My students are used to me asking questions at the beginning of each lesson. By humoring me they are telling me more then they think. Engaging students in a dialogue about their day, week, life, friends....can prove to be very revealing. The student might have had a rough week at school or their best friend decided to move on to someone else. The answers to these questions tell me several things. Very quickly I can assess if they are in a mood to play or need to be redirected to one of the fun games I always have on hand. I can tell if they have had time to practice or if adding one more demand will be a major discouragement to an already stressful week. My reaction to their answers also sets the pace for how the lesson will proceed. Here are a few of the questions that I might start the lesson off with.
1. How was your day? The answer they give will tell me what direction I head next. If the child is happy then we proceed like normal. If they are having a bad day or even worse a bad week, I will be a listening ear and then promise that they will be smiling before the lesson is done. This can take on the form of going back to one of their favorite pieces and reworking it, telling them to forget about what they were supposed to practice and let's just have some fun. You get the idea.
2. Have you had a lot of homework this week? This questions is particularly important for your older students. Schools can put so many demands on their time that they really don't have any time left to spend practicing. There are many important things that I can be teach them, like composition, improvisation, dynamics that take what might seem like a wasted 30 minutes and turn it in to a fun learning experience. Music theory can be learned using fun games, composition, story based music etc... I also use busy homework weeks to talk about practice techniques that can fit in to even the craziest schedule. By the time I'm finished showing them how they can fit practice in they are usually smiling and giving me a thumbs up.
3. Are you doing anything special this weekend with friends? The answer to this question tells me if there will be any time to practice in the coming week or if the students will be distracted by some exciting event coming up. If they tell about a trip they are taking, or a sleep over that is happening over the weekend then I think up ways to encourage some extra practicing before the event happens. I give them permission to take the weekend off as long as they promise to spend extra time at the piano on other days.
There are weeks when the responses of the students completely change the direction of the lesson. The lesson plans go right out the window and I start to improvise. To be honest, those are some of the most rewarding lessons. When my student leaves with a spring in their step and a smile on their face I know I've done a good job. I have an arsenal of games, fun songs, seasonal music and more, that I can grab at a moment's notice. Happy student...happy teacher!!