Coaching students through Level 4 valley
Sue L., California
I am seeing a pattern of students growing restless in Level 4 and at the beginning of the reading process. This is usually around two years into lessons, and seems to coincide with students entering middle school. I feel sad to see them give up then, as they are not really self-generating, and seem to have “lost the dream”. Do you have any suggestions for helping them find their inspiration again? One idea I had was to be more intentional in encouraging music listening beyond the program, trying to integrate music into their lives beyond lessons. However, I don’t know what to do when they gravitate toward rap and other highly rhythmic, non-melodic and non-piano-friendly songs.
Kurt M., Michigan
Level 4 can be a challenge as the songs often require more than a lesson or two to teach. With middle and high school students, I often ask them what they like to listen to. Sometimes I can find tabulation for the songs and will integrate their songs with the SM lessons. I try to encourage listening as well. One of my favorite things to do is have them trace the roots of a current cover of an older song. I follow the adage of “if it ain’t fun it ain’t worth doing”. You have to find the hot buttons and at least show interest. At best, teach some of what they are attracted to. I never thought I would enjoy electronic dance music until a young person turned me on to it. It is better to recognize a valley for what it is and help the student climb out rather than dig in.
Stephen R., California
I would be starting the Rhythm process after no more than a year of lessons. I start it early in Level 3 typically, because that feels right to me. Basically, I begin a new special program in every Foundation level. The entire reading process unfolds over an extended period anyway, so I like to get it underway once we start Level 3. I have a set-up conversation about starting the process and haven’t gotten any objections yet. I notice a lot of students are excited and eager to start learning how to read by then. The Rhythm portion is pretty fun anyway for most students.
Aside from this, if you get students working from a fake book or other familiar lead sheet of their choosing, that may also help motivate them!
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
Neil does refer to Level 4 (also Level 7) as an “eye of the needle” part of the curriculum that often feels like you have to squeeze through, then once you come out the other side it feels better again.
I have found it critical during Level 4 to manage expectations carefully. It starts to feel different to students here because the songs aren’t as pattern-y and take a little longer to learn, the reading program is a completely different type of learning and practicing, and there are more streams to manage. Many will perceive it as slower learning when in fact it’s just that we’re spreading the learning across more streams so need to move forward more slowly in each.
I always get out the Curriculum Overview and have about a 15-minute conversation during class about it, and we just talk about it. I think it really helps. So much discontent I believe comes from unmet expectations. It took me years to realize that, and now I think about it a LOT and just talk about it more.
Cheri S., Utah
The exact same thing happened to me with most of my first batch of students. Now I have a bunch of students either finishing Reading Notes or already into sheet music.
Here’s what I’ve learned:
- Talk about how Foundation 4 will feel different–every song is much longer and much more complex. It’s a big leap ahead of Foundation 3. I tell students each song is worth 2-3 of their earlier songs.
- Talk about how RR and RN are a different kind of learning. You can’t psychologically check off an accomplishment like you can with completing a song.
- At the same time, actively communicate with each lesson and assignment what they ARE accomplishing. What new ingredient or skill are they experiencing?
- Keep momentum in RR and RN (especially RR, which could get bogged down in complexity). Never let a week go by without taking the next small step, but don’t worry about perfect mastery of highly complicated rhythm patterns. Focus on mastering the basics.
- Find the fun: go looking for activities that promote legitimate learning and are also lighthearted and fun. Search the core RR and RN training, Simpedia, the internet, Laurie’s Read-n-Play workbook training. Talk to other teachers. Figure out what kinds of games/activities are fun for you and also have real learning value. Build those into your RR and RN lesson plans.
- Student choice: during Foundation 3 I always assign a “YouTube song”–students sometimes need to play things they choose, and not just accompaniment. I coach them on how to find a useful tutorial and apply our playing-based tools, but we don’t spend much class time on any specific person’s piece. Class is where you get to show off what you’ve taught yourself at home.
Leeanne I., Australia
You can actually rap on the piano! You can purchase digital music that you can play along to, accompaniment style, with a background melody. You could try a reward system, something like at the end of Level 4, the student picks a song they want to play.