Control issues?

Barb said: Dec 18, 2010
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Have any of you had students with control issues?

I’ve mentioned my 8 year old student who refuses to use a correct cello bow hold before. Yes. Still. Wondering if it’s a control thing. He tends to be negative and have attitude. His mom says he’s been this way since he was three. She leaves him alone to practice so as to avoid getting into battles. :(

His classroom teacher told his mom that she thinks his refusal to talk in front of his class is a control thing (he goes mute at recitals also)—she told me that after I mentioned that might be the issue with the bow hold.

I tried to work with him on the bow hold for a while, but then decided to let it go for a while while we focused on other things. When I ask him to use his whole bow it forces him to use a better hold instead of the steak-knife grip, but usually he won’t use a full bow, just scratches away at the frog and doesn’t seem to care how he sounds. A stubborn little guy.

I’m thinking we’re just going to have to wait him out, maybe simply stop moving through the repertoire—let him know that he won’t be ready for those pieces (maybe the Minuets) until his bow hold improves. No threats, no battles, just a matter of fact. He is easily bored so I don’t know if that would be a motivator, or only make him more bored and more likely to rebel? In the past he has thought it pretty funny when I make him promise NOT to practice a certain thing (to avoid learning it wrong at home).

What have you done or would you do in a similar circumstance?

Barb
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Sara said: Dec 19, 2010
 Violin
191 posts

That’s a toughy.

I would have a friendly chat with him (perhaps with the parent not there) and just ask him why he doesn’t hold it the way you ask. Ask him why he thinks you are teaching him to do it this way. I’ve done this with students before, not for the same reason, but usually I am surprised at their answers.
1) sometimes they are afraid of failure—it’s uncomfortable and they are afraid if they do something uncomfortable to their hand it won’t work and they will fail.
2)Sometimes it’s that they don’t realize or understand that there is a reason for what you are asking. They don’t hear or feel the difference, so in their minds it’s not important. You have to make it important to him somehow to follow your instruction.
3) Since the parent is not practicing with him, it may be simply difficult for him to remember once he gets home exactly how it was that you said to do it. In the mean time he practices the wrong way, developing muscle memory and therefore always doing it wrong in lesson.
4) Perhaps there is too much instruction in the lesson. You could just spend a whole lesson on the bow (or several lessons) without playing anything—even go so far as having his Mom “confiscate” the cello until he can demonstrate that he can hold the bow appropriately. If you do this, be sure to do it in a friendly, non-threatening way! Explain you are trying to get the bow hand to follow instructions. This takes the pressure off of him directly. It’s no longer him, it’s his bow hand. Air bow songs, do bow warm ups, Practice making a bow hand over and over. Perhaps make him a hundreds chart and after he has filled it out with making 100 correct bow hands (and Mom will HAVE to witness those) there could be a celebration of some sort. Talk to the Mom about what kind. And try to involve her on that part of it.

Best success to you!

“What is man’s ultimate direction in life? It is to look for love, truth, virtue, and beauty.” Dr. Shinichi Suzuki

Karra said: Dec 20, 2010
 Cello
51 posts

Ouch. So he’s ‘practicing’ on his own because mom walks away from a battle. It makes me wonder what other battles she’s walked away from… homework, perhaps? If he’s been like that since he was 3, I’m guessing he learned this behavior somewhere. I think you’ve got the right idea not advancing him through repertiore until he works on the bow hold. It might be an uphill battle for a while, but I think it’s important not to give in, and also not to give up.

Ask him why he thinks you are teaching him to do it this way.

Yes. And if he doesn’t know, supply him with an answer and see if he remembers it the next week. A pro and con list for keeping the steak knife bow grip as opposed to learning the new bow grip might help.

“It may very well be music that will one day save the world”— Pablo Casals

Barb said: Dec 29, 2010
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Thanks, ladies! Great ideas! Any more are welcome! Not just in relation to bow holds, but problem behavior in general. This boy has the tendency to be defiant and disrespectful. I haven’t had to end the lesson on that account yet, but I have to remind him that it’s not acceptable, regularly. He tries to manipulate, too, and gets quite dramatic about things like being tired, or hurting (hangnails or sore fingers from biting his nails), or things being too hard.

Barb

Barb
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Lisa said: Jan 11, 2011
Lisa HollisViolin, Suzuki Early Childhood Education, Viola
Dorchester, MA
21 posts

My newest thing when working on problem posture that students refuse to fix is to play the “skittle game”. I keep a large jar of skittles on my desk and for every warm up exercise or review song they can play without me having to fix the problem they get to eat a skittle out of the jar. If I have to remind them, I usually don’t say anything—I just eat the skittle or give it to the parent (or the sibling which they HATE!). They tend to think it’s fun and it’s amazing how hard they will work for one skittle! Even my teenagers like the game. It also saves my sanity…

I don’t know if that would work with the control issue, but it might be worth a try. :)

Barb said: Jan 11, 2011
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Since I wrote the original post here we had one good lesson, and one baad one.

