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Montessori Communication in Suzuki Lessons 

 December 27, 2020

By  Kale Good

How can we apply the Montessori Communication Principles to The Suzuki Method?

The Montessori Method is an old-but-still-revolutionary method for educating children that develops children's independence and utilizes their natural curiosity in the teaching process. I've been reading Simone Davis's "The Montessori Toddler" and found it had so much in common with the Suzuki Method that I decided to write a few articles about it.

The Praise Sandwich The Observation Sandwich.

I have always told parents first and foremost to utilize the Praise Sandwich when working with their child. I like to emphasize it because it is such a simple formula. I know how difficult it can be to keep detailed information in your head.

The Praise Sandwich looks like this: Positive Comment, Criticism, Different Positive Comment. This sandwich is an easy formula that helps parents be mindful of the ratio of positive to negative comments they use in their lessons.

The praise must be specific. Even as a teacher, I often find myself congratulating a student by remarking, "Good Job!". I know that it is far more useful to provide specific feedback, but (frankly) sometimes my attention lapses. I suspect the same thing will happen to you.

Sharing an observation of your child's playing is far more useful than a simple "Good Job!". First of all, it shows that you're paying attention and care about what they're doing. Additionally, it can validate their observations and increase their awareness of their playing.

After reading "The Montessori Toddler," I'm officially renaming the Praise Sandwich as "The Observation Sandwich," starting with this blog post. The new formula I'll be sharing with parents is to offer three observations:

  1. an area where your child succeeded
  2. an area where your child struggled
  3. a different area where your child succeeded

Replace "Good Job" with Good Information

Of course, "Good Job" is a staple of many parents. It lets your child know that they've gained your approval. However, in the Montessori Toddler, Simone Davies summarizes the downside of "Good Job!": It's an extrinsic motivator. It can create an environment where your child's motivation to do well depends on your praise. By avoiding the phrase "Good Job," we can instead develop your child's self-awareness and self-assessment skills.

Some extrinsic motivation is natural and unavoidable. However, it is to the entire family's benefit to cultivate extrinsic motivation. This cultivation is relatively simple.

Some Simple Suggestions

Fortunately for parents, finding feedback for your child shouldn't be too difficult, as your teacher should be communicating practice goals for your child. (Outside of practice, your music teacher and this blog won't be able to provide quite so much guidance!).

There are two kinds of goals: Universal Goals and Specific Goals. If your child is starting lessons, you'll likely have many specific goals regarding developing the fundamental skills required to play the instrument. As your child advances, many of those goals will transition to the "Universal Goals" category, and you will want to continue monitoring them for many months (or years!) to come.

Universal Goals

Keep a few "universal" goals in your back pocket, ready for when your child is struggling when you've had a lapse in attention. These universal goals are goals that apply to any piece of music. They are likely skills that your child has already mastered in previous songs or exercises.

These are super-handy because you can rely on them after a long day at work. You don't need to be at your tip-top levels of observation to comment on these. In part, this is because, if your child already mastered it, you likely got pretty good at observing it yourself!

I like to divide Universal Goals into three sub-categories.

Technique (including posture)

  • You were sitting very tall, but you were not rigid (<-- this is good)
  • Your wrists were straight.
  • Your finger alternation was precise.
  • You played the notes with precisely the fingers your teacher showed you.

Basic and Advanced Musicality

  • You played all the pitches just like they are on the recording/in the sheet music (this can be used even if rhythms are inaccurate)
  • You played the rhythm very accurately (this can be used even if pitches are inaccurate)
  • Your crescendo was very smooth and started very soft.
  • Your timbre changes happened right where your teacher showed you to put them.

Character Traits

  • You showed excellent problem-solving skills when you...
  • You were very observant to notice...
  • You were patient in figuring out...

Specific Goals

These goals pertain to a specific piece, technique, or period (for example, before a recital). If your child is progressing at a reasonable rate, you can expect at least 1 or 2 new Specific Goals each week. However, you can keep in mind that last week's goals are still important; you can use them as a positive observation if your child struggles with the most recent goals.

In the earliest days of lessons, many specific goals are fundamental skills and need monitoring for quite some time. As your child advances, the line between "Specific Goals" and "Universal Goals" begins to blur. Your goals may be to develop good posture in your early lessons, which is useful in every piece. However, later on, your teacher may give the goal of "smoother crescendo (increase in volume) in measure 3 of Lightly Row". At this point, your child likely already has some ability to manipulate volume (the "Universal Goal" of Dynamics). Still, this idea is specific to the piece.

Here are some examples of specific Goals I've given over the last week of lessons:

  • Begin each segment of Song of The Wind plucking with the Middle Finger
  • Play the "Oops!" Game with your Recital Piece
  • Improve your finger-walking in mm. 15-16
  • Ensure that your pinky finger plays on its Tip-Toes (Curly-Fry Finger) in Allegretto
  • Improve the feeling of Pulse in m. 1-2
  • Smoother decrescendo in Scale Exercise

Extending Beyond Practice

The ideas presented here can be used in many different aspects of parenting. Davis' recommends replacing "Good Job" with the following:

  1. Offer an Observation
  2. Describe the situation
  3. Describe how you (the parent) feels

I noticed a marked difference in how my toddler reacts when I avoid saying "Good Job" and instead describe the situation. Similarly, she contemplates my words much more when I say I saw how I feel. I've realized that situations where I might say "Good Job!" can be beneficial teaching moments to help her understand the world.

Conclusion

What areas of communication do you most struggle with your child, especially during practice? Let me know in the comments below!

Kale Good


Educator and Founder of Good Music Academy.

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