It’s the most wonderful time of the year! No, I’m not talking about kids jingle belling or carolling out in the snow. It’s time to head back into the music studio! And that means getting things ready for student success … including having a multi-faceted approach to practice strategies in place.
By the way, I have a quick win series on YouTube about how to set up students for success using online storage. I wish I had started this so much earlier! You can access it here.
Practice pages aren’t enough
Several years ago I realized that practice pages weren’t enough. It was so frustrating to painstakingly create practice pages that rarely got read. Even with reviewing what & how to practice during lesson time, my students were not making the progress that I wanted & knew they could make.
Then, I had a lightbulb moment. Why was I putting so much effort into practice strategies … but not putting any of the responsibility on my students? And, this is a trend that has come into its own in the education system as well. Think inquiry-based learning, project-based learning, student-led conferences & the list goes on. We can do the same in our studios.
Rather than complain about students not reading their practice pages, have multiple options available that can be used independently. Rather than tell students how to practice, give them options & have them choose the one that works best for them. And, if it doesn’t work … get them to choose another.
A multi-faceted approach to practice strategies
Instead, I focused on creating a multi-faceted practice strategy system. During lesson time, my students choose the best strategy, practice it & learn where to find the resources. In between lessons, my students used those tools & resources independently.
As much as I say we shouldn’t fully rely on practice pages, they are an important component of a complete practice strategies framework. But, there are ways we can help students become more independent as they use them.
Get students or parents to print them
I remember one of the teachers I worked with during a practicum saying, “Rosemarie, your students should always be working harder than you. If they aren’t, something needs to change.”
You do not need to waste time writing out notes during lessons for both you & your students. Yes, we want to use the most efficient way possible to get those practice pages ready. And, we want to support our students by giving them a record of what to do & the practice strategies that work best. But, we need to choose a way that is the least amount of work … so we can focus on teaching.
I save time by typing notes directly onto my lesson plan (I use Planboard). This means that my plan for the lesson & what my students use are one & the same. Because it is digital, it takes seconds to delete or add to the practice page during lessons.
After each lesson, take a few seconds to send a copy to the student or parent to print.
- Text or email a PDF
- Or better yet, save that PDF using online storage
Be sure to use an onboarding process so that parents & students get these printed right away so practice isn’t held back during the week.
Keep it simple
While it can be tempting to add all sorts of things to a practice page, remember the focus is on practice strategies. Everything else is an extra.
Some of the things my practice pages include are:
- “The one thing I need to remember this week …”
- My students know that if everything goes wrong during the week, that’s the one thing they’ve chosen to get done.
- Announcements: group lessons, registration dates, encouragement or specific praise
- Assignments: improvising/composing, technique, listening to new songs, specific songs (regardless of how they are being learnt)
- Practice instructions: student ideas, where to find resources, etc.
- Goals for next lesson: best to have students choose these
- Off-the-bench activities
Regardless of what you choose to include, remember that this will change over time. Not only do students need a visual change, but what is important to you may change over time as well.
Originally, I got the idea for practice pouches from Jennifer’s Music Educator Resources (Practice Kits) & Leila’s 88 Piano Keys (Practice Pouch: Turn Practice into Progress). These have also changed over the years, but certain things always stay the same.
Make it easy to fit in a binder
I am a big fan of using binders in the music studio. After all, those multi-faceted practice strategies will need a place to live. And, binders make it easy to add or remove papers while still keeping everything in one place. We want to make it as difficult as possible for students to lose or misplace the practice pouches.
Think about what students often forget
We can all be forgetful & our students are no exception. Rather than get upset that a student has once again forgotten to leave a pencil at the piano, just include one in the pouch. Think about what your students typically forget & write it down.
Things I tend to include are:
- Mechanical pencil
- Highlighter or highlighter tape
- Small flip notebook for vocabulary terms, special achievements, etc.
- Clip: knuckle strengthening & holds open books
- Points card:
- If you teach in-person, this is a great option. Stamp the card for achievements during lesson. Students are responsible for the card. Lose it & you start over. Earn enough points & you get a reward.
- If you teach online, make a digital version of this & place it in your student’s online storage.
- Die: There are so many games & practice strategies you can use with a die.
- Sticker sheet: Use for marking sections OR celebrating achievements.
As they become proficient in using tools, add in different practice aids for their pouches.
Here are the pictures of (most) of the items in the pouches. I often get items either from The Dollar Tree or what I already had here in the office. One of the items not shown was the Icosahedron I bought one year. Sadly, it didn’t easily fit into my travel teaching bag & didn’t get used the way I thought.
Make practice fun
Think about what is on your to-do list. What do you get done without fail every week in your studio? I’m going to guess your answer is the same as mine. The fun stuff!
When things are hard, boring or just plain confusing, we avoid them. It’s human nature. But, the things that are fun? Well, those seem to be the things we always find time for.
It’s tough practicing by yourself as a kid. Especially if we know our friends are playing outside or online. While we don’t need to make our practice strategies akin to a 3-ring circus, we do need to make it more fun than picking lint out of the carpet.
One of the ways that I’ve blended student choice & fun practice ideas is the “5 Ways: Practice Strategies“. With a new PDF each month, my students had multiple practice options each week using one object. Each month the object changed so they could build their own practice strategies toolbox that brought a smile to their face. Plus, parents & students alike loved the November PDF that used all that Halloween candy!
Get student & parent buy-in
How do we keep these practice strategies from gathering dust? Giving them to students isn’t enough. Asking parents to purchase materials that don’t get used is an exercise in frustration.
The best piece of advice is to make it as simple as possible for families to use.
Over the course of the pandemic, we bought a lot of school supplies that weren’t used. It was understandable that teachers were struggling to figure out what supplies were needed when students could switch between online or in-person over the year. But, it was still a lot of supplies sitting in our home just gathering dust.
As a parent, I’ve appreciated when teachers make it incredibly easy for me to see what my kids need to be doing. When teachers have taken the time during lessons to teach my kids how to use online tools or how to complete tasks, it takes the pressure off at home.
What it looks like in the studio
Be sure to use an onboarding process so that parents & students buy into the practice strategies you use. Make time during lessons so that students can use them independently. And when they forget, because it will happen, their parent(s) can guide them on how to use the practice strategies listed on their practice page.
Also, think about how students will access the practice strategies in your studio. Who will you purchase the supplies? Will you provide everything at once … or add to their practice toolbox over time?
Keeping it fun?
Right around this time, Staples always seems to have a commercial with “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” playing in the background. I tried one year to sing the song while in Staples with my kids. While they didn’t have frowns on their faces, they certainly didn’t join in. But, it did seem to confuse them enough that I was able to grab things & get out before there was a lot of “Mommy, can we get that? Ooh, and that!”
There have been different incarnations of the commercial since it came out in 1996. For your viewing pleasure, I’ve included the original.
NOTE: This article was originally published on August 12, 2016. It has since been updated with more ideas to help you set up multi-faceted practice strategies!