Allie Berger

Group Class Success – Goal Setting

One of my biggest interests in the arts of teaching and learning is the power of the group to get things done and get skills learned. I would even go as far as saying that individual learning leaves most students in an unmotivated no man’s land where not enough learning happens. In Suzuki group classes, it’s great to see children (and parents) learning from each other. It looks like the child is thinking, You can do it, so I must be able to do it too. And bang! They work it out.

And one of the best things I have seen was a child at the end of Book 1 as she sat entranced, watching some Book 4 players. At the same time she had her violin half way up attempting to follow the fingering. I was very impressed by how close she came.

Another time I noticed a four year old student intensely watching some advanced students rehearsing a piece for concert. The group session for the younger students had finished and her mother desperately wanted to go home, but the little girl dug in her heels and absolutely refused to go. This little violin player turned herself into a very quick learner and was more in control of the learning process than her mother could fathom.

The group has what I call an enormous unseen learning effect on the individual.

Goal Setting

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Group Class Success – Building Memory for Successful Learning

A significant moment arrived in our violin school when we decided to create a fast incubator for violin progress and practice – without the pressure. Our students were doing quite well and some very well, however we believed everyone could go much quicker and learn new music easier. We wanted better results, greater success and faster progress for all students. Ultimately, it worked. How did we do it and what did we achieve?

Photo courtesy of David Becker

How to Build a Powerful Memory

One of our initial steps was to focus on how to build memory. To work successfully with their children, parents need to understand how memory works, how it is built. This topic formed the basis of several talks I gave at our group classes. The Talk came after a short break following the second session, where everyone – parents and children of all ages including the three year old students – came together to listen and participate in the discussion. I aimed to keep the talk short. To my amazement even the youngest students would listen and sometimes have great answers to my questions about how to study violin at home.

Previous teaching experience had taught me how to wait until everyone was quiet before starting. It is quite reassuring and fun in such a mixed group to watch the calm tide of quiet go through the room as people and children realise you are ready to start.

At group classes we illustrated clear learning pathways for parents to understand how their child could consistently master and retain new steps. This pattern meant that children could progress through the pieces in the Suzuki books much faster than usual. Once children had mastered Twinkles and all the early learning needed to get to Twinkles, we came to expect two books a year as normal progress. Beginners were able to learn Twinkles in about three months.

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Group Class Success – Session 3 The Talk

From the activities and enjoyment of the Play Through and Teaching Session 2, the group class is now buzzing with energy and enthusiasm. Parents and students are chatting with each other, exchanging ideas and discussing points from the sessions. It’s a good time for the teachers to take advantage of the heightened concentration to share their knowledge and experience about important areas of learning to play the violin. It’s Session 3: Welcome to The Talk!

Allie presents the Talk

A relatively short session of about 5 to 15 minutes, The Talk is an opportunity to engage and educate parents and students about topics such as how to implement morning and afternoon practice in order to learn new pieces quickly, infallible techniques to securely memorise the music and how to create fluent musical ability.

In the video below in this post I present my talk on the keys to daily practice. It’s particularly interesting to see how the students themselves contribute to the discussion.

Within our violin school The Talk also grew into a kind of interactive forum about how to work together successfully.

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Group Class Success – What do parents do?

What do parents do at lessons? Everything! And how does that work?

Group class

We’ve all heard it before: Parents are the key to their children’s success. And it’s true. If a child has lost motivation or is not moving through the pieces, the missing link is parent involvement. But parents need to know what to do. I’ve experienced Suzuki Violin first hand as a parent and as an educator. My role as a parent was far more challenging, every day at home with my children grappling with ways to ‘get’ them to play their pieces.

At the heart of the problem is the western tuition model’s narrow focus on the child and the student in the lesson. I too sat silently, a parent at the back of the room while the teacher expertly taught my children one-to-one. Occasionally during the lesson, the teacher nodded over at me to make sure I had made a note for home practice. Despite my diligence, I felt disconnected and superfluous. Being the parent at your child’s lesson can be an excruciating experience and it is no surprise some mothers and fathers wonder why they have to be there.

Problems of the Parent Disconnect

I’ve watched classes where parents bring magazines to read during the lesson, or slip outside for long conversations on their mobiles, and see they were going to be quite unable to work with their child during the week. I imagined they’d go home, tell their child to practice and wonder why there is so much resistance. In the very early stages of violin playing, young children need an enormous amount of home teaching. Violin is a very challenging instrument to learn. We’ve all heard a parent say, “I don’t think my child is suited to violin, they have lost interest, we are thinking of giving up.” In other words the parent is giving up.

My own experiences and observations of the parent disconnect in the lesson made me think about how it could be different. I began with the lesson structure, what the ideal outcomes should be, and how parents could communicate and work in depth with their children about the study points in question.

What I saw at the Summer School

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Group Class Success: Managing Behaviour

We are in a quandary about how to handle children. The words behaviour and discipline are charged with tension as arguments rage back and forth between traditional and alternative ideas – but as I explain later, I don’t like using the words. I believe we are looking for other, better ways in our dealings with children, and as a society, I think it is very important that we keep revisiting this topic.

The fact is that in many cases, especially in schools and for parents, behaviour and discipline are fraught simply because modern children see that they can refuse to comply with demands placed on them by adults – and really, at the end of the story, can’t be made to do something anymore. Quite often they don’t care about the punishments or embargoes devised to keep them in order. However, there is a way to bypass this deadlock. To have successful, productive and enjoyable group classes and violin lessons, we have to find it.

