Have you been wondering if you should use Suzuki violin games in your Suzuki violin group classes?
While developing this blog I have been incredibly thankful to the readers and especially the readers to the Suzuki Violin section of the blog! When you teach you get an instant feedback on your work. But when you put things online…not so much. So a big thank you to all of you who have been supporting me, commenting on my posts and subscribing to my email list! Many of the posts in the Suzuki section of the blog have to do with teaching Suzuki violin group classes.
A couple of weeks ago I got a comment on one of my posts. This reader expressed that the ideas in the blog have been very helpful. However, she also shared that she does not feel games are effective in her class due to the size and mixed levels.
That got me thinking quite a bit. I though the message was very valid. However I feel the opposite! All of these thoughts ended up in a post that is quite long but I think it will provide room for thought for all of us.
When Do We Use Games In Suzuki Classes And Are They Really Appropriate?
Have you wondered what is the correct balance of games and serious instruction for a child? Suzuki violin games are effective only when the balance is well measured. The opinions below are based on my experience and have helped me for the past twelve years both teaching Suzuki group classes and public school string classes.
Small classes indeed are where you need to focus on games! Don’t even touch them in large classes!
Teaching a large Suzuki violin group class
You see…big classes can be a challenge to get kids to behave and stay on track. But…having a lot of kids in the same place doing the same thing is also very motivating for them. They tend to feed from each other’s energy. In a well managed classroom, these classes are actually very easy to teach! It is easy to keep kids motivated because the natural engagement from other kids playing violin is there! So in a very large class, I would focus on structure. I would be very specific on how students transition between activities and how they go about things. I would also be very specific of what students do at the beginning of class. But the fun factor I am not so worried about. It is very easy to accomplish! If classroom management may be a problem you may benefit from this classroom management section of the blog. I have had my share of learning experienced through the years and happy to help anyone if classroom discipline may be of struggle.
Teaching a small Suzuki violin class
However in small classes you tend to have the opposite dynamics. It is often much harder for a teacher to keep things active and fun in a small class! You have to change activities all the time to keep students interest. Small classes tend to be mixed levels or ages, making it even harder. WHAT IS MORE! It is the small classes where you need to worry about students dropping out! It is easy for a student in a small class to become disengaged and to want to quit. And this is where you cannot afford to have that happen, right? Related article: how to teach small Suzuki violin group classes.
So The Answer
It is in the small classes where you really need to put an effort on fun and changing up different activities if you want your program to grow and build on. So games belong to small classes much more even in a mixed level class. And it is best to structure them at certain part of the school year which we will talk below.
My Experience With Different Class Sizes?
In the 12 years I have taught I have seen many kids with different levels of enthusiasm. When I started I founded a small Suzuki violin program at a Montessori school near by. A year later I opened a program at another Montessori preschool teaching Pre-Twinkle classes. My Book 1 class the first year was 6 kids and my Pre-Twinkle was only about 3 or 4.
It slowly grew with time. But at the beginning I was experiencing all the difficulties of a small group class I am explaining.
Shortly after I ended up with a public school string program which I’ve been growing for 12 years! What a lesson on retention and keeping kids engaged!
A few years later I started working with Prof. Susan Kempter as a pedagogy coordinator at the University of New Mexico program. Now I also have a large public school program. These feel very different. I get to go and share my experience.
The first years of teaching were actually more helpful in developing my skills. I had to fight for every single student in order to grow the new programs quickly. Every note matters. And the attention of every kid and parent mattered!
I felt like in the beginning of my teaching journey all the music programs that ended up teaching were all brand new. I had to do quite a bit of work ti get them going. And I was not interested in failing any of them. So I feel that helped me develop a sense of what is working and what isn’t with different groups of kids. Through the years I have progressed and Im have had the opportunity to work with many different class sizes and ages. That involved even more when I started teaching a public school string program. You had to really think about management and engaging kids in a way that is effective but keeps them on track. What a training!
Now I teach a class of 50 kids…yap. You heard it right! All in one room! remember the structure I was talking about at the beginning…
A Word of Caution
As readers of this blog, you are seeing many posts about Suzuki games and fun activities. So I am worried you may be thinking: she is all about games. Nothing further from the truth! My work is very structured. And Suzuki violin games have a place but they are a link in the big picture. Read below!
So when to use Suzuki games:
1.Right before recruitment!
Don’t miss this point! We all want our programs and studios to grow right? Very very very important to add a fun element to your teaching when you feel families are thinking about next year! For school programs you can read more tips here: recruiting section of the blog. For private studio teachers you can check this post or always ask for what you may want to read about here.
2. Just as you feel students might be getting bored!
There are natural tendencies in any class and with any student to have a wave of engagement. For example a young child starts private lessons. The first few lessons are fantastic! You see the student engaged and the parents happily participating! In about a month and a half into the private lessons almost all of these students experience a drop of enthusiasm. Suddenly they realize the work and discipline that is really behind learning a string instrument. And you start seeing the student bored. Or the parent come to a lesson with something like “I am not sure if this is right for my child. They have not been practicing”. This is where you come in. As soon as you see a process like that developing, you use a fun game that will get their mind off of the struggle and right back into practicing! As soon as that period is over you go right back to structured lessons. Don’t keep the games because, yes you will create a little monster who only wants fun things during a lesson!
3. To Break Things Up On Occasion
The same effect as before will be experienced in Suzuki group classes. You may notice that right after a recital students drop their interest slightly. Same before Holiday and especially Christmas. Some families are so busy at that time of year that regular practice and group classes become difficult. This is exactly why I have so many Suzuki violin products that are dedicated to Holiday themes. Same as before! Use the game! Have the most fun! Then drop it and go back to regular lessons!
Summary About The Nature Of Kids
Kids are incredible and very interesting!
- They are very smart! Sometimes smarter than us!
- They are very creative! Sometimes more than us!
- They want to have fun! Much more than we do!
- They want to imitate us! We’ve got that!
So if you have a group class that incorporates:
- Modeling (teacher demonstrating)
- Smart lesson structure
And if you are able to deliver these elements in equal proportions…
You will likely give your students an amazing experience!