My New Year’s Resolution: Student Practice Journals and Reflective Practice

When students receive an assignment sheet and have six days until the next private lesson, how do we know what goes through their minds during that interim period? Recently, I have been thinking that ticking off days practiced and repetitions completed is not necessarily encouraging mindful, reflective practice. I strive for students to consider practice as a process, and processes involve discoveries, questions, and challenges.
This year, I have decided to keep a daily journal of my personal practice and to help my students develop journals as well.
What might I want my student share in these journals, and what do I hope to accomplish and learn?
I want to know what happens when they arrive home and start tackling pieces and concepts I introduced. I want to know how they continue through the polishing stages toward performance. First though, an important element must be in place and recorded in the practice journal:
  • Discover the Optimal Practice Time

Practice time can be limited, especially with the hectic schedules of many of today’s students. Therefore, it is especially important to make sure that students make the most of the time available. Determining when a student is at his or her best can impact the quality of the practice. Some students have told me they practice really well before school in the freshness of the morning, whereas others have related that practicing at the end of the day is a way to wind down and relax before bed.

  •  Understand the Thought Process

Next, I want to observe the thought process that goes into the practice. Perhaps it could be: “I still don’t understand this rhythm,” “This fingering is really tricky,” or “I want to play this piece fast, but my fingers seem so lethargic!” What I would like to eliminate is excuses for not practicing on the grounds of not understanding, without brainstorming plausible solutions at that moment. If I can figure out what inhibits each student’s progress away from the lesson, we can problem solve together during the class and develop some tools needed for successful home productivity.

  • Encourage Creative Thinking

I’m eager for students to write about the character of their music and how to build a narrative interpretation of the title. I’ve had students create elaborate stories about their music, and this always greatly assists in imaginative playing. At school, they are likely accustomed to writing stories, so this could be an interdisciplinary activity with their piano studies!

Therefore, instead of merely asking my students to read through an assignment sheet I generated, I’m going to require them to briefly share their impressions, questions, and moods from each day. It doesn’t have to be a writing exercise, but simply a way of communicating to me (and also to themselves) ways to make their practice more interesting and engaging.
Perhaps I could post my findings during the January New Year!
Related article:  (The blog post that inspired my resolution)
http://www.creativitypost.com/arts/the_most_valuable_lesson_i_learned_from_playing_the_violin

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