I have two pupils who are around 10 and are slow learners at the moment. Neither started with me and both arrived with all the letter names written in on their pieces -- which always rings alarm bells for me as I take it as a sign that the previous teacher was running out of ideas about how to move forward. Usually this means the pupil has serious problems rather than that the previous teacher did not know what they were doing!
If there are any magic solutions for slow learners I have not found them yet, but things I try to do include:
- getting the parent on board as quickly as possible to help with flashcards, sit with the child while they practise, attend (and pay attention in) lessons, and in one case I have suggested the parent should also have a few lessons on note-reading
- trying to build the child's confidence by teaching in very small steps which are then practised in the lesson, praising all progress and keeping the atmosphee light when they struggle
- keeping all signs of tension and puzzlement out of my own behaviour, eg deliberately lowering the pitch of my voice if I can feel myself getting frustrated
- giving the pupil some control by letting them choose between activities.
I like to use games and puzzles in beginner lessons and two I find very useful for getting an insight into how the child is thinking can be found on the Susan Paradis web-site. One is a set of cards which have to be sorted into Right / Left hand and finger numbers. The way the child sets about this task can be illuminating as can the other which is a little jigsaw puzzle of a keyboard, requiring some spatial reasoning to put together. Both of my current slow learners were unable to put this together without help.
There is also the question of whether the child really wants to learn. One of mine clearly did from the start as I could see she was making valiant efforts to work out her notes. The other apparently didn't as she was very reluctant to come into the room or approach the piano to start with. However, with a little persistence and help from the parent and a lot of game-playing this has been turned around -- in her case the reluctance was caused by panic and lack of confidence. She is now making progress and enjoying playing.
I have mentioned in posts before that I have a long-term pupil with Downs. She eventually managed to pass Grade 3 piano and can read a music score quite well although I do have to keep on her case all the time to ensure she does not get lazy. This gives me confidence that if you are very, very patient, go very slowly indeed and have the pupil's cooperation they will be able to make music at some level eventually. The pay-off for me is that I have learned more about teaching from the pupils who puzzle me that from the quick learners.