This goes for music lessons, as well.
Take Brad and Elizabeth (true story, names have been changed). They are brother and sister. They live in the same house with both parents and older siblings. They are both taking piano lessons and have been for years.
They should learn the same way, with the same instruction, using the same books, and have the same outcome, right? Let's see.
Brad plays predominately by ear. He recently discovered he even has perfect pitch. He can hear a song, sit down at the piano, and figure out what key it's in, and within seconds, know the chord progressions and melody.
Elizabeth plays mostly by the book. She has become very good at sight-reading and likes to perfect a line at a time until she can play through the whole song or exercise without mistakes. She makes a game out of it.
Brad is into the heavier side of music and enjoys rock and metal. His influences are Breaking Benjamin, Chevelle, Tool, and anybody else he finds on Pandora based on these stations. He is always looking for new music and new bands.
Elizabeth is into pop and top 40. She loves when we take a break from the book to learn a Taylor Swift song, or her favorite song from the radio, but also enjoys classics like Piano Man and Hallelujah. She appreciates any song she can sing along to.
Over the years, Brad's parents really wanted to see Brad reading music, so they asked me to start teaching him out of the books. So I slowly started introducing the piano books to him. And I slowly started seeing him pull away and less and less interested in playing piano.
He wasn't ready.
There was so much musical talent in him, but he wasn't ready for the structure and patience it took to learn this way. He didn't understand why there was a formula to help learn major scales. He did them by ear and didn't want to know how or why. He didn't care to know why a note was sometimes flat and sometimes sharp, he just knew what sounded right.
When Elizabeth first asked to play I'm Yours by Bruno Mars, she was excited to work on one of her first songs outside of the usual piano book we worked from. She wrote the notes out, learned the chords, worked on the timing and the melody, and practiced a lot. But she always went back to playing the scales and exercises out of her books. They were her comfort blanket.
So I went back to playing by ear with Brad and working in the piano book with Elizabeth. They were both happier and excelling again. Over the next year, I would spend a few minutes of each lesson doing the opposite with them to give them small tastes of the other side.
Each time, it got a little longer.
Each time, they requested it.
Each time, they got a little better.
Last week I had a lesson with them. Brad talked to me about school starting back up and what he was excited about. He spent a few minutes showing me the new song he was writing (he previously told me that he didn't enjoy writing and didn't want to do it). Then he asked if I brought the new book with me and spent the rest of the lesson going from one page to the next, playing each song and recognizing the dynamic marks and musical notation.
Elizabeth had me time her on how fast and accurately she could play her major and minor scales and then showed me how good she was getting at How Far I'll Go from the movie Moana. We worked on a few pages out of her music book and time was up.
I left the house and sat in my vehicle for a few minutes.
I thought about each of them and how far they've come.
When I pushed them out of their comfort zone to work on their weaknesses, they weren't ready. But when I focused on their strengths, and splattered in some of the other once in a while, they took off.
Makes you think.
When teachers try to teach you the things you just aren't understanding, it makes you feel rejected. You feel like you just aren't good enough. Like you would rather give up than feel like you might fail or hold others back.
But when we focus on a child's strengths or abilities, we encourage them to reach further, to push past everything else. We teach them about self belief.
A friend recently said to me, "I know the school won't be able to teach my son in the way that he learns. His brain is really amazing but he has some basic areas where he is deficient and that's usually what they focus on. I want to bring out the best in him, not just make him conform to certain typical standards. I want him to reach his full potential. He has so much in that brain of his. And standardized testing will never highlight that."
Focus on the strengths. Not the weaknesses. Help them believe in themselves. You will see a different outcome.