Updated: Jun 26, 2019
I firmly believe that parents play a key role in enabling and encouraging their children to progress and grow a love of learning. I am going to outline some ways in which we can support our parents so that they are well equipped for this!
First of all let's look at the evidence that backs up this idea that parents are key to their children's relationship with learning. Many of you will know this to be true simply from your own experiences. But I have experiences outside of my own teaching and through my roles both as Head of Music in a Secondary school and as a mum. And these experiences can be seen to be at two opposite ends of the parental-involvement spectrum.
In the UK we have 'peripatetic' teachers who come into schools and take students out of their classrooms for their one-to-one lessons on the instrument that they teach. So this set-up is the end of the spectrum where parents really have no idea what is going on with their child's instrumental lesson. They will most likely have never met the teacher and certainly have no idea what is going on in the lessons. In the many years that I was at this school (I was a classroom music teacher rather than an instrumental teacher), I heard daily of the struggles that these teachers had with their students coming to the lessons without their books, having not done any practice, and essentially staying at the beginner level for way longer than they should.
The other end of the spectrum is what I do in my role as a mum. I sit in every one of my kids' instrumental lessons and take notes on what it is they are doing. The teacher directs me as to the repetitions that need to be done in our daily practice, the tonalisations, the listening and the review. Then at home I do all this with them every day. This is truly at the end of the spectrum where students can make the best progress due to this support.
But I don't believe it to be simply about progress and learning to master an instrument. There is so much more that happens when this support is in place. It comes down to the child's sense of self-efficacy and their confidence in what they are doing, high levels of which result in their development of a deep commitment to their learning and a love of what it is they are doing! All of these things are developed with support at home - we can't possibly achieve all this in one 30-minute lesson per week! This is where parents come in.
So with this in mind, I believe it is our job to support parents to support their children! But how can we do this in a way that is a happy medium between those two situations I describe above? Plus, throw into the mix the fact that we are working with groups of children so likely won't have much time for one-to-one interaction with parents.
Here is what I do:
Practice videos - for each piece in the workbooks, I record practice videos. These outline what the learning take-aways are from the piece, how the piece is played, and what the difficulty levels are. I then put these into my parent Facebook group or upload them to MMS.
Write on workbook/notes home over MMS attendance or similar - if a child has struggled with a particular element of the piece, such as using the correct fingering, or co-ordination between hands, I would write a quick note either on the workbook or over MMS attendance. Conversely if they have reached a more difficult level, I would also write this in. Then parents are able to reference this in the practice videos.
Watching Week - I have talked about watching week elsewhere (click here for blog post) and it is a great way to get parents engaged and involved. During this lesson, parents get a presentation from me about what we have been learning during the term, they engage with their children whilst practicing (which is also the time for them to come and ask me any questions they have) and then the children perform through the workbook, both solos and ensembles.
Parent Learner Course - I am working on a course that teaches parents the foundations of piano learning. Many parents have told me that they try to support their child at home but lack the confidence in their own knowledge to be able to be useful! I have therefore designed a course that they can take which will give them all the basics, plus a few pieces for them to play for their own enjoyment (why should kids have all the fun!!).
Reports - Again, there is another blog post about this here, but reports are a great way to keep parents informed and give them an overview as to what their child should be learning and to what degree they have learnt it!! I send these out termly.
Certificates - Our certificates, given out during Watching Week, list all the main learning objectives for the workbook, so parents can quickly see the progress that has been made.
Facebook group - Although not hugely active (oddly I have quite a number of parents who aren't on Facebook!), I use my parent Facebook group to upload practice videos and I would also encourage parents to ask any questions about the pieces in there. If I knew that all parents would see it, I would add announcements such as term dates, extra camps, news items - essentially treat it like an ongoing newsletter. I don't personally send out newsletter-style emails out so this could be somewhere that they could choose to receive this type of content if they so wish!
I have created a pdf that outlines the basics of piano learning - keyboard geography, basic rhythms, pitch notation, finger numbers and landmark notes. If you would like to send this to your parents, thereby giving them the knowledge to support their children at home, click here!
Do let me know if you have any thoughts on this, you can either post into our Facebook group or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Bye for now! x