New idea: Remote Practice Management
Evan H., Kansas
I’ve got a question about a potentially new way to manage practicing.
We think some of our prospects aren’t signing up for lessons because of the requirement that a parent be present in the lessons. Many parents today are quite busy and often say they do not have time to participate, so they simply wish to drop the kids off and pick them up when the lesson is over.
Neil criticizes this approach on the basis that it leaves the child without a life coach at home to help them manage practicing. I’ve seen this firsthand: when the parent doesn’t really participate in the lessons, or doesn’t monitor practicing at home, the child often “forgets” to practice or practices improperly.
However, we may have a new way to ensure parental awareness of the content in the lessons, and still allow the parents the freedom to drop the kids off. We call this system Remote Practice Management (RPM). Here’s what we’re thinking:
At the foundation session, the parents are the only ones who attend. No kids there, since they often can’t pay attention for that length of time and there isn’t much for them to do. Other teachers have said that a “parents only” foundation session works wonders. Basically, I’d coach the parents about the RPM system, how to monitor practicing, etc.
Each student would have an online playlist on Google Drive (or something similar) that would be shared by the teacher, the student, and the life coach. I would watch the list during the week to ensure that it was being checked off, as would the parent. This way, the children know they are being monitored and will have an added incentive to practice correctly, even if their parents aren’t participating in the lessons themselves. We could even have songs broken up into subsections corresponding to the sections on the videos, so that the students can check off each individual section when they are learning a new song. This way, I would know they are practicing the way they are instructed, not just the song itself. (Many students simply run the song over and over again during the week, rather than doing “one ingredient a day” as I instruct to minimize frustration. The RPM would ensure that I can see this.) If I saw that a student was not checking off his list during the week, I could send an e-mail to the life coach asking what’s going on. If it still wasn’t checked off, say, a day before the lesson, I’d ask again. If I didn’t hear anything back, I could simply tell the child not to come to the lesson (I send people home if they haven’t practiced during the week), thus avoiding the embarrassment of this happening in front of the group, and avoiding a potential temper-tantrum or parent challenging me in the lesson and wasting the group’s time.
The only pitfall I can think of is this: if a child misbehaves, I have to be a “policeman.” One reason I have the parents come to the lessons is to avoid my having to do this, so that I can focus on teaching the content and not worry about discipline problems. Also, if a child shows up even though instructed not to, due to lack of practice, or if the child gets kicked out of the lesson for misbehavior, there would be no parent there to escort him out of the classroom. He could, in theory, disobey and cause all sorts of trouble until his parents arrive, thereby wasting the group’s time and disrupting the learning environment. With a parent there with him, this wouldn’t be an issue.
What do you think? Is this a good idea or a bad idea? Should we implement Remote Practice Management, continue to do things the way we’ve been doing them, or mix the two somehow?
Mark M., New York
Let me know if I’m missing something — this seems to assume that seeing that an item has been checked off is all there is to managing practice. That doesn’t need to be coin remotely — a parent who doesn’t attend lessons but is willing to spend 10 seconds at the end of practice each day looking at a list can do that. Most importantly, though, seeing that something is checked is not remotely (not pun intended) all that there is to practice management.
The point of parental attendance is so that they’ll be informed about what’s going on in the content of the lessons, so that they will 1) be able to coach through content, and 2) be able to support the long-term relationship involvement in the practice routine. One can ensure that a playlist is checked off without accomplishing either of these goals. And, incidentally, one can accomplish both of these goals without checking off a playlist. The playlist and the act of checking it off is a tool. It’s a useful tool. But it is simply no assurance that pieces are being learned properly or that a quality practice routine is being pursued.
Not to mention how easy it, no matter who is helping check a list, to cheat and check things that weren’t practiced sufficiently or at all. And not to mention that a paying parent who is not attending lessons could very well end up complicit in cheating those checks to ensure that the student is allowed to attend lessons.
I think the general motivation to want to find a way for students to succeed in SM lessons even if a parent can’t attend lessons is a good motivation. So far, I don’t see that what you’ve posed could be a solution, unless I’m missing something.
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
I agree completely with Mark. Managing the playlist is one thing; managing relationships and expectations is entirely another. Much of what we discuss during class is aimed at the coaches – to help them ‘get’ the value of what we are doing, provide first-hand awareness of what is expected at the next lesson, and teach them how to support the student at home. Their main role is to support the entire process, not just the checking-the-playlist process.
Generally speaking, if a parent is unwilling or unable to attend lessons, then it is likely the student will not stay in lessons very long because they will have inadequate support at home. That is a setup for high turnover, which leads to other issues and doesn’t support the long-term goal of students having music as a lifelong companion.
I communicate strongly that the active presence of a consistent coach is non-negotiable. I believe it’s the only way to establish a strong student base and achieve high retention.
A good coach is a vibrant part of the team, adding their own energy to the triangle of student, teacher, coach. They do much more than enforce the assignments. Simply Music teachers are not the only music teachers who require a parent to attend lessons and be involved with practice at home. It’s a pretty tried and true approach. Though you are right that some parents just aren’t able to come, I think using the remote practice management to simplify the coaches’ role shouldn’t become the standard.
But I do love the idea of a Google Drive playlist! Could foundation/arrangement/accompanying pieces be already set up with check boxes and then have extra rows for individualized assignments and notes? Could the page be edited by the teacher, for example for inserting arrangements in the order desired? Or completely blank pages for those students who are in upper levels and personalizing their playlist? One problem I see is people having a hard time getting their computer right by the piano in order to read and check things off as they go along. Would it be able to be on a tablet? And for those who can’t get a device near the piano, could the playlist be printed? I would want the option of a page showing only one week of check boxes, but be able to see more than that when needed. I wonder if one piece could be selected so you could see the practice history for that piece over a period of time? Also, could there be a place where students or coaches could make notes during the week? I also really like the idea of the pieces being split up according to the video assignments.
Good luck with this! I hope your project works out.
Evan H., Kansas
Wow, thank you very much for the helpful replies!
What you’ve said has confirmed my suspicions, and confirmed the reasons we were hesitant to introduce this system. And my apologies for the late reply; apparently the website didn’t email me when people had replied, so I’ll have to make sure I didn’t uncheck a box or something by mistake…
This also takes a huge burden off of my back, since I now realize that it simply must be non-negotiable: a coach must be in the lesson and must be the life coach at home. It’s very rare for a younger student to succeed without one. I may get fewer students in the short-term, but the students that I do get (and that we have now) will be quite committed and will have amazing success.
I do have another question, however: at what age do you allow the student to come in without a life coach? So far, we’ve required it for anyone under age 15, since by that time students generally know how to manage their time and know how to learn on their own. Is this a good idea, or is there flexibility here?
I think I remember Robin Keehn saying that when a students can drive themselves to lessons, she lets them come without a coach. In my opinion, a pretty good standard.
Darla H., Kansas
I once heard it suggested that a student comes with a coach unless the student is paying for the lesson him or herself. I like this idea because then you know the student is truly invested in succeeding.
My personal experience with teenagers is that I have 5 of them currently in my studio. These 5 have been with me 4-6 years and are in levels 8, 9 & 10. Two are 13, then 15, 16 & 17. None of them have ever asked when the parents could quit coming. All of their parents want to be at lessons, even though they all lead busy lives and it’s tough to make it happen sometimes. If I were to choose if any of them could manage well without a life coach coming, I think I have one 13-yr-old who could continue on with the same level of success. The four others, I don’t think so.
A very good reminder, Darla, that it should be considered on a case by case basis, and not a topic that the teacher should offer.