Keeping Students Engaged to the Last Lesson

June.  The weather is perfect for dinners on the patio, a fantastic fruity drink in hand, kids running around with their friends not to be seen for hours, visiting with friends in the extended evenings & relaxing in the sun (or shade, if you burn like I do).  But, keeping students engaged to last lesson can be challenge.

Or, perhaps your June looks a little more like our home …

Just an average day in June

Mornings are hectic because

  • Kids don’t want to get up since the sun kept them up way too late.
  • The kids have forgotten that they have had morning chores all year & start crying because “It’s just SO unfair!!!!!!”
  • While you scramble to make sure everyone (including you) actually gets breakfast & has everything needed for school/work.

Afternoons are hectic because

  • The kids don’t want to leave the school playground even though mommy (or daddy) desperately needs to get to work & playing by the house just won’t do even though all their friends are there.
  • Once you get home the kids decide they are tired & don’t want to go outside but then are jumping all over the furniture & fighting with each other.
  • Or, if your kids are older you have no idea what time they’re getting home but still need to juggle your teaching schedule.
  • Perhaps your kids are reminded (because of all of the above) that on certain days loving is a choice … Can they guess which it is right now?

Evenings are hectic because

  • It’s like herding kittens in a room full of rocking chairs trying to get kids to complete their homework since they are having fun with their friends (since you finally got them outside).
  • The relaxing on the deck didn’t happen & visiting with friends is WAY down the road.
  • Plus, the sun stays up past bedtime keeping everyone up to start the vicious cycle over again in the morning.

It’s exhausting reading that, right? And, yet this is what it is like for so many families at this time of year. Keeping students engaged to last lesson is a struggle when the whole day has been hectic.

Need a break?

This is the month I tend to tell my husband that I just need ONE day of not needing to deal with someone else’s drama or emergencies. A week would be fabulous, but that just feels too greedy & impossible at the moment.  And, that doesn’t even include keeping students engaged to last lesson.

And, as much as I would like to think it will just be a couple of days … I’ve seen this before.  June is a crazy month for families with kids’ birthday parties, end of year concerts, outdoor sports, camping every weekend you can get away, planting/maintaining the garden, end-of-year projects the kids need to complete or just HAVE to show you (as you are heading out the door because that’s the only time to get mom/dad’s attention). 

The kids are ready to be done school, the parents want the image in their mind of relaxing in the evening to actually match reality, & everyone is just a bit more tired than usual.

Getting balance in your studio (course)

Balance isn’t about having a perfectly zen existence everyday. We live in reality & toddlers have nothing on reality’s persistence in making its presence known. Which is really saying something because toddlers & little ones are REALLY persistent in demands for attention!

Signs your students (& their families) are done:

You arrive at their home for lesson &:

  • The schedule of who goes in which order for lessons has completely dissolved into tears all around.
  • Piano books are in the most interesting places …. just not by the piano.
  • Before you have even started, mom or dad apologizes for the kids being so tired/cranky/out of sorts.
  • Parents (or students) may or may not be close to tears depending on the day.
  • The kids don’t want to come in from outside, even though they normally love piano lessons.
  • Your students practice has gone WAY down from normal.
  • Students want to give up on their pieces much quicker … or, progress slows down substantially.
  • Student attention spans remind you of Dog from the movie “Up” … any possible noise or peripheral image causes their head to swivel.

You probably will begin to rue hearing basketballs bouncing, lawn mowers going, & kids running past the house, & all the sounds that bring out the “SQUIRREL!” phenomenon in your students. (see above). But, this is a normal part of this time of year.

Signs YOU are done:

Keeping students engaged to the last lesson becomes incredibly difficult when you are struggling yourself.

How can you tell if overwhelm has taken over?

  • Tempted to use repetition as a punishment, not as a corrective tool
    • Punishment: You tell students to repeat without articulating what needs to change, assigning an entire section of a song for repetition (8+ measures)
    • Corrective tool:  Asking questions to guide students each repetition on how to improve, making sections small enough for quick success.
  • Half-heartedly listening to what is going on in your student’s life.
  • Lowering your standards on a song, just to get it done & out of your life … I mean, your student’s life.
  • Hearing yourself move from positive reinforcement to finding something negative to comment on.
  • Actively focusing on NOT participating in the “SQUIRREL!” phenomenon … or, perhaps you’ve given up.
  • Ending the day tired, but not in a good way.
  • Dreading teaching that day … or week, or month.

It’s okay to admit that you are feeling overwhelmed the same as your clients & students. In fact, admitting it (at least to yourself) is a big step forward. It means you have the chance to do something different.

Change it up

June will always be a crazy month for families in your studio.  There is nothing we can do to change that.  But, there are ways to make piano lessons more enjoyable for EVERYONE. And, when lessons are more enjoyable … well, keeping students engaged to last lesson becomes a whole lot easier.

