In today’s post I’m going to outline some fantastic strategies for teaching piano students with learning challenges. But can I tell you a secret? These strategies should be used with each and every piano student you teach.
You see, the strategies that work best for students with learning challenges are simply best practice strategies that will benefit all students. Every child you teach falls somewhere on the “learning challenge spectrum”. And while many of your students probably hum along just fine, that doesn’t mean they won’t benefit from an added dose of piano teaching awesomeness.
And now for the really great part! On the learning challenge spectrum you’ll have piano students who are clearly struggling, piano students who struggle in silence, and piano students who rarely struggle. Teachers who have students who clearly stuggle regularly adapt their teaching style to help these students along. But the students who struggle in silence are more difficult to pick out because they are quiet and capable… enough. It is these students who blossom when you implement best practice strategies.
Best Practice Piano Strategies For ALL Students
1. Visual Lesson Structure
You can get really fancy with your visual lesson plan, but to implement it in its simplest form grab a whiteboard and write down each and every activity that you’ll be working on that day. As you and your student work your way through a 30 or 45 minute lesson be sure to cross out activities that have been completed.
Visual calendars are motivating for all kids. They feel comfortable when they are made aware of the day’s tasks. If you have something particularly fun or novel on the calendar, your piano students will be motivated to get through their warm-ups or scales and on to the “good stuff”.
2. Ditch the Distraction
Try to keep visual stimuli to a minimum. Does the position of your piano mean your students have a great view of the outdoors? If so, this can be problematic for children on both ends of the learning challenge spectrum. Even as I write this paragraph, I’m distracted by the neighbours dog who is attempting to do his business on my front lawn (hold on a moment… I’ll be back).
3. Butts Off the Bench
Kids need to move. And unless you have a really cushy bench, piano kids really need to move. We’ve included this point in many prior posts but we simply can’t stress enough that sitting for 30 to 45 minutes straight is impossible for most young children. There are many piano activities that can be performed away from the piano… so get off the bench and have some fun.
4. Dabble in Down Time
You only see your students once a week so the idea of having downtime in a lesson might seem utterly ridiculous. But don’t write this idea off just yet. Try scheduling just a minute or two of downtime in the middle of each lesson; a bit of a “brain break” so to speak. For maximum benefit, let the “brain break” serve a purpose. Consider putting on a one-piece mini-concert for your students. Your kids will love to see you in your element. They might also learn something simply from watching you play.
5. Consistency is King
Piano teachers naturally want to be exciting and spontaneous. But that doesn’t mean every lesson needs to be a series of surprises. Piano kids thrive on consistency, and like knowing what to expect from their piano lessons.
So now you’re probably thinking… but wait… you guys have built an entire blog on piano teaching resources that surprise and excite, what gives? It’s simple really… build surprises into your consistent framework. Our piano students know that every 3rd week of the month is game week but that doesn’t mean they know what the game is. Our students also know that every two months marks the start of a new practice incentive but they don’t know what that incentive is (hence… the excitement builds.)
Your lesson structure should be consistent but what happens within that framework should be an absolute blast!
The Teach Piano Today “How To” Series
The above 5 strategies are a great start to helping not just children with learning challenges, but all children. If you’re looking for strategies to help you deal with very specific personalities in your piano studio you’ll definitely want to check out our “How To” series.