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How to explain to parents exams are not the syllabus


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#1 Iulia

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Posted 23 May 2021 - 13:23

Really struggling here.

I have a lovely family, two siblings. Elder doing very well currently on G3. Younger began lessons last summer and we've just started Piano Star 2 - they turned six this week.

I suggested not aiming for an exam with the younger for the moment, and family just sent me a message saying they talked about it and want him to do the grading because they feel the exams are necessary to achieve a certain level by a certain time.

I've tried to explain on many occasions that the exams - whatever board they are - were never intended as a syllabus and moving from one exam book to another the week after the exam is the worst thing for progress but I don't seem to be able to phrase it in such a way as they 'get' it.

So many parents seem to feel if they don't sit the exams they aren't improving. That sitting two/three exams a year is the best/ONLY way to get them to point B. 

How do you get through to this mindset??  :wacko:

 


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#2 zwhe

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Posted 23 May 2021 - 14:34

I've never found a way of getting through it, and I'm afraid I don't take them on in the first place! I flatly refuse to enter pupils in for more than one exam a year, and flatly refuse to go straight from one exam to another. It may have cost me pupils, but I prefer (and so does my blood pressure) teaching to be a low-stress job. 

I actually get quite puzzled by teachers entering all their little ones for exams - at least half of mine are physically incapable of staying on a chair for the 10 minutes required to complete the exam! 


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#3 elemimele

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Posted 23 May 2021 - 15:37

I despair of the human race sometimes. How many biology exams has 6-year-old taken yet? Oh, none? They'll clearly never achieve anything as a biologist then... Have they at least passed an exam in art or drawing? Or maths? Or geography?

It seems to me that music and karate are the only two things in the world where parents deem progress impossible unless divided up into itty bitty stages, each with an exam.

Maybe parents are insecure and can't hear the difference? Surely merely listening to one's offspring playing their piano/flute etc. would be enough to let a parent know the cash wasn't being wasted, and that their child was making progress.

The sad thing about attainment-orientated music is that I know a lot of adults who used to play the piano when they were a kid. Hardly the point, is it?


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#4 Iulia

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Posted 23 May 2021 - 15:41

 

I actually get quite puzzled by teachers entering all their little ones for exams - at least half of mine are physically incapable of staying on a chair for the 10 minutes required to complete the exam! 

 

:lol: Quite. 

But I've no idea when and how it came about that people believe if you have the bit of paper you can play Grade X and if you don't you can't. And if you don't sit the exam no progress has been made. I'm sure it didn't used to be like that. I did G3, 6 and 8 as a student. 

I suspect all the prep/initial/pre grade exams hasn't helped, but don't fully explain. 


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#5 Iulia

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Posted 23 May 2021 - 15:47

It seems to me that music and karate are the only two things in the world where parents deem progress impossible unless divided up into itty bitty stages, each with an exam.

 

Sometimes there is a sort of rationale to hoping to get to a certain level (whether I agree with it or not) such as wanting to enter an audition or some equally mad parent telling them their kid needs to be at G8 at age 12 as they won't have time to practise in secondary school.

But I just don't get the inability to disconnect the progress from the exam. 


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#6 elemimele

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Posted 23 May 2021 - 17:09

yes... I do appreciate some people have genuine hurdles.

But parents would otherwise be much happier if they didn't listen to other parents. Parents always talk about what their offspring can do, and not about what they cannot; and they exaggerate. You have to ask yourself what has gone wrong if a child genuinely hasn't time to practise in secondary school.


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#7 Iulia

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Posted 23 May 2021 - 17:34

But parents would otherwise be much happier if they didn't listen to other parents. Parents always talk about what their offspring can do, and not about what they cannot; and they exaggerate. You have to ask yourself what has gone wrong if a child genuinely hasn't time to practise in secondary school.

 

Kids are involved in too many activities IMO. And while I appreciate that parents want to give them the chance to try as much as possible, the end result too many times is they are too busy, and probably don't get good at any of the activities.


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#8 BadStrad

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Posted 23 May 2021 - 17:46


So many parents seem to feel if they don't sit the exams they aren't improving. That sitting two/three exams a year is the best/ONLY way to get them to point B.

I blame the church of competitive parenting. If you can't "moast" that you're going to have to fork out a fortune for a grand piano now little (insert ridiculously young age of choice) year old Rainbow Starchild has passed grade eight then you're a failure as a parent.

(Hopefully the sarcasm comes across. I despair of such parenting styles)
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#9 hammer action

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Posted 23 May 2021 - 19:31

 

But parents would otherwise be much happier if they didn't listen to other parents. Parents always talk about what their offspring can do, and not about what they cannot; and they exaggerate. You have to ask yourself what has gone wrong if a child genuinely hasn't time to practise in secondary school.

