As the New Year comes around we often think of ways to improve and make more of our lives. On the blog Study Hacks, the author constantly looks at the strategies and research findings surrounding those known for excellence – whether in school or in their professional careers. Recently the author posted an article highlighting the strategies used by a man who’s known for his excellence in piano playing.
Here are the strategies this pianist found for improving the excellence of his craft and how they can be applied to your efforts in helping struggling readers:
Strategy #1: Do What Does Not Come Easy
“The mistake most weak pianists make is playing, not practicing. If you walk into a music hall at a local university, you’ll hear people ‘playing’ by running through their pieces. This is a huge mistake. Strong pianists drill the most difficult parts of their music, rarely, if ever playing through their pieces in entirety.”
Application for struggling readers: Simply praciticing reading is not going to help struggling readers. It allows them to keep relying on their coping mechanisms and avoid the parts of reading that are difficult for them. Make sure to spend extra time on the parts of reading that are difficult for the struggling readers you work with.
Strategy #2: To Master a Skill, Master Something Harder
“Strong pianists find clever ways to ‘complicate’ the difficult parts of their music. If we have problem playing something with clarity, we complicate [it] by playing the passage with alternating accent patterns. If we have problems with speed, we confound the rhythms.”
Application for struggling readers: Researchers have found that teaching struggling readers how to decode "nonsense words" helps them become stronger readers. Decoding meaningless words is much more difficult than decoding real words, because students have to use decoding strategies. They can't rely on memorization, context, or recognition when reading or pronouncing nonsense words. When students can accurately read and pronounce nonsense words, you know they have improved their decoding abilities, not just their ability to memorize.
Strategy #3: Systematically Eliminate Weakness
“Strong pianists know our weaknesses and use them to create strength. I have sharp ears, but I am not as in touch with the physical component of piano playing. So, I practice on a mute keyboard.”
Application for struggling readers: Research has long proven that struggling readers have the most success when they are taught with systematic, explicit, and multi-sensory phonics-based reading instruction.
Strategy #4: Create Beauty, Don’t Avoid Ugliness
“Weak pianists make music a reactive task, not a creative task. They start, and react to their performance, fixing problems as they go along. Strong pianists, on the other hand, have an image of what a perfect performance should be like that includes all of the relevant senses. Before we sit down, we know what the piece needs to feel, sound, and even look like in excruciating detail. In performance, weak pianists try to reactively move away from mistakes, while strong pianists move towards a perfect mental image.”
Application for struggling readers: Researchers have often found that children are more likely to be strong readers if their parents create a culture of reading in their home. Struggling readers need to see others modeling not only what good reading looks like, but also that it’s a desirable and helpful skill. On top of that, struggling readers need to be encouraged to believe that they can become as good as others at reading. If they don’t believe that they can obtain the level of those that model good reading, they will easily be discouraged.
Many struggling readers have the potential to boost their reading performance, but it takes practice. But not any kind of practice, effective practice. Use these four priniciples to make reading instruction more effective for struggling readers.