Ask the Experts

Last summer, focus groups at summer Institutes were asked to submit questions for a panel of “Suzuki Experts” to answer. This is the 13th installment.

What are some strategies for remedial teaching that would avoid the student feeling a sense of demotion?

This situation arises in two specific circumstances: when a student transfers to a new program with a new teacher, and when a new teacher takes over a program that may have had different standards.

For the transfer student, consistent, goal-oriented use of review throughout the teacher’s program is vital. The transfer student who needs remedial work will feel better about review to accomplish that work if she sees that the continuing students in the program are also using those “baby songs” on a consistent basis in their private lessons. So have the new parent and student observe the continuing students’ lessons, letting them witness the goal-oriented review that takes place. The Book 3 violin transfer student who needs remedial work on intonation in the G major finger pattern will feel better about reviewing Etude and the Book One minuets in the private lesson if they are also in a Book 3 group lesson that uses Book One to accomplish the group goals (and, boy, the group needs to have goals!).

At the advanced levels, alternative repertoire is particularly useful. The violin student playing Mozart D major Concerto who has an insufficient background in off-the-string bow strokes can be referred to any number of etudes and alternative pieces.

In the case of the teacher taking over a new program, situations may be encountered in which a whole group of students needs remedial work in a particular area. This is particularly difficult when review and listening have not been a part of the routine. There is no easy solution to this. It is best to avoid any insinuation of deficiency, by statement, implication or physical expression. Tell that group of pre-teen Book 4 violists that they have been taught very well, but that you, the new teacher, have this crrrraaaaazzzzyyy wacky insane idea that they can play at the frog as well as they can play in the upper half, and, most importantly, you can show them how to do it! Then do it. With a smile, a laugh, and with the constant reassurance that you are with them, on their side, exploring this new territory.

In both circumstances, the choice of language is vital. Any language that denigrates the former teacher or implies a deficiency in the student’s background should be avoided. “Let’s create this good habit” instead of “Let’s correct that bad habit”; “Let’s listen to the second fingers in Minuet One with Book Three ears” instead of “You didn’t address this problem in Book One so now I have to do it in Book Three”; “Let me show you a way of holding the bow that will help you get a Book 6 tone” instead of “Your bow hold doesn’t work and needs changing”. The teacher can be brief, direct and honest without being negative.

Perhaps noted violin pedagogue Burton Kaplan says it best when he says that “all teaching is compensatory”. We teachers compensate for our strengths as well as our weaknesses, we compensate for our own difficulties as musicians, our own dreams and nightmares of technique and musicianship, our own histories in the role of student. When we take over another teacher’s program or another student’s training, a whole new set of compensations comes into play. The new teacher must respect and acknowledge that, regardless of the circumstances.

Expert of the Week, Richard Lohmann

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