Runaway student

Katie Avery said: Oct 10, 2013
Katie AveryViolin
Whitehorse, YT
6 posts

I am 5 lessons in to teaching a new 7 year old student who likes to run away. I noticed right away that he only runs away if he can’t do something perfectly right away. So I’ve been trying a bunch of things:
1. I told him that I don’t mind if he can’t do something right away, and that I’ll never be mad at him for that
2. I told him how all kids have trouble doing things at first but then they practice and it gets easier
3. I told him he could have a sticker if he could stay in the room for the whole lesson (he didn’t get a sticker today because he ran away again).
4. I’ve told him he can have a break whenever he wants, but that he just needs to tell me and not run away
5. I’ve told him he’s allowed to watch or just be “in the passenger seat” (he holds the bow, but I drive) as many times as he wants before he tries something.

And today I told him he could practice variation B (the thing giving him the most trouble today) at home and I would ask him next week if he’s ready to show it to me or not.

All of these things seem to help in the short term, but today he ran away again after 2 weeks of not running away. Has anyone else had this sort of thing happen? What did you do? Is there another way I could be dealing with this that might have more lasting effects or will it just take time?

This kid seems to really love playing and is always excited to learn something new…but then if he doesn’t get it right away it’s a big problem.

Thanks for any and all suggestions on this matter!

Laura said: Oct 11, 2013
 
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Stanton, MN
25 posts

I have two students who don’t run away, but do react very strongly if they don’t do something perfectly. I have found it very helpful to recognize, and even acknowledge this outloud to the student, that these students are very perceptive about their playing, and this perception is going to be a skill that will serve them extremely well as they mature in their playing and need to be able to self critique their own playing. These are students who are able to recognize what it is they wish to accomplish. Whether it be the quality of the tone, the intonation, the note pattern, the way to hold a bow, etc. They have considerable intrinsic ability to identify the desired result. I see this as a strength to capitalize upon.

I find that the following technique is usually successful: when the student stops, I praise them for being able to identify that they noticed a problem, I make a big deal about how wonderful and important a skill this is. I ask them to be forgiving of themselves and allow themselves permission to have made this mistake—when these students hear that it’s OK to make a mistake, it really helps, as does the giving themselves permission to make a mistake (both of these students of mine tend to be perfectionists). If I can get a smile here, I know we are making progress. I praise them for their excellent ear. I then ask them for permission to give them a tool to fix the problem and tell them that we will practice this tool a number of times so that they can bring the tool home and use it successfully. Asking permission allows them to have some control over the situation—something that for both of these students seems to beneficial. After we practice the skill to fix the mistake, I usually try to end the lesson on this high note.

This takes a lot of focused effort on my part to manage effectively, but when I do, the rewards are clear and the student leaves their lesson feeling very competent and good about their playing, ready to tackle a week of practicing.

Karen Zethmayr said: Oct 11, 2013
Karen ZethmayrViolin
15 posts

My crew offer several versions of runaway:

3 year old yanks bow away from adult helping hand.
The strategy that worked this week is a scorecard playing against “the monster.” I demo the game, she “helps me win.” I “lose” a couple of times to the monster by letting the bow fly up after ONE iteration of Variation A rhythm; Monster gets a point on the scorecard. After several tries she gets it that her job is to be vigilant as the rhythms ends to place her hand on my bow (near the bridge) to keep it in place; WE get a point on the scorecard. Now it’s her turn: “Do you want to do it all by yourself or do you want me to help you win”? She opts for help. (Phew!) This week they will play the game @ home. Very limited, focused goal; very short exercise; lots of chances to rack up points on scorecard. Of course she will also do the other activities on her laundry list.

10 year old “runs away” by fuming and going into I-give-up mode.
He helps-me-help-him by demonstrating how well he perceives the sound he doesn’t like. He has focus issues but is highly discriminating. I point out to him that his powers of discrimination are way above average. We identify the screechy sound you get when the bow is too close to the bridge. He identifies the problem passage in his new piece where he tends to stray away from the highway. We identify a “lions’ cage” (m.s. kids can get into the humor of that) of precisely 6 notes where he wanders, and we make a line item on his practice laundry list. He gets points (Mom has her own system for rewarding points) for each time each day he succeeds in that limited goal. He gets double points 2 days before next lesson if he has also succeeded in practicing ONLY “the cage” up to that day, when he’s allowed to start @ the beginning of the piece. The rest of his practice time is devoted to the pieces he plays with confidence.

12 year old autistic kid “runs away” from anything new. The typical outburst is “I can’t do that.” Familiarity is comforting to autistic kids. The now-familiar response from his mom and me is “that’s right, you can’t do it yet. I’m her to help you make it your own.” He too is familiar with the lions’ cages (very circusy looking boxes drawn around the notes-of-focus.) Our hearts leapt when the day came that he was dutifully “taming the lions,” taking turns with me, and he said, “wait, wait, I think I need to do that again.” Blessings come when you don’t expect them.

Karen

Sue Hunt said: Oct 11, 2013
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
390 posts

What a lot of super suggestions.