I’m not so keen on the word discipline for its old connotations – children to be seen and not heard, controlling children rather than inspiring them and so on, therefore I might just have to drop the word and look for other ways of explaining something that is, or should be, alive and inspiring. When it really boils down, what we want to do is to create and develop good relationships. but instead I think we have ended up in a muddle.

Disconnected incentives extinguish interest

For a long time now, focus on children’s behaviour has been driven by the psychological model of Behaviourism. From this doctrine, we alternate between reward and punishment as the way to cope with children – great for rats and pigeons perhaps, but not the best if we are to have healthy and successful teacher-student and parent-child relationships. Clearly, it is a toxic mix. To be honest, every society (and it doesn’t really matter which country) is floundering to cope with bringing up children. If we haven’t made a connected relationship with our children in the early years, we are headed for a bumpy ride and much difficulty managing them as teenagers.

Create genuine interest

I love watching John’s and Phianne’s classes as they are so adept at teaching. They rarely have a student who is not concentrating on what they are doing. Even the most disconnected children pay attention during their sessions, but it’s not so apparent how it’s being done.

At the end of one Group Class, I recall speaking with a group of parents who unwittingly made the comment, Oh, John and Phianne are so patient with the children. Shocked that they could miss seeing the point, I said in frustration, It has absolutely nothing to do with patience! It comes from creating interest and focusing the children on the teaching point.

When children become intensely engaged in doing, behaviour problems fade away. Parents and teachers alike are often so accustomed to disciplining children’s behaviour and becoming so stressed and frazzled in the process that they cannot see another totally different way when it is in front of them.

Even at university lectures for my education degree, we were instructed never to turn our backs on the class!

Don’t you just hate it when kids roll their eyes at you? When they start eye-rolling, communicating with others or mucking up in classes, lessons or home practice, it’s a sure sign that attention is on behaviour. (These days I think it is very funny when I see eye rolling.)

A lot of keeping students in the flow comes from being organised ourselves, especially in our head.

FOUR PRINCIPLES FOR GROUP CLASS BLISS

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Group Class Success – Playing with the Suzuki Recordings

Listening to and playing with the recordings is a cornerstone of the Suzuki Method. Once you really get it, everything changes and it’s so much easier for all students to progress rapidly. Some may think it is a bit stilted to play along with the recording, yet I always imagine what it is like for young children, or anyone for that matter, to go home and try to play violin without first hearing and knowing the sound of the music.

Listening to the recording builds the inner music landscape in all its auditory vistas, colours and details – I’m amazed how some parents of violin students don’t take advantage of its extraordinary power. Without it there is little in the child’s mind to make the connection between head, hands and instrument and the only time the student hears the real music is once a week, at the lesson. There’s virtually no hope they can carry home what they’ve heard and hold it usefully through the week without going back to the recordings.

These days, few parents are experienced piano accompanists or accomplished violinists, so without the sounds of the recording, like in Old Mother Hubbard, the music cupboard for the musical mind is relatively bare. The recorded music is the means by which parents can build a strong, healthy music learning environment at home and speed up their child’s learning success.

Learning the Language of Music

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Group Class Success – The Play Through

For a number of years our violin school ran what I can only describe as standard group classes, held a couple of times in the school term. Modelled on classes in Japan and elsewhere, they were well attended and from a teaching perspective, quite productive. The students liked coming and participated conscientiously, but if anything the classes were an addition to private lessons, almost like group practices on particular points and pieces.

When the decision was made to revolutionize the program, putting the group class in the driver’s seat and holding them every week, we chose Saturdays to run them. (It wasn’t the best day on reflection, as Saturday is a general day of relaxation, but I will come back to the schedule and better options in a later topic about scheduling.)

In our planning meetings we spent a lot of time discussing how to bring a real buzz and sense of community into the new classes. Because of the big changes to the program we were unsure how it would turn out, but it didn’t matter. We were just determined to make the sessions fun and very instructive. In some ways the new classes were very experimental partly due to the wide mix of abilities in the small number we started them with.

Eventually the large teaching room was full and really buzzing. Here’s the story of how it happened.

The Six Group Class Sessions

Session 1: The Play Through

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Group Class Success – Introduction

Welcome to the new series on the Group Class, from TSV co-founder Allie Berger.

I love what group class does for students and parents. My wow moment was when we had just come out of a group class at a Suzuki Summer School in Matsumoto, Japan, as I watched a mother with her three or four year old child talking together in detail about what they had noticed and learned in the class.

The level of discussion they had from the class was truly impressive. Both the parent and child were inspired by what they had learned in the group class setting and it was obvious they were developing a close relationship through what they were doing together.

For me, Group Class is the key to learning violin.

It makes the roles and work of teachers, parents and students so much easier, colouring and illuminating the landscape of learning for everyone in the violin programme.

The rise of individualism in the west, despite its important contribution to personal autonomy and self-realization, carries the risk of social isolation and separation. By focusing on the individual, educators miss out on many of the benefits of group dynamics and community, We develop individual learning plans and design our lessons accordingly, limiting the creative energy that comes from working together in the group.

Often it is challenging for parents to understand – and for teachers to explain – why both parents and student should attend regular group class together in addition to an individual lesson. It just seems like one more commitment to fulfill in their busy schedules.

And traditionally, many music teachers run mainly one-on-one lesson programmes, punctuated by occasional get togethers. They work very hard to transfer the spark of enthusiasm to their students, producing a few stars, but miss out on the wealth of motivating influences that come from running regular group classes.

In this new series we will show you how to develop and run group classes so that they support the momentum and inner motivation we are talking about.

Keeping the Spark Alive

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