"I had nothing to do, so I practiced!" Wow, I was impressed when my 7-year-old student came into class last week and that was the first thing she expressed! It's the holidays, kids are going wild during their well-deserved break, routines are broken, but I'm glad at least ONE student is bored to tears and enjoying practicing during her free time.
Practicing is a tricky subject, whether it is with kids, college students or even professionals, and truth be told it's not always enjoyable. I've struggled with practicing a lot myself. As a young child I never enjoyed practicing but tiger parents made sure we kept to our routines, but all I remember (or don't remember!) is mindless brain-numbing repetitions. As a college student, there never seemed to be enough hours in the day to practice, but how much practicing was enough, or too much?
Practice Challenge Ribbons!
I don't reward (aka bribe) my students with candy or stickers to practice since I really want them to motivated by the real deal - it could be the music itself, the challenge of "completing" a piece, or for those who love to perform, by the prospect of polishing pieces for performance. It definitely helps that most of my students are above the age of 6, and while I don't motivate them through rewards, we find ways to keep their lessons and practicing itself fun and rewarding!
But I lie. I don't do the weekly stickering and candy-giving but right now, the kids at TMC are on their first practice challenge, and the end goal is a PRIZE! They were given 3 months till their concert date 1st Dec to practice for 60 days, which to be honest is not a lot.
Initially I was going for 100 day practice challenge, I mean that's the norm and why not? But reality is while I was doing up the practice map drafts, well I anticipated being only able to fill roughly 60-70 circles so 60 it was, since it was quite a realistic goal for the kids from then till their concert date. Hey, this is real life man, gotta adapt. I will do a better job at a 100-day challenge the next time round perhaps! What is this PRIZE we talk about, the team is still scavenging for, but while we're doing that, the kids are diligently (well, some not all!) putting in their mindful practicing schedules.
I sure am learning a great deal about my students through this practice challenge too, and it has been an eye-opening journey! We chat in a lot more detail about their practicing - the where, when, how, who, why, and this definitely helps me and them set up an efficient practice routine that works for this period of the practice challenge, and that of course I'm hoping will stick with them even after the challenge. My kids are also starting to manage their time better, understanding when are the times they can slip in some practicing amidst their busy little lives.
The goal is MINDFUL PRACTICING, inculcating a practice routine, and learning to enjoy music and practicing!
Of course, we expect no cheating, but how would we know? Initially some of my students also tried to get more stamps then they deserve, and well, with me, they aren't getting any of it.
Practice Challenge Chart and Instructions (complete with my students' doodling and typos)
The first week of the challenge, one of my girls came in and said she only had time to practice twice and requested to get 3 stamps on her challenge map, and I said no. If you practice twice you get 2 stamps, 3 times you get 3, that's that, no negotiation. Oh boy, that lesson was a toughie, poor girl wouldn't stop tearing all lesson, I genuinely felt really awful but I couldn't just give it to her either, she had to earn it! I was quite worried that she might lose the motivation to practice.. but NOPE!
Next week, this trooper came proudly with 6 days of practicing (kids don't really have time to practice during their lesson day), and subsequent weeks she's been putting in incredible effort as well, witnessed by her mum so I know there's no lying to get stamps involved! It wasn't just ticking off the charts mindlessly either, the improvement in her playing was apparent and she's been excited about singing and learning new pieces each week and even taking up the challenge to perform pieces she didn't think she would be able to play! We've had conversations each week about her practicing and about if she enjoyed practicing and on some days she did, which is excellent, and on some days she didn't enjoy it as much, but she had the discipline to pull through and get it done anyway. And that's what music and practicing do for our kids, not just so they can play beautiful music, but also build their character, and in this case discipline and perseverance.
As the challenge deadline loomed near and school got busier, I did start to see some mindless practicing and even cheating from some of my kids! Alarm bells started ringing when I saw many ticks, but their progress wasn't matching the visuals. What I've been incredibly thankful for is parents who took a keen interest, noticing these behaviour and spoke with their children before I even spoke with the kids who demonstrated less than ideal practice challenge behaviour. It made me proud that through constant communication, these parents understood what mindful practice was, and what kind of progress their child should be and is capable of achieving when they are engaged in mindful practicing. True enough, after these conversations, these kids get back on track and start to value quality over quantity of practicing, savouring the progress they make each week from mindful practicing and no longer just blinded by careless repetitions. Learning to practice well is a long journey and as educators and parents, we do our best in guiding a child through this complicated process till their practice routines are stabilised and they are able to be their own teachers.
Practice Challenge Resources - Name Beads and Stars!
What's next? Wrecking my brains for the next practice idea for the next 6 months........ If you have any, please feel free to inspire me!! =)