MORE About Teaching with Stickers

My goal as a teacher is to create an independent learner. Whether a student studies with me for one year or ten, I want her to leave with skills and the ability to learn on her own. From the very beginning, I involve her in her own learning process. I teach her how to learn. More accurately, I allow her to discover how SHE learns. That's the best individualized instruction has to offer. An opportunity for a student to understand herself and the way she learns in a non-judgmental, warm and discerning environment. 

Why are stickers so effective?

They're colorful. Immediate. Every kind imaginable. Large enough to adorn your car, tiny enough to decorate a fingernail. All about cars, tree houses, panda bears, ladybugs. There are stickers for anyone and everyone.

Because stickers are so appealing, it's easy to miss their subtler pedagogical and educational benefits.

Stickers:

  • Don't require handwriting. A child too young to write an instruction to herself can use stickers to convey a message in an expressive and personal manner. A child who has messy handwriting or is self conscious about their writing may prefer to use a sticker.
  • Can be used with all ages including adults. (Adults may not connect with cartoon dinosaurs, but then again I had an adult student, age 65, who brought her own stickers because she didn't like mine. What did she bring? Cows and spiders.)
  • Allow students to connect music with their imagination. If they think that a stegosaurus sticker is just the thing for what they need to express, they're right. Don't second guess their choices.
  • Empower a student by engaging her with the written music. She interacts and changes the page in a way she chooses.
  • Describe and express without passing judgment. They are quite inadequate for the purpose of blaming a student. (I hope that you find this a plus. If not, please seek professional help.)

Compare these two scenarios:

Ms. Clutterbuck's solution. 

Ms. Clutterbuck hears her student, Betsy, playing an C natural instead of an C sharp in her D Major Clementi Sonatina.

"Betsy! Stop! You are playing that ridiculous C Natural AGAIN!" she shrieks, jumping up to circle the C sharp in red pen.

Ms. Gobstop's solution. 

Note that the beach ball sticker gets the student's attention, but the panda bear reaching up for something reminds her to open and slide in for the C sharp.

Ms. Gobstop, noticing that Betsy has forgotten, yet again, to play a C natural, even though she kindly wrote it in for her the week before, takes a different approach.

"Betsy," she asks, "Would you like to put some stickers there to help you remember to open your hand and slide in for the C sharp?"

Which approach would you prefer as a student? It's more than just a matter of one being kind and the other not. It's about effectiveness. Ms. Clutterbuck layers anxiety and disappointment on top of a (non-life-threatening) error. Ms. Gobstop lifts the problem out of the morass of guilt and into an imaginative place of problem-solving and whimsy.

Some ideas to involve a student using stickers:

  • "The two phrases that start this piece are a little different. One of them sounds like a question and one sounds like an answer. Which one sounds more like a question to you?" Demonstrate the two phrases for them - perhaps even reversing their order. 
  • Are there any places you noticed were difficult for you? Would you like to remind yourself of anything to remember in this piece?
  • What's your favorite part of this piece? Should we put a sticker there to celebrate that moment?
  • Is there a moment in this piece that you find difficult? What sticker might give you a little extra confidence if we put it there?

These pictures are from recent lessons where my students used stickers to interpret the music and solve problems.

A chain of ladybugs leads Iliana to the Coda of Elissa Milne's brilliant piece Groovy Movie from Easy Little Peppers.

Iliana showing off her ladybug sticker chain.

In the Lynes Sonatina from the Sonatinas Book One, Tasha used this little hedgehog to remind her that when this theme returned it was different. The other animal reminded her left hand to stay put. The week after we did this she returned with the entire piece memorized including the correct notes in the recapitulation. She also used Colored Highlighter Tape.

In this piece from Piano Town Lessons Level Two, Mady was having a hard time remembering what the V7 chords felt like when the notes were broken up. She thought that putting little red mushrooms on each V7 chord might help her remember how it felt when she saw the notes one-at-a-time. She was right!

I challenge you to try using stickers this way in your teaching today. Even if you think you're too serious. Even if you think your students are too good, bad, stupid, brilliant, or sophisticated. You may be surprised. Who will you try it with today?

 

This set of stickers looks versatile and interesting. Remember when you're looking for stickers that big isn't necessarily better. Lots of different sizes and styles are the way to go. 

 

These "motivational stickers" won't cut it if you're trying to use stickers as more than rewards. They have their place, but you'll need more creative options.

 

Here are some others to give you ideas. Remember to think outside your own particular piano teacher box!

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