He didn’t practice for three weeks while there was a break from lessons for Christmas! But we focused on the bow hold at his first lesson back, and he was cooperative. I started off by showing him “a new way I learned to teach the bow hold.” We went through the steps and when we arrived he said, “That’s the same as the other way!” So that was a CLEAR indicator that he really did already know what a good bow hold was, he just wasn’t using it. And I said, “It IS the same, but it was a new way to TEACH it!” And asked if it hurt or there was any problem with it. Nope. I asked him if he could give me any good reasons to use the “steak knife grip” instead, and he couldn’t. I asked him if he knew why the correct hold was better. He didn’t. So I explained that he would need it if he was going to advance past grade 1 (Canadian Royal Conservatory—grade 2 starts at the Minuets, but I wouldn’t even try Happy Farmer with the bad grip), he could use the whole bow, and that his playing sounded so much better with the good bow hold.

When he accidentally slipped into the old habit I was able to correct him without any complaint. His cooperation on all levels meant we ended up with a few extra minutes at the end for a game. So we turned our backs to each other and did some echoing. I think I proved my point when I was able to tell by his sound, and he knew I wasn’t looking…”Uh oh, I think you need to check your bow hand!”

I asked his mom to sit in on his practice and only worry about monitoring his bow hand, just to offer reminders.

I also had a little chat with him at the end of that lesson. I told him how much I appreciated his cooperation that day, and how that cooperation will really help him to progress in his playing, and that’s what I need to see at all his lessons and what his mom needs at home practice.

This week he came in tired, cranky, uncooperative. He was late, and has a new cello, so it took longer than usual to tune. 1/3 of the lesson time gone. This time his back posture was more an issue. He would only sit up straight for a second when I asked him to, then revert to the slouch. A very purposeful slouch to show me his attitude, I believe. The bow hand was slipping sometimes, but not too, too terrible.

He WAS able to meet his goal of playing Long Long Ago by memory.

Then on introducing Allegretto, which he didn’t want to do, it was too hard! I was just trying to get him to start with a down bow and play three notes. Bow direction has never been an issue, and I think the only piece he’s done starting up bow is O Come Little Children. Three times I stopped him and said, “No, we need to start with a down bow,” and showed him. He kept putting his bow at the other end. “No, a down bow starts at the frog.” “Huh?” Suddenly, he didn’t know what a frog was anymore. So I showed him what the frog was, and explained also, that when I say the frog I really mean that we put the silver winding over the string (like he usually always does!). “Ready? At the frog, down bow.” And I put my bow in place. He started to put it in the right place, then caught himself and moved his bow to the tip again. That was enough for me! I’m pretty patient, but that was all I could take. Whether it was purposefully being uncooperative, which I believe it was, or just that he was tired and unable to concentrate, there was no point in trying to continue the lesson.

Because his mom thinks that leaving the lesson early is what he would LIKE, she has also attached a consequence of losing his electronics for a period of time. He was not happy. I don’t know if he was not happy that I was unhappy with him, or that he was losing his electronics. He went home complaining that he was only making mistakes because he didn’t understand. (This is probably my brightest student, and understanding has never been a problem.) His mom emailed and asked for my explanation so he could discuss it with him, because she was reading a book and not watching the lesson. :(

Incidentally, she told me that his classroom teacher also had to send him out of the class for not cooperating last week.

So goes the saga…

Thanks again for your ideas—maybe something like Skittles will help, though I sometimes wonder if one of his issues is related to diet?

BTW, I asked him to ONLY listen to Allegretto at home this week (but play his other pieces), and I reminded him that he hadn’t made me a practice game like he had earlier promised me he would, and I also asked him to draw a bow and label the tip and the frog. And we WILL start Allegretto again next week, and however many weeks we need to. I will tell him at the out start of the lesson that he has a choice to make, how long it will take him to learn it.

Oh another thing I realized. I think I know where he learned the attitude of not wanting to try anything that is “hard”. Re-read above about the parent leaving him alone to practice. Cooperation/effort …

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
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Diane said: Jan 13, 2011
Diane AllenViolin
245 posts

Two things come to mind here that may not directly help this boy but may help us all to avoid these problems in the future.

1—Extreme behavior often is a reflection of the same behavior in one of his parents or older siblings. I’ve witnessed each individual in a family trying to be the one in control. If a parent is a control freak it may trickle down. It’s hard to watch ugly behavior and to have to deal with it during the lesson.

2—Did this family observe lessons or have information about parenting roles prior to starting lessons?

My own personal experience is that I rarely have these problems. Observing 6 times before lessons start for my studio has worked magic. Kids and parents know ahead of time what they are getting into and see the results in action. Many folks get excited and start lessons. Many walk and I never see them again. 3 times I’ve asked students to stop taking lessons from me because they weren’t practicing—at all. 2 of these cases the kids were with me 2 years—they had enough time and warning. The third was a student I had for 12 years and his listening for me was over and it was time for a new teacher. Each time it was a huge relief.