 

Kids are involved in too many activities IMO. And while I appreciate that parents want to give them the chance to try as much as possible, the end result too many times is they are too busy, and probably don't get good at any of the activities.

 

 

Totally agree.  

 

This reminds me of a small child I taught many years ago, hope you don't mind me sharing on this post.  Mother appeared with a visibly upset, weeping child with wet hair for the trial piano lesson and explained that she was 'just a bit tired' as they'd been (somewhere I can't remember as it was years ago), then swimming and had to rush to the lesson.  

 

Mum then explained to me that it was always her own wish when she was little to play piano and that the next door neighbour's daughter played piano which they could hear drifting across the back garden when the patio doors were open.  She said her and the lady next door were "very competitive" and asked me about exams and how soon the (weeping) child would be able to sit them.  Cue explanation from me, etc etc.  

 

We agreed on a month's trial to see how the child would get on.  They appeared the following week and the mother told me she hadn't done any work nor bought the book I recommended as she didn't want to "put her off".  Exams were enquired about again, as well as the possibility of performing at a forthcoming school concert.  

 

At the end of the month's trial (which was more of the kid crying than learning piano) the mother told me that they weren't going to come back as the child thought the lessons were "boring".  She said this loudly in the busy waiting room of the music centre I taught in back then, for all to hear.  

 

I suggested to her if she wanted excitement she tried the local skateboarding park or kayaking at the swimming pool.

 

I've perhaps gone off on a tangent there to the original post, but it's so difficult when you encounter a parent who just doesn't understand the work involved in learning an instrument or working towards grades.  Fortunately the majority of parents do understand, but there's always the odd few.


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#10 Cyrilla

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Posted 23 May 2021 - 21:42

Whilst I agree completely with all of the above, I think there is another issue at play here.

 

Our current 'education system' is heavily weighted towards 'achievement' and 'progress' - these things usually being quantified by some test or exam.  

 

This has GOT to stop.   We are not doing ANYONE any favours by the promotion of this mindset.

 

I was truly horrified to read a thread on a teachers' group on facebook yesterday.   The OP had posed the question, 'What do you wish you had known before you started teaching?'.

 

Out of the hundreds of replies, by far the majority read along the lines of 'that my best would never be good enough.'  The overwhelming message was that teachers' workloads are simply unsustainable - that they are so tightly controlled, endlessly monitored, scrutinised, criticised - that they spend a significant amount of money on buying their own resources for their classroom ( :o) - that they are unsupported and bullied by SLT - and that both they and the children are consistently told that what they have done is never good enough and that they should be constantly striving for the next 'target'.

 

I wrote an immense rant in reply and the number of 'likes' and 'loves' that it received was overwhelming.

 

I'm afraid for far too long now both teachers, parents and children have been brainwashed into accepting this appalling state of affairs as 'right' and 'normal'.

 

It's really no wonder that many parents are only able to perceive that 'progress' has been achieved by the passing of an exam.

 

:angry:  :crying:  :angry:  :crying:  :angry:


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#11 DMC

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Posted 24 May 2021 - 07:29

Really struggling here.

I have a lovely family, two siblings. Elder doing very well currently on G3. Younger began lessons last summer and we've just started Piano Star 2 - they turned six this week.

I suggested not aiming for an exam with the younger for the moment, and family just sent me a message saying they talked about it and want him to do the grading because they feel the exams are necessary to achieve a certain level by a certain time.

I've tried to explain on many occasions that the exams - whatever board they are - were never intended as a syllabus and moving from one exam book to another the week after the exam is the worst thing for progress but I don't seem to be able to phrase it in such a way as they 'get' it.

So many parents seem to feel if they don't sit the exams they aren't improving. That sitting two/three exams a year is the best/ONLY way to get them to point B. 

How do you get through to this mindset??  :wacko:

 

When I get parents like this, I try to appeal to their snob value, and try to get the following message over, in diplomatic terms; Have you no ambition for your children? If the extent of your universe is exams, that's setting your horizons low. The pupils who do best in exams are often those who learn non-exam repertoire, perhaps for festivals, or just for the joy of it. If you take this approach, sight reading improves, and therefore you achieve what you set out to achieve in the first place (good exam results), only with a more rounded, happier Musician who can play for the sheer artistic joy of music. And in a social environment, your piece of paper counts for zip. If at a party someone hears you can play the Piano, they want to know, 'what can you play', not 'what Grade did you do'. Nobody gives two hoots.

