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Teacher’s Corner: By Lisa Moody

External versus internal motivators in a parent’s desire for their children to learn a musical instrument

If you are like me, as a parent of a Suzuki child, you have thought a lot about how to motivate your child to practice their instrument without coercion and the risk of them losing interest altogether. Most of us would like our children to be self-driven and self-regulating in their practicing. We hope that our children will practice and play for personal enjoyment, derive independence through the learning process, and obtain a measure of social satisfaction from playing with other children. Together, these factors add value and meaning to their efforts and reinforce the learning cycle.

Suzuki training provides for all three aforementioned intrinsic (internal) motivators where a child’s natural curiosity for learning is nurtured through the development of technical skills that allow participation in music making with other children in the group class setting.

However, if we are honest, we have probably all resorted to bribery, rewards, or worse, threats to get our children to practice, and we may forget the reason why wanted our children to learn an instrument in the first place.  One factor that you may not have considered is the influence of parental motivation on your child’s learning and how our attitudes and beliefs influence the learning success of our children.

Researchers have defined parental intrinsic motivation as the consideration of a parent for children’s need for autonomy (e.g., one’s child has an interest in learning music), competence (e.g., to develop a child’s abilities) and relatedness (e.g., to create opportunities for one’s child to interact with others). In contrast, extrinsic (external) motivation refers to their consideration for the credits, prizes and other external awards that could result from music training (Liu Liu et al., 2015).

Not surprisingly, research has shown that a parent’s intrinsic motivation with respect to musical training is positively related to the success of the child.  Research has showed that when parents pay more attention to fulfilling children’s internal needs through, for example, encouraging children’s interests, curiosity and persistence, children are more likely to form intrinsic learning motivations and achieve better learning outcomes (Gottfried et al., 1994).

Accordingly, one would expect external motivators to negatively impact learning if they are undermining intrinsic motivation. For example, if providing extrinsic rewards results in feelings of incompetence or being externally controlled, the negative consequences of extrinsic rewards are more likely to occur.

On the other hand, there is the provision that extrinsic rewards could also produce positive effects, if they do not conflict with fulfilling individuals’ intrinsic needs (Liu Liu et al, 2015; Ryan and Deci, 2000).

Research shows that while intrinsic and extrinsic motivation coexist in parents’ minds, that external motivators can play an important moderating role in musical achievement. In other words, when parents have a high level of intrinsic motivation and engagement in their child’s learning, extrinsic rewards can have a positive effect  that can maximize the benefits of both types of motivators (Liu Liu et al, 2015).

Incentives and rewards used judiciously can be a way to mark or celebrate learning achievements as long as they are not the only motivator. For example, practice charts that upon completion result in a reward (e.g. seeing a movie, attending a concert, going out for ice-cream, etc.), can be very motivating and benefit both the child and parent – the child has an achievable practice goal and the reward is time spent together. Participating in a music festival like the Kiwanis Music Festival or taking a Royal Conservatory of Music (RCM) exam are another type of external motivator that may complement and enhance the learning process.

To summarize, the best things we can do as parents to facilitate the learning process, is to focus on fulfilling the internal needs of our children. When a child’s needs for independence, competence, and community, are fulfilled, they will regard the learning process itself as interesting and joyful, and have a more positive attitude towards challenges.  It’s a win-win for parent and child!

Happy Practising!

Cultivating “Slow Scholarship” with the Media Multitaskers of ‘Generation M’*

Teacher’s Corner By Megan Graham

Cultivating “Slow Scholarship” with the Media Multitaskers of ‘Generation M’*

“If you practice something slowly, you forget it slowly. If you practice something fast, you forget it fast” – Itzhak Perlman**

“Good scholarship requires time: time to think, write, read, research, analyze, edit, and collaborate. High quality instruction and service also require time: time to engage, innovate, experiment, organize, evaluate, and inspire.” – Alison Mountz

Focus during the music lesson and home practice is a challenge for many children. It is becoming increasingly difficult to resist distraction when there are so many things that need to get done. Teachers, parents, and students are all part of a society that demands high productivity in a compressed time frame. These ever-increasing demands on our time are not small matters. They are big tasks that cannot be ignored. The pressure to multitask, to do even more in less time, is strong. It is fuelled by the rapid pace of the technology in which we are immersed.

Teaching Music to ‘Generation M’

It’s an hour before dinnertime at home and a 4th grader and 6th grader both have to complete violin practice and homework for school the next day. The problem: They also want to finish an ‘important’ online game with their friends that they started the night before. Can they do all of this at the same time? Can it be done accurately?

This predicament was adapted from a scenario proposed by child development researchers. The children in the scenario are part of the generational cohort of media multi-taskers that follow from Generations X/Y/Z/Net/Digital Natives. They have been coined “Generation M” for “multitasking” by Time Magazine. Gen-M is growing up with a relationship to technology that begins at birth. This is a “mobile culture” where laptops, cell phones, and iPads are used all the time, accompanying every activity.