This is tricky. Do you want to fix this family? Do you need the money for their lesson? Is it worth your time and energy? I find that if I teach the way I want to teach to willing folks who particpate in a positive manner that I love my job and the people I work with. If a situation arises and a student leaves—the space always fills up magically because my overall studio has a great vibe. I freaked when the recession hit. I thought “oh no here goes the teaching career down the drain” but much to my surprise it’s been recession proof, thriving and I’ve even raised my rates!

Am I bragging? No but I am proud of what I’ve created for myself. I only want to present a model for others to learn from. I’ve learned so much from others on running a studio that it makes me want to share the love as well.

Diane
http://www.myviolinvideos.com
Videos of student violin recitals and violin tutorials.

Barb said: Jan 13, 2011
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Diane,

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences.

I did not set out to be a music teacher. I’ve been asked to teach many times, but finally, almost three years ago when I was asked again—begged—at a time when I really had no excuse not to and had been considering looking for a job as my homeschooling days were coming to an end. I thought if I was to prepare to teach one, I may as well open it to others, as long as they all understood I did not have teacher training. This parent, the sister of a friend, was the first one to sign up her son. So, no, there was no observation and I was still learning a lot at the time they started the following fall, obviously! :)

At first his mother was paying close attention at the lesson, and his acting up seemed to be for her, so we had her “disappear” at the other end of the room, which did seem to help to a degree. He was at least enjoying himself. Now he has lost his motivation and wants to quit. I suspect it’s largely due to his lack of progression over the last year … which is due to his poor practicing and lack of cooperation … a kind of vicious circle.

I know I can’t “fix” the family, but I do feel for the kid and want to be there for him. But no, I don’t need the student, and have no fear that his place wouldn’t be taken should he leave. I have a waiting list, and have new people calling me regularly. He wants to quit, and his mother has waffled between letting him or not. Her latest is that he will continue. BUT, this year I added some things about behavior and practicing to my policies, and if the policies are not being followed, I will not take the student again next year. At the end of fall term I did point out that these things were not acceptable. At the end of winter term, if there is no improvement I will give the mother notice.

I actually have two students who, when they cancel, give me a feeling of relief. I have recognized this and decided it’s not worth the stress, so I have been documenting the problems and they will be given notice. (The other one is not a lesson behavior issue, but just lack of practice, not bringing required materials to lessons.) With my other students I am disappointed if they have to cancel, and really do enjoy teaching them!

Thanks again to everyone for everything I’ve been learning from you!

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

Diane said: Jan 13, 2011
Diane AllenViolin
245 posts

I’ve documented issues in my notes for other students. It’s a great way to make issues concrete and not “my word against your word”. A few times I was able to talk things over reasonably with parents with my list in hand and parents were pleased to have the mirror held up to them and they made the necessary changes.

Every Child Can Learn—but that really is contingent on the atmosphere. After I posted this morning I thought that issue would come up. Yes Every Child Can Learn but that doesn’t mean we have to as teachers subject ourselves to situations we are not comfortable with!

Stay strong!

Diane
http://www.myviolinvideos.com
Videos of student violin recitals and violin tutorials.

Barb said: Oct 11, 2011
Barb Ennis
Suzuki Association Member
Cello
678 posts

Hey—just thought I’d give an update here. I was pretty close to letting this student go at the end of last year. But I made some new requirements and some suggestions, and there is more support at home and note taking at lessons now. Of course the student is a bit older and a bit more mature—was starting to improve at the end of last year with his attitude.

I did tell him last year and again this year that he would not progress past Etude in book one until he could keep a good (relatively!) bow hold without my reminding him.

So he`s been working on changing the habit this year finally, and TODAY WAS THE DAY!

We were working on Twinklebell Canon and some Christmas carols, and lo and behold, I didn`t have to say a thing about his bow hold. So I told him we could start The Happy Farmer! I had a happy student! He is very anxious to finish book 1. (Cello book 1 has in this order remaining for him: HF, Minuet in C, Minuet No 2.)

I had actually introduced hooked bowing on open strings last week—we will use it in I Saw Three Ships (Cello Time Christmas).

Unfortunately the hand did slip into the old grip a few times later in the lesson, but it wasn`t a big issue, he corrected it without complaining.

With mom now taking notes at lessons, she started to offer suggestions and reminders and it seemed like he started to go backwards a bit in attitude. When I explained the One Teacher rule to them both at the beginning of the next lesson it really seemed to help. Mom appreciated it—said it took the pressure off of her, and I think he feels better only getting direction from one at a time (one thing at a time), and she doesn`t change my course in the lesson.

Nice to have positive news to share!

Barb
Music Teachers Helper—for individual teachers
Studio Helper—for entire music studios or schools

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