Preventing the Summer Slump – How to Motivate Your Students to Practice During the Summer Months
As a music educator, your job is to give your students the tools and inspiration to succeed through music. You’re tasked with keeping students accountable and engaged whether you’re teaching them about major scales or how to tackle a difficult musical passage. But what happens when after class is over and your students go home? Long weekends and short breaks aren’t long enough to detract much from a student’s musical progress, but the summer season is a different story. Every summer break, your difficult work as a music educator is made even harder due to a phenomenon researchers call “summer learning loss.”
One summer of musical inactivity is enough to reverse the progress of a promising student or remove their interest in music altogether. This means that music educators need to be putting a considerable amount of energy and time into developing ways to keep their students engaged with music during summer breaks. This article is devoted to highlighting the paramount issue of summer learning loss in music education along with guidance and tips to prevent it.
How summer learning loss impacts music students
Summer is an opportunity for students and educators to take a well-deserved break. Waking up and dragging yourself to school day after day can be difficult for educators who’ve chosen teaching as a profession. But between the pressures of performance expectations, social demands, and a general lack of agency, school routines can be much tougher for students to handle compared to their educator counterparts. This is why when students are given a break from school, they typically take full advantage of it.
But sadly, a complete break from school-related activities comes with a host of serious negative consequences, especially for music students. According to a 2011 article in the New York Times, “Decades of research confirm that summer learning loss is real. According to a report released last month by the RAND Corporation, the average summer learning loss in math and reading for American students amounts to one month per year. More troubling is that it disproportionately affects low-income students: they lose two months of reading skills, while their higher-income peers — whose parents can send them to enriching camps, take them on educational vacations and surround them with books during the summer — make slight gains.”
Other research shows that summer-based learning loss gets worse as a student’s grade level increases. Music students are particularly susceptible to summer learning loss due to the unique intellectual and physical demands of musicianship. Being a successful music student requires both muscle memory and music reading ability, and these skills can quickly dull and deteriorate through inactivity.
The facts clearly indicate that music students who maintain a consistent practice schedule during the summer fare far better than those who don’t, but the benefits of summer music engagement are actually proven to transcend music education. In 2018, a Baltimore-based summer arts program showed that student engagement with music, drama, dance, and illustration curbed the negative effects of summer learning loss in children, especially in the case of low-income students. Keeping your students engaged with music throughout the summer will help them thrive in not just your classroom but in their other studies as well.
How the power of expectation can help keep your students engaged over the summer break
Setting strong and consistent expectations is the first step in keeping your students engaged in music over the summer break. This means that if you drop the news on your students that you want them to practice their instruments over the summer when they’re halfway out the door for break, they’re probably not going to take you seriously. Set the expectation that your students need to be musically engaged over the summer frequently throughout the year, and your kids will by much more likely to meet it.
Rather than a single proclamation, this expectation can’t resonate with your students without being repeated and reinforced throughout the year. Requiring your students to practice during the summer months should be conveyed verbally in class, written clearly in classroom materials, and communicated to the parents of your students. If your students are made aware of the fact that you expect them to practice throughout the summer over and over again, they’ll be much more likely to practice their instruments over the break.
Tips for getting students motivated to practice over the summer break
There is no silver bullet when it comes to staving off summer learning loss in music students, but there are plenty of actions we can take to negate its impacts. We recommend trying out a combination of these tactics in tandem with your students:
Stress the importance of practice
Once you’ve set the expectation that your students need to be practicing during the summer, it’s important to highlight the importance of being engaged with music during the break. The kids in your music classes want to succeed, so tell them that even a small amount of practice time over the summer can be a big help in maintaining skills and musical momentum. The Music & Arts Summer Sound Challenge is something you should encourage your students and their parents to commit to. It’s an initiative to fight summer learning loss in music classrooms with resources and guidance for students, parents, and educators.
It’s also important to share summer learning loss statistics with your students and their parents as often as you can. Rather than viewing your kids as problems to be fixed, this is an opportunity to enlist the help of your kids in retaining musical knowledge and enthusiasm in and outside of the classroom.
Rather than losing ground over the summer, students have the opportunity to mature in their musical development through private music lessons. Encouraging the parents of your students to enroll their kids in summer music lessons gives you a better chance of returning to a class filled with kids who are in good musical shape and ready to learn. A great way to pique your students’ parents interest in summer music lessons is to tell them to attend Music & Arts’ Lesson Open House event.
Contests not only inspire your kids to practice over the summer, but can also reinforce the expectation that they take summer musical engagement seriously. Things like receiving practice logs signed by a student’s parents or time-stamped videos showing students practicing over the summer can make them eligible for fun prizes, classroom perks, and recognition. You’ll get the most success out of contests by making them anticipated events that are fun and filled with prizes your students will love.
Get your students pumped to practice over the summer with inspirational videos
Depending on the age and musical interests of your kids, only linking summer practicing with educational success might not be enough of a motivator. A better tactic might be to inspire your students with stories from successful musicians. The musical lessons and experience students pick up in school music programs can shape the music they write or perform for the rest of their lives. Music & Arts has a great list of inspirational video testimonials from artists like A Great Big World, Colbie Caillat, and Joey Cook.
Recommend fun books for students to practice with over the break
Music educators often fall into the trap of expecting a certain level of performance and engagement from their students without making music relatable and accessible to them. Encouraging your students to practice material from fun music books over the summer is a great way to add agency and excitement to summer practicing. Movie soundtracks like Mary Poppins, Star Wars, or Peanuts are a great bet, and Broadway songs, classical hits, or even video game music books can go a long way in incentivizing good summer practicing habits.
Make summer practicing easy and fun for your students with music apps
Apps will never replace music educators, but they are doing some remarkable things for music education. For example, the Smartmusic app offers students an intuitive practice experience that keeps them engaged and even gives feedback on their playing. Other apps that help students with ear training, music reading, and tuning should be recommended because they can help kids sustain summer practice schedules without in-person guidance.
Provide actionable goals for your students to work towards
Simply asking your students to practice over the summer might not be enough direction for many of your kids. Before the school year ends, get specific about what exactly each of your students should be focusing their efforts on over the summer. Consider creating unique accountability checklists for each of your kids to check in with during the summer. These checklists should include things like exercises, scales, sight-reading drills, and pieces specific to each student and their instrument. Give one version to each of your students and save another for yourself to refer to when school resumes after the fall break.
Make no mistake. The summer learning slump is real and it poses a serious threat to the educational well-being of your music students. But the more effort and planning educators put towards addressing this issue, the better chance your music students will have at retaining momentum and musical prowess during the summer months.
Want more help growing your program and fresh ideas on how to keep the summer slump at bay? Contact one of our Educational Representatives today! Music & Arts offers special deals for educators, free shipping directly to your school, and direct access to more than 130,000 products online.
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