It seems to me that, kids who are habitually praised for talent and results, rather than hard work and focus, tend to develop a very fragile self esteem. I certainly get more cooperation from kids when I praise them for working.

I also ask younger kids every now and again to go and give their parent a hug.

Katie Avery said: Oct 11, 2013
Katie AveryViolin
Whitehorse, YT
6 posts

Wow, amazing ideas. Thank you so much! I will try these things next week.

Joyce McGlaun said: Oct 11, 2013
Joyce McGlaun
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
39 posts

I agree with comments above that reward efforts made, not just results. And asking permission is vital! Permission to touch, to help, to make stops for corrections in playing, to repeat, etc. Permission given is a gift to the teacher or parent. Permission withheld is a warning flag—the student is not ready to trust in that area yet. Reversing roles is sometimes helpful. I allow the student to be the teacher or to be the parent. This can be very revealing.

Joyce McGlaun
Strings Unlimited Violin Studio & Quartet
Baby Music of Abilene, http://suzukibabymusic.blogspot.com
325-677-5766; 325-829-4440
www.stringsunltd.com

Anthony Salvo said: Oct 13, 2013
Anthony Salvo
Suzuki Association Member
Violin
Nederland, CO
5 posts

Actually, I try not to praise anymore. It sometimes slips out because it is such a habit. I see praise and blame as equally missing the mark.
When a student does well, I say ” you just played that EXACTLY like I asked you to!” with great enthusiasm. It’s been amazing to see how their faces light up, being released from a need to please me.

Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened. Happiness never decreases by being shared.—Buddha…

Jeremy Chesman said: Oct 19, 2013
Jeremy Chesman
Suzuki Association Member
Organ, Recorder, Voice, Harp
Springfield, MO
24 posts

When you have a chance, try reading the book “Mindset” by Carol Dweck. She’s a psychologist that researches motivation. I’m reading some things here that seem like they came from that book. Praise the effort, not the result. Avoid observing that something was good: rather, make a note of what specifically worked (NOT “I like your articulation” but “I heard a variety of really clear articulations”)

I’m also having problems with a student who makes a mistake, gets frustrated, and plays the passage again faster, more frustrated and more tense, which starts the vicious cycle. I try to stop him from going there and breaking it down into the smallest step (2 -3 notes), but he usually plays the whole passage instead do just what I demonstrated. Any tips for that?

Joyce McGlaun said: Oct 19, 2013
Joyce McGlaun
Suzuki Association Member
Violin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education
39 posts

I like to work from the end of a piece or a passage or phrase. One measure played well, or articulated with a different rhythm at the end serves as a goal for the whole passage. When that is clean, we add the measure before it, then add two measures, etc, until ability is raised to a high level in all measures and continuity is achieved. Then we may, just for fun, try the same passage from beginning to end with an even different rhythm, just for practice.

Another technique I use to slow down a runaway student is Dr. Suzuki’s approach of “raising your ability with a piece you can play.” I analyze the selection with the recurring mistake and find a Suzuki review piece with the same note, rhythm, interval, bowing technique, etc. and we play that, or a portion of it, and prove to ourselves that it is, indeed playable and successful. Then I show the student how the two are similar, isolate the frustrating passage, and we practice it with a Twinkle rhythm, or a Happy Farmer bowing, or whatever is similar. This usually brings smiles and success all around.

Joyce McGlaun
Strings Unlimited Violin Studio & Quartet
Baby Music of Abilene, http://suzukibabymusic.blogspot.com
325-677-5766; 325-829-4440
www.stringsunltd.com

Carrie said: Oct 20, 2013
 
Suzuki Association Member
58 posts

Jeremy,
I also have a student who, when he makes a mistake, gets frantic in his playing. I take a moment to focus on our breath or have a calming conversation with him. Then I slowly demonstrate two notes in succession, not telling him that the notes are the ones he’s been struggling with. As he slowly and successfully plays that, I add another and another until he recognizes the passage, but now he is able to play it.

carebear1158

Sue Hunt said: Oct 20, 2013
Sue Hunt
Suzuki Association Member
Viola, Violin
390 posts

We all know that unless they practice isolated trouble spots regularly, children find it difficult to play a chunk out of context.

“Add a Note” is one of my favourites for dissecting and stacking.

So is practice tempo—the speed at which it can not go wrong. This isn’t mindless slow practice, because a student will usually push it so that he is at the edge of his ability (the sweet spot where the most learning occurs). At practice tempo, it is usually easier to focus on starting and stopping a random chunk.

The last one is physically stop the child. Make a game of it by getting a stuffed toy or glove puppet to challenge him to stop at the right spot. If he races on, the toy gently and calmly gets in the way, so that he can’t play and scores a point. If the child stops bang on the nail, he scores. A little reward for the highest score won’t go amiss. At practice tempo, the deck is stacked in favour of the child.

I’ve written more about it in Two Tips to Cure Mindless Fast Practice

Katie Avery said: Oct 25, 2013
Katie AveryViolin
Whitehorse, YT
6 posts

Just wanted to thank everyone again for their great suggestions. I tried the asking permission thing this week and it worked really well. He never ran away, and in the end he always wanted to try the new thing. Thanks!

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