Homes have become “media multitasking environments,” where adults and children simultaneously watch television, use the computer, and engage with the cell phone, and other electronic devices. The youngest generation in society carries out the most media multitasking on a daily basis. This multitasking happens both in school and at home. The music lesson and home practice both require uninterrupted attention to be successful. Learning an instrument requires repetition and focussed attention that engages the working memory and executive functions of the brain. Media multitasking may be training children’s brains to switch tasks frequently and orient to distractions in a way that is detrimental to learning music well.

Creating an Environment of “Slow Scholarship”

Learning and teaching take time. Itzhak Perlman is known for his saying, “If you practice something slowly, you forget it slowly. If you practice something fast, you forget it fast.” Perlman also recommends that young violinists [and all musicians, I’m sure] practice in small sections with an approach that is thoughtful, purposeful, and patient. The idea is to cultivate an attitude of quality over quantity. This can be challenging because it is the exact opposite of what multitasking has been proven to achieve (i.e., quantity over quality). It takes time to engage, to innovate and experiment (as Dr. Suzuki often did), to organize to evaluate and to inspire one another.

Explain the benefits: Share information about the impact of media multitasking on learning. Explain to students that lesson and practice time is not a time to multitask in the way they might do elsewhere. Perhaps like yoga, practicing is a time to draw attention inward to the task at hand and enjoy the pause in the day’s frenetic pace.

Out of sight out of mind: Eliminate technology from the learning environment. Even if the phone is on silent mode, its presence can be distracting. I have made the mistake of leaving my iPad visible during a lesson. I did not realize the student even noticed the devices until they started pleading with me to show me their favourite game that they promised was related to the music. It is simply better to put it away.

Put it in writing: Decide what will work for your home environment. Create and reinforce house rules around mobile device use during practice time.

A Contemplative Way Forward

As technology becomes increasingly present in our lives and the lives of our students, we as teachers need to consider ways to work with it productively. That can mean integrating technology into our studio practice through digital music tools. It can also mean restricting the presence of digital technology in the lesson and practice environment. When the presence of technology promotes a rapid switching activity in our students that is detrimental to their focus and careful practice, then the environment needs to be changed. Fueled by the rapid-speed technology in our environment, multitasking becomes a habit that our students may have difficulty leaving outside the studio and practice rooms. As teachers, we may also have difficulty bracketing music lessons and practice as a time for slow, contemplative work. However, it is to our benefit to ground ourselves and resist the frenzied and distracted cycle of multitasking. With deliberate effort, we can create environments of focused, self-determined, slow work four ourselves and our students.

*This article is excerpted from my larger article submitted to the American Suzuki Journal
**Reference sources available upon request

Having fun in the classroom!

Teacher’s Corner: by Adam Cicchillitti

Having fun in the classroom!

Though most of you intrinsically understand the importance of having fun during the music lesson, there are often moments of frustration that creep into our student’s practice when the student faces a difficult teaching point. Ensuring that the student effectively understands a teaching point, demonstrates his/her understanding through several repetitions in front of the parent and teacher and finally is able to correctly integrate the teaching point into home practice is paramount to the child’s musical evolution.

The responsibility of motivating the child to persevere during these crucial moments in early learning lies with the teacher and parent. Most of us understand this instinctively but many lack the tools to keep the children engaged when faced with critical teaching points that must be repeated several times when the child becomes bored or distracted. In my experience the two most effective methods of getting kids to retain the lesson in their short and long-term memories is for them to have fun and to integrate movement into the lesson.

Usually a child’s body language can help you determine their level of engagement. Maybe they’re looking at the clock often or drooping their shoulders. Sometimes when a child is faced with a difficult task the simplest thing to do is get them to stand up and “shake it off”. Often I get up and demonstrate this shaking motion do the kids don’t feel silly, but often they’re excited to do it. Other times, I get them to stand up with their instruments and walk around with good posture, ensuring they don’t hit their guitars on anything. Moreover, I get my students to emulate their concert performances by walking “on-stage” and “off-stage”, making sure they bow before and after they play. You’ll see that just a little extra physical movement during a lesson can go a long way!

When I travelled to Pittsburgh and had the privilege of working with Suzuki teacher-trainers William Kossler and Mir Ali, I observed teachers who had a lifetime of working with children and who were able to convey a deep enthusiasm for learning the guitar. Kossler showed up to every lesson with a binder full of stickers and toys appropriate for every song and situation while the parents sat in the class and took notes. The kids were beyond attentive, in fact they were totally absorbed in the world that Kossler had created and in the challenges he laid before them.

Here are some ways that I like to have fun with the kids:

Challenge games – get a barrel of monkeys and every time the child does several successful repetitions he/she can go fish with their monkeys to make a longer chain. Watch out! If one of their monkeys fall of the chain when they fish, they have to start over.

-Using a jenga game, every time your child misses a challenge you can remove a block from the tower! Make sure the challenges aren’t too difficult. Great for concentration and memory.

-Hide an object in a room when your student is out of the class. When the child comes back in the class, begin playing Suzuki tunes softly if the child is far from the object and loud if he or she is close. This is always a favourite.

These are just a few examples. There are literally thousands of music games and you can even invent your own. Playing games and having fun will make a world of difference in the retention of the music lesson and the motivation to practice teaching points at home. Remember to choose a specific focus every week and don’t try to do everything at once!