Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Keeping Students Motivated

Teachers spend many hours preparing lesson plans and assessing student learning and understanding.  Sadly, all of this planning is worthless if we are unable to motivate our students.  Whether we are considering private lessons or a traditional classroom setting, the dilemma is the same.  Here are a few things I have found to be helpful in motivating students in their musical studies.

First, establish how the study of music is beneficial in other areas.  A piano student may rebel against learning music theory until they realize that it will also pay dividends in their math classes.  Recently, a student had a complete attitude change when she saw the effect her music appreciation class was having on her understanding of world history.   All students can see the value of having a leg up on their colleagues in other classes, so play up these advantages.

Diversity is the spice of life, so look for opportunities to mix things up.  My piano students enjoy stepping away from the instrument to watch a video occasionally.  In history classes, I look for as many scandalous anecdotes about composers as I can find!  The naughtier, the better -- students relax and the person leaps off the page and into their memory.

Keep it fun!  Disguising learning into some form of entertainment is invaluable.  Make your students laugh; never let them predict exactly what's coming next.  Even when they are working hard, the possibility of silliness and fun keeps them coming back for more.

Praise success -- and demand even more!  I am quick to celebrate the accomplishments of my students, but I am never satisfied.  There will always be more to learn, more to explore, and more to achieve.  Learning is a lifelong pursuit, not something we achieve at the end of the semester.

Often my students ask me to lower my standards.  It's not going to happen.  My job as an educator is to help them see all they can achieve and give them the necessary tools to do what they are capable of.  That's why my piano students are constantly learning new music and why my exams are notoriously difficult.

Am I able to motivate all students?  No, there are those who are not interested in learning.  They are merely pursuing a diploma -- a piece of paper that has little significance when separated from true intellectual achievement.  Those students who are pursuing an authentic learning experience find my classes challenging and demanding -- but ultimately a truly rewarding experience.  Those are the students who motivate me to continue motivating new students year after year!