Greet students & clients with a smile

One of the easiest ways to change it up is to start with a smile & an understanding comment if they tell you things didn’t go well that day or week.  Be the positivity they need.

If you don’t feel all that happy or understanding, fake it until you make it!

Change up the format of lessons

Do you always do things in the same order?  Add in a new activity or change the order.

The last lessons of the year, my students get a LOT of choice in what they do. The recital is done & I plan on keeping things very light those last lessons. I’ve learnt the hard way, keeping students engaged to last lesson is much easier when we use this approach.

Head outside

When I taught in person, my students LOVED to have our last group lesson (or private lessons) outside …. as we review all sorts of theory concepts. Shhh!  Don’t tell them they are actually (gasp) working & learning!

For online lessons, going outside has certainly been more of a challenge. But, if the wifi is strong enough, I would highly recommend heading out for part of lesson.

Reduce the time you spend on each song/activity.

The “SQUIRREL” phenomenon is here to stay, so work with your student’s short attention span by spending no more than 5 minutes on each activity or song. 

You can always come back to something later, just like during interleaved practice.

Use humour often. 

My students are quite familiar with Dog from “Up” … regardless of whether they have seen the movie or not.  When they lose attention for a moment, saying “SQUIRREL!” gets a giggle & works as a gentle reminder that their focus needs to return to lesson.

Reduce your expectations, not your standards

This month is still a busy month in our studio, but all activities & challenges are about winding down for the summer.  Student have a minimum standard to reach before a song is considered mastered.  But keeping students engaged to last lesson is about a variety of activities that encourage students to engage in their learning in a different way.

Recital review

We spend so much time preparing for recitals like using these fun “5 Ways: Recital Prep Activities“. But what do you do after? There are many options!

You can use these fun MAD Libs,  as well as take a look at the wonderful comment cards students received from the audience. To get more ideas, read “The Recital is Over. Now What?

Finish up compositions: 

We have used worksheets, dice, & more to compose.  Our favourite method is improvising with chord progressions.  Once the songs are ready for notating, they get entered in Noteflight.

Each year is an adventure with  the kids having a blast & engaged in creating.  Plus, it’s been so easy to incorporate all sorts of theory they would have snored through otherwise!

Getting SMART with their music

Forget about having students learn new repertoire if their focus is totally shot.  Why not have fun with songs they have already learnt?

Students can choose a review song to get SMART with this month.  If you want, they can earn points for each change they make to the music & are able to explain. (i.e. played opposite dynamics, changed the rhythm, played it somewhere else on the keyboard, etc.)

Group Lesson Week!

This is an annual favourite in the studio.  It’s a fun way to end out the school year while still providing valuable learning for students right up to the last lesson!  The ideas here are endless … games-palooza, performance party, outdoor activities, body movement activities, anything goes!

Digital Escape Rooms

Group lessons are one of the best ways to end out the term regardless of the season. Students typically are just done by the last lesson. So, rather than fight that, use that time to build studio community & save admin time while you’re at it!

Student led conferences

If you want a end-of-year powerhouse activity that keeps students engaged until the last lesson .. student led conferences are it! Students plan student-led conferences & you help them choose games/manipulative they can use. 

It’s great for reviewing & celebrating what has been accomplished, plus reminding parents how they just can’t live without you!  

If you would lie a done-for-you template that includes all the questions & format I use when planning student led conferences in my studio … click here!

Keeping the excitement going until the very last lesson

Perhaps that dream of relaxing on the deck with a fruity drink in hand may not be happening quite yet.  Yet, keeping students engaged to last lesson is possible!  Let go of the parts that can’t be controlled & be the positive influence on your students (& their families) they need right now.

Perhaps there is an activity or resource you wanted to try out & just didn’t have the time.  NOW is perfect! 

  • Students are eager for something out of the ordinary. 
  • Parents will LOVE hearing their kid(s) having fun in lesson. 
  • And, you will get to try something out without a huge commitment. 

If it goes well, awesome!  If not, have a laugh with your student & move onto something else.  After all, isn’t that what we love best about summer?  The laid back, try something new, & relaxed expectations mindset.

As mentioned earlier, student led conferences are one of the best ways to end the term. But, if you are feeling overwhelmed with planning these … no worries! I have “Student Led Conference: Planning Worksheets” that include the questions my students answer & template we use in my studio. These come in both PDF & Google Slides formats that can be used in person, online … or on the deck for an outside lesson!

Student Led Conference Worksheets

How are keeping your students engaged to last lesson? 

I would love to read your comments below!

NOTE: This article was originally published on June 2, 2017. It has since been updated with more resources & ideas for online teachers.

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