Students Leaving After Learning To Read
Robin Keehn, Washington
I have taken a few students through the Reading process, and I believe it has been very successful. I am currently working through Time For More Music and Jazz 1 with some of those students. Other students, having achieved “reading”, and having a huge repertoire, have stopped taking lessons. The parent of three of these students insisted that they had achieved their goal, learned enough and could continue on their own (and not spend any more money on lessons). Another student came to SM with the goal of learning to read music better and having achieved that, quit.
I am wondering how I can retain students after teaching them to read. I have been very willing to work with them on special projects such as a classical piece that they want to learn. I have brought in music and encouraged students to bring in their own music to learn. We have taken pieces and applied the TFMM protocol for “figuring them out.” We have worked on committing pieces to memory based on the tools they have learned. Those same students are mid-level 6 and working on Jazz Clues also. They seem happy and yet four have quit for the reasons I cited above.
I am wondering if I am doing something wrong or if it is just the way it worked out.
Although I don’t believe that this is where the real problem lies, I do want to spend some time firstly addressing the issue and the domain of the ‘Method’ itself, and the role that it can play in the above situation. On many occasions I have talked about students having three, specific periods where an often predictable experience will occur. It is common for these periods to be somewhat more difficult for the student.
- The first occurs at or around the time when reading has been introduced.
- The second occurs when students explore the Jazz process (more accurately, the need for them to be almost entirely Generative).
- The third occurs when we initiate a more comprehensive integration of theory and practice – I call this process Integrated Theory.
Without looking at the specifics of each student and exactly what has occurred with regard to how the method has been unfolded, I can’t accurately point to any particular methodological issue. However, as a generalization, I know that if the Playlist is not kept alive and well, if the dosage of the method is not appropriately administered, if each step of any given process is not fully explored, mined and assimilated etc., then the student will not experience safe-passage through these periods. I see each of these periods as requiring the student to ‘pass through the eye of the needle’, and if the method is not managed appropriately then the student will come up against not having an adequate body of tools to navigate their way through the process. The most common outcome as a result of this is that students will leave, and they will tell you that the reason why they are leaving is because they ‘no longer have enough time to devote to practice’, that ‘they want to try some other activity’, or, that they ‘have reached their goal’.
Even so, I am actually not at all convinced that this is the likely reason why the students have left. My view is that the Relationship Conversation is where the secret to longevity lies. And it is crucial to realize that this conversation is not optional, nor a one-time-event. Mastery in this domain requires a comprehensive grasp and utilization of context, content, repetition and management. The need to do this will never go away!
In the above scenario, and to get somewhat closer to what I think is really going on, I’d prefer to look at a broader picture, and see this inside of a series of questions. Even though these are questions that you can answer for yourself with specific regard to the above students, generally I consider these to be questions that are better to continue asking than have answered. They provide a place to come from when dealing with all students, always.
I don’t want this to get too ‘wordy’, but let’s consider several things. Most importantly, let’s keep the ball in our court and look at this from the perspective of ourselves being fully responsible for the outcome of any situation. Understand that when I say ‘responsible for’, I am not implying ‘blame’, but more so asking that we continue to see ourselves as having the capacity to create and shape any particular outcome.
As I said before, I am doubtful that the student’s ‘goal’ in the above situations was ‘being able to read’. In the broader scheme of things, the early years of learning to read are really just the beginning of a new direction. But in order for this to be true for the student, it needs to have been already understood and embraced from the beginning, and kept alive along the way. Here’s what you need to be asking yourself:
- How big is the picture that I paint for the student, regarding the breadth and scope of the journey they are on?
- What is my role in setting up a relationship to the time that it takes to maximize the likelihood of the student acquiring and retaining music as a life-long companion? (Six to ten years is likely adequate).
- What is the ongoing conversation with regard to their Relationship to the process – peaks, plateaus and valleys through brief, sustained or prolonged periods of time?
- What is the ongoing conversation with regard to what this will require of them?
- How am I keeping alive the opportunity that it is for students to learn how to navigate their way through long-term relationships?
- Am I continually creating a broader context for this, outside of its application to playing piano?
- If so, what is the broader context that I create for the student, and do I relate this to the specific interests of the student and the family at hand – marriage, partnership, parenting, career, pursuits within any particular discipline etc.?
- What am I setting up with regard to the future application?
- How am I setting it up?
- How am I keeping this alive?
- Am I always conscious of the fact that, although it is the child having lessons, it is always the parent who is really the student. The parent is the one who needs constant education.
- Do I interact with the parent from this perspective?
- What is missing from how I do this?
In the Teacher Training Materials, I talk about the two domains of Method and Relationship. I say that in almost every educational environment, these have been collapsed into one domain, and that we are quite blind with regard to this. I talk about how we then try to manage these collapsed domains as though they are one, and that I don’t believe that we can successfully do this. I do believe that the failure to continually separate the two domains and subsequently manage their respective idiosyncrasies, will lead to student losses the reasons for which you will remain continually unclear about.
The single, biggest factor that impacts student longevity is the ability to distinguish, separate and appropriately manage both the Relationship Conversation and the Claiming of Territory. You’ve got to give yourself a break here. I would suggest that you need to make peace with the fact that it can (and should) take years of conscious focus and questioning in order to begin getting a handle on this. And in order to best facilitate that happening, I suggest you always ask the questions above. You will need to self-monitor, and you will need to continually remind yourself that along the way, you too will have peaks, plateaus and valleys, through brief, sustained or prolonged periods of time.