When goals change
A student enrolls for a piano exam aiming to do well, and practises as much as is needed to meet his/her goals. Until the examination fees are paid, after which practise starts to
deteriorate. It could be one of the following :
- The student wishes to work less and is happy with achieving less than originally planned.
- There’s a hearing gap (more on this below) and what the student thinks is great is likely to be mediocre or way below par.
- The student knows progress is poor but has tremendous faith in his/her piano teacher. And thinks the teacher will wave a magic wand and all will go well.
The ‘hearing’ gap
I wrote about the ‘hearing gap’ in one of my earlier posts ‘Recording and Guided Self-Assessment in piano class’. This is the gap between what students hear when they play, and what the piano teachers hear when they listen to the same performance. It’s the reason why students often have very high expectations when it come to exams, and get extremely upset if their piano teacher’s assessment of their work falls short of their expectations.
A ‘hearing gap’ combined with a lack of clarity on the students current goal can be the start of student-teacher discord.
A way out
My experiments this year, with recording my students and getting them to do a guided self-assessment in piano class went really well. They made me realise that the key to good piano practise might lie in letting go of the outcome and focusing on the process.
- Letting my students set their own goals.
- Equipping my students with the tools to assess themselves.
- Helping my students relate the quality of their practise to the outcome, which is the quality of their performances.
- Making setting goals and reviewing them jointly with my student a regular part of piano class.
Assessment criteria and speaking in language students understand
Most of my students want to do exams and they want really good marks. So I used the assessment criteria from the syllabus of Trinity College London as a start, explaining them to my students in simple terms that they could understand, and using recording, guided self-assessment and demonstrations of good and poor playing so they understood.
- Were notes, timing, tempo, dynamics, phrasing and articulation correct?
- Did the tune stand out enough, keeping the accompaniment in the background?
- Did both hands depress the keys together in coordination?
- Were the notes banged out or played with care, finesse and good hand shape?
- Was their attention focused on playing correct or on making the audience ‘feel’ their pieces?
My regular weekly homework assignments now include a written qualitative assessment of previous weeks goals. Metronome targets are useful as they’re clear and specific.
A very important part of this exercise for me, is to help my students see those small but significant steps they’ve taken in the right direction. I’m realising that this might be the key to giving them the resilience to handle feedback on the goals they didn’t achieve.
Making goal-setting, review and assessment a joint exercise with my students is helping me teach them to make clearer connections between their practise and the quality of their performances, and take responsibility for their work.
It’s funny, that knowing they have the option of making a choice to work-less-achieve-less seems to make my students want to work harder.
I think that it’s them ‘owning’ their choices, as well as the outcome of their choices, that’s the key to getting work done.