Last year, most of my students were taking piano lessons for the first time, and I learned a lot more than I thought I would about what first-year students need to know. Naturally, my goal for each beginning student was to make sure they would be able to advance to Level 2 this year (or Level 1, depending if they were Primer-level). It seemed a simple goal, but I discovered that for students to really play at a Level 2 in all areas (note reading, sight reading, aural awareness, technique, scales, theory, musicality), takes much more preparation than what I had read about in books.
What I learned about how to get students into second-year study:
1) Students' personalities need to be carefully observed. I guess this is a general rule about teaching. There are certain personalities that can be pushed hard and other personalities that cannot. Work to develop a student's personality to be able to meet the standards that you have. Some students don't know how to work hard, others don't want to work hard. There is a huge difference in how to manage these personalities and work ethics.
2) Rhythmic sense. Students need to have a well-developed inner sense of rhythm in order to play beyond the primer level. Students playing Level 1 and beyond without this constantly show all kinds of problems, something that counting out loud while playing cannot fix. Can they feel meter? Can they phrase in tempo? Can they do a musical, logical ritardando?
3) Hand shape. It doesn't take years to develop good hand shape. Really, only a few months of study will train the student into a good hand shape for the rest of their lives. What is not helpful is when a student is trained to have a bad hand shape; this will take years to undo. Correct hand shape is essential for tone control, phrasing....basically everything.
4) Attention to details on score. Most personalities do not naturally pay attention to details, and students are notorious for ignoring basic things in a musical text. If a primer level student knows to look for dynamic markings, time signature, and phrases, much work has been saved for the next year. There are so many more details to care about in higher-level rep, that if a student is not used to noticing these, their playing will constantly be, well, ignorant.
5) Aural skills. Students should know how to sing a major scale in tune, at the very least. This is just key for music study. Singing, creating musical lines spontaneously, is an important brain function that strengthens all musical ability in general.
To sum it up, what I look for in second-year students is someone who is trained how to work, with strong rhythm, perfect hand shape, who can sing in tune and know how to read a score. Note-reading and theory can always be fixed at any stage.