Dear friend and pastor Nina Peck Reeder spoke once about an experience she had as a child: she was very unhappy about needing to wear glasses…they were pink and, in her view, horrible-looking. But then she put the glasses on and was astonished to really see. How beautiful each blade of grass! You might guess that her sermon would go on to explore seeing the world through the eyes of God.
Due to some recent explorations, I am beginning to “see” my students more clearly, and I am a different teacher than I was last week. The following quote helped me begin: “We need to have a vision of our student as an accomplished learner. Great performance begins with clear vision. Teaching is just the same. We have to have the same vision of our students.” – Sam Holland
This quote lead to a rather circuitous journey to this week’s quote by Frances Clark:
“All students are transfer students. Even if our students are our own, the teacher we were last year is different from the teacher we are this year. In fact, the teacher we were last week is different from the teacher we are this week!”
Sam Holland’s quote on vision prompted me to develop a form to assess my students, in order to better determine where they are, so that I could more clearly determine future goals. As I mentioned in a previous post, my thinking was not as clear as I would have liked. I had just finished a Thanksgiving break, was still full of carbohydrates, and had not seen my students in a while. The form was designed to be simple to use… not the most comprehensive form one could imagine, just something to get the thoughts flowing.
The first question: When I think of the student, what words immediately come to mind?
Areas that need improvement
I then compared the results of my immediate and unfiltered reaction to the student without teaching them to what actually happened in the lesson. I was astonished at some of the things that I learned through this process. An incomplete list:
1) I believed that I was thinking deeply about each student already, without filling out a form. In truth, though, I needed to be much more specific in my observations, and more proactive in finding solutions to problems.
I wrote on one form: “This student sometimes plays very musically, but in other cases his playing can sound wooden.” Now that I had my “glasses on” in his lesson, I was looking for this aspect of his playing – the sometimes unmusical performances. I realized fairly quickly that he wasn’t listening to himself as he played. His fingers were moving, but he was disengaged from the sound he was making. We discussed this phenomenon, and I confessed that I have needed to address this in my own playing from time to time. As we worked on voicing in a particular passage, we recorded little segments of the piece, listened, evaluated, and recorded again. I was pleased that he wanted to start with this piece the following week, and demonstrate his improved listening skills.
“This otherwise strong student memorizes immediately and she often misses dynamic indications in the score.” Again, with my “glasses on,” in the lesson, I began to wonder if this student, who often plays too fast, was clear about how to effectively approach her repertoire or what elements need to be in place for an excellent performance. On the spot, I found a piece of scrap paper and asked some leading questions that she answered. If you click on the link, you can see what she wrote. Criteria I plan to have her examine this form in the lesson with me, expand upon it, and to keep it on her music rack when she practices at home.
I also had her highlight the dynamic markings in different colors (red for forte and so on). As she played, I said “stop!” before each change, asked her to say the dynamic, then resume.
2) I was guilty of putting a student into a “box” and not examining that box. I believe a strength of my teaching is not dismissing students who are not doing as well as I would like, but instead consistently looking for the balancing positive attributes. I didn’t realize that I am guilty of the opposite problem: If a student is performing well, I tend to assume that everything is falling into place beautifully.
Upon closer examination, I took more seriously the fact that one strong student often neglects to complete the whole assignment, or doesn’t see everything on the assignment sheet. Last week, I asked her to write all of the practice instructions herself directly on the pages of the pieces. This took a lot of extra time, as she is young, but I believe that she will feel more ownership of the process this way.
Andrew Hisey, in his lecture to New School Faculty, suggested that we “practice” our teaching, as we would “practice” for a piano performance. I am beginning to learn that it is only through rigorous evaluation that we will transform our teaching.