"There are no limits. There are only plateaus, and you must not stay there, you must go beyond them." – Bruce Lee
A learning plateau is a situation when the student, despite all the efforts of learning and practice, seems to make no progress. In the beginning of the learning process, the learning is fairly slow for a few weeks, soon after it picks up and progress becomes quick and the curve is steep, however, gradually it starts leveling out. The learning plateau is the flat part of the learning curve which comes after the initial rapid progress.
“Growth comes at the point of resistance. We learn by pushing ourselves and finding what really lies at the outer reaches of our abilities.” – Josh Waitzkin
Two Questions you need to ask yourself if you think your student hit a plateau:
What is my goal? Is it realistic and is it in sync with my student's goal?
"The victory of success is half won when one gains the habit of setting goals and achieving them" – Og Mandino
We have to keep reminding ourselves that our students are different and their goals are also different. Is your goal in sync with your student's goal or are you both playing a tug of war? If both of you do not share the same goal, your student will very soon lose interest and motivation.
Another key to success is to keep your goals realistic and achievable, a small step taken forward regularly will yield in big results in the long run. Aim high, but take small steps.
"Small daily improvements when done consistently over time lead to stunning results." – Robin Sharma
How am I measuring progress?
Did you reach a plateau or is progress still happening, yet it is being unnoticed?
We Usually fall in the trap of only measuring the obvious, such as being able to play in performances, reading notes, understanding theory and so on.
Instead try measuring the things that are harder to measure such as fulfillment, enjoyment, eagerness to come to lessons, happiness while playing a piece.
Five Strategies to ease frustration and get things moving once you have established that you reached a plateau and you need to do something about it:
1. Fill in the gaps:
Carefully assess the problem and look for gaps in the student's knowledge. It is impossible to move forward if you don't have your foundation secure. Check the basics first such as understanding of rhythm, scales, sight reading. Revisit them all very carefully, checking them one by one off your list.
2. Find different ways to do what you are trying to achieve:
"Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results." – Albert Einstein
It is time to get out of your comfort zone and use a different approach towards what you are teaching. Not all students learn in a similar way.
Sometimes only a small adjustment is needed. For example: If you are used to playing the piece for your student before teaching it, try and let the student figure it out independently first. Some auditory learners' reading skills will improve greatly when they push themselves out of their comfort zone and attempt to read the music without having a sound reference in their minds.
In other occasions, if the student has problems figuring the rhythm out, hearing the song first will make things way smoother and easier, so it would actually be better if you play the piece first.
Always be ready to experiment and to be flexible and to take cues from your student.
3. Teach in more detail and add diverse activities to teach one single concept:
Method books that have more than one part for teaching a level can very helpful. After the concept is introduced, it is later practiced in a written worksheet and in a different piece in another book or as a duet and so on. This forces the teacher and student to slow down and learn the same concept from different angles until it is mastered before moving to the next level.
Alternatively, you can create your own supplementary material and still achieve good results.
Choose a different method book at the same level and try teaching the same level using a different approach:
This may sound counter-intuitive but it has worked with many of my student who seemed to plateau at one level.
Although it might be more convenient to choose one method book for your studio, however, not all method books work well with all students. Sometimes, you will be forced to choose different method books for different students. Many times only switching to a different method book will solve your problem.
5. Connect with other teachers and become aware of what others are doing:
The amount of information and inspiration out there on the internet is huge. There are several extremely useful blogs written by great teachers sharing their experience and their methods. The world has never been smaller and information has never been more accessible. We no longer have an excuse to stop learning.