I wrote a post on a similar topic very recently, on motivating oneself for practice.

I’ve been very fortunate with my students to date in that I’ve never really felt the need to have to intentionally and explicitly motivate them to learn, to think about things differently or to do practice. They are all highly motivated – intrinsically motivated – individuals (some even turning down tickets to the tennis this week so that they didn’t mis their lesson – such dedication!). So yes, I am very lucky to have such students. And this may be partly reflected by the fact that I choose to teach only adult and older learners – people coming to the guitar after a hiatus or for the very first time tend not to need too much external motivation and pushing along.

I appreciate that this may not always be the case, however, and some teachers with younger students in particular may need to give their charges a loving and helpful prod along from time to time. It is also worth bearing in mind that when you have a poorly motivated student or a student that seems to be flagging in enthusiasm or commitment, it may be a good time to stop and look to yourself as teacher – the issues may not be with the student. Perhaps there’s something that you as teacher need to tweak, sharpen up or refresh.

So here are my thoughts on putting, and keeping, the bounce into your students’ steps and nudging them on….

Give lots of feedback and keep it positive

The student wants to know that they’re doing well and that they can do it (which they can!). Sure there will ALWAYS be room for improvements to be made (and that goes for pretty much any guitarist, regardless of level), but it’s the delivery of the feedback for improvement that counts. Deliver it in a sandwich format like so:

* Really good positive stuff – “You really played that phrase beautifully.”

*Area for improvement – “How about you try it this way the next time through?”

* Really good positive stuff – “Awesome playing overall; really great sound.”

Good for student morale and feels really nice as teacher to deliver it in that way too. Smiles all round!

Ask questions, don’t bark instructions

Well, you can give instructions, and obviously they’re needed at certain points. However, when you ask them a question (“Was that phrase how you wanted it to sound?” for example) it really engages the students, gets them thinking for themselves, gets them involved, gets them really owning their learning and accessing their own internal resources (and embedding the patterns of critical thinking, questioning and problem solving, ready for the day when they no longer need you – yes, this day has to come!).

Have fun!

I find that this is so very important and so very simple – if it ain’t fun your students are not going to want to come to lessons, to work or to practice. Yes, that simple! As a teacher one should always strive to be kind, loving and fun to be with in the first instance. If you can do this then the rest will pretty much take care of itself.