 

I think somebody on here called the back-to-back exammers '24 piece wonders'. Those who will get to Grade 8 having only played the 24 exam pieces it took to get there. That's what we don't want, and exams used in the wrong way can act as constricting collar on Musical development. You think it's the pupils we're educating, it's not; it's the parents.  :D


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#12 Bagpuss

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Posted 24 May 2021 - 07:49

I have stopped putting students forward for exams.  I enjoy my teaching SO much more....no more pressure to 'teach to the test'.....Result = happy teacher, happy students and, yes, HAPPY parents.  Any parent making an enquiry about tuition that mentions 'grades', 'exams' or 'scholarships' gets the 'I'm fully booked' response.  I just don't need this {insert word of your choice} anymore; I just want students of all ages to delight in creating wonderful music - be that on 3 notes or 3,333 -  to take real pride in their achievements and be able to express themselves in a unique way.

C is right.  Our mainstream education system is broken.  Teachers are indeed downtrodden but, sadly, many of them lack the ability to problem solve or think creatively as they're under so much pressure just to tick the boxes within an unrealistic timeframe.  I'm saddened by a lot of posting on FaceBook by these people :( :( :( Wake up teachers.....search your hearts, start SEEING the flaws and begin to fight back.

Sorry for hijacking the OP's thread a tad.  Bowing out gracefully now!

Bx


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#13 zwhe

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Posted 24 May 2021 - 07:52

If only they all played as many as 24 pieces! Its quite common to skip grades and only do exam pieces. A few years ago I met with a parent and child. I was already apprehensive as they had manage to have 4 teachers so far. The child had done grade 3 the previous summer, and "because they had done so well" they had gone straight to grade 5. I asked if they had the mark sheet so I could look at the comments, and was told they hadn't kept it, but they know they got 104 for the exam. A little horrified, as I would have done more work at grade 3 level before moving on to grade 4 work under those circumstances,  I asked to listen to what they had done so far. They played me everything they had learnt, bearing in mind it was now April and they had been working on grade 5 since the end of the summer term. They played the first page of the C list piece, so badly I couldn't even recognise the piece. They had been learning a bar a week, and still couldn't play any of it in time. I suggested forgetting about grade 5 for a while and learning some other music rather than just the one piece and never saw them again. I can only imagine they are either still learning the same piece with their 50th teacher, or they have given up entirely.

And yes, I think it is a much wider issue than just music. Children do nothing but tests and exams at school. Frankly, I think it is a miracle they have time to actually learn anything. It begins at birth, when you get a red book to measure if they are doing everything they should. My health visitor kept telling me my children were backwards as they all moved late ( first rolled over at 11 months late). None of them will ever win the olympics, but they can all walk just fine. I know it helps to pick up any problems early, but there really needs to be a better system, especially as so many problems are not picked up anyway. Perhaps if we just spent time with children and actually listened to them instead....


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#14 Boogaloo

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Posted 24 May 2021 - 08:22

Same as everyone else has found really. But there are 2 things that I do regularly that seem to make a bit of a difference (and Covid has really helped me as I refused to do any online exams - I used it as an excuse to make parents jump off any potential bandwagon they were on!) -

 

I demonstrate the pieces at different grades and I play some of them as fast as they should go (sometimes even faster if I'm feeling a little bit wicked and really need to make a point!)

 

I do a timeline with my arm and/or on a piece of paper - this works so well - I show progression if exams are taken i.e. a line that keeps flattening out whilst exams are worked on with very little progress inbetween, especially if successive grades are taken, and do it based on how many school years they have left. I then show that staying off exams for most of the time means that progress remains on an upward trajectory and beats the exam trajectory hands down. I also explain that most people take about a year to learn an exam syllabus (I don't care if things are exaggerated as they don't know this!). This has a particularly big impact on most people.

 

I have never had any pupils doing one grade after another as I simply refuse to do it. The "24 pieces max if you do ever get to Grade 8 and you still won't be able tor read music and explore all the other millions of pieces out there including those internet downloadable pieces" maxim works wonders, though of course it now has the potential to be 27 with Initial grade!


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#15 Latin pianist

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Posted 24 May 2021 - 08:33

I don’t put many students in for exams these days and feel liberated like Bagpuss. But I have some home pupils who attend a Prep school and the parents are keen on exams. These students work for the exams but they play all sorts of other music too and we play duets. The thing I don’t do with early grade students is theory as it takes lesson time and I find anyone who gets further on can learn it so much more easily than by ploughing through workbooks. I really enjoy teaching these students and they are becoming good sightreaders through learning lots of repertoire. Exams are not good if it’s the only thing a student is doing and also is not really ready to tackle the grade. They should be able to learn the notes of the pieces easily. I’ve had some awful experiences with pushy parents and now have the confidence to stand my ground if the demands are unrealistic.


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