We are accountable for our students’ outcomes and progress.
Part of that responsibility is that we should know exactly what it is we want them to understand, to achieve, to be able to do. So before any monitoring can take place, we need to know what the aims are. The aims of the lesson, the term, the book.
Now one might say that the aims of your lessons are to instil a love of music and joy of playing the piano into every one of your students. However it is absolutely the case that this love will be far more successfully nurtured within the right framework. Children develop a love for learning when they are allowed to be curious, so creativity and flexibility in your teaching and their learning are essential.
But they also develop that love for a subject when they make steady progress; when they understand how they can improve, and when they feel like they are doing well! Just because this is the piano and, let’s face it, why wouldn't they love it?!, we can’t expect them to develop that love simply through the sound and medium of the piano.
Students need the tools to enable them to understand and to progress, in order to nurture that deep commitment to constantly improving. So, back to learning aims. Do you have a progressive, sequenced and logical set of objectives and skills that you are expecting students to work through? Even if you work through a set of pieces, do you know what each piece is focusing on in terms of a skill being learnt? A point of understanding being achieved?
These learning aims should be planned for across a variety of time/skill periods but should also be worked into every single lesson, every single piece taught. Once these are in place, the key is to knowing how to monitor each student to ensure they are meeting all of the objectives, and to what degree. If they are still struggling to comprehend a concept, they will need further support in the coming lessons, if they have caught on quickly and are able to take on challenges, they might need support to progress faster.
How do you guarantee that you are aware of the capabilities and prior knowledge of all of your students? There are several things you need to work into your lessons:
Timely and informal feedback: As students are playing or practising, you are constantly monitoring and giving them small pointers, for example finger numbers, hand posture, phrasing etc. I like to move fairly quickly around the class making sure the students know that I will be with them shortly (avoids the constant hands up and calling out for you!).
A more formal opportunity for feedback is when students perform their piece. Group piano lends itself completely wonderfully to ensemble playing, but I believe it is also essential for every individual to be heard. So in addition to the ensemble performing that we do, I listen to every student perform on their own at the end of every lesson. All of the rest of the class will listen both to the performance and then to my feedback. Once they have performed their solo, I will always start my feedback with something positive that they did really well. Then I will choose one thing that they can work on (even if I spotted many, I will focus on one). The rest of the class has then heard this feedback and so have an opportunity to take it on board themselves. This performance has also given you an opportunity to see to what extent the student has met the learning objectives.
If I set a challenge or gave support, I might write this in the student’s workbook so that their parents can see that this has happened and can hopefully support them at home. But it also serves as a visual prompt for students to remember the feedback that you gave them. If you encourage students to take a responsible and conscientious attitude towards their learning, and empower them with the knowledge of what they should do to improve, you will have a room full of committed and excited learners. Excited to be progressing along an established route, and committed to working hard, to practice, and to nurturing their love of the piano.
It is for this reason that I would also let children know what the aims for each lesson are - they can take some ownership in ensuring that they are meeting the objectives.
Just a couple more points regarding aims and objectives that will enable students to more readily achieve them in a group setting: It is essential that you model the aims at the start. Play the piece on the piano and illustrate your aims through your playing. Or carry out whichever exercise/game you are expecting them to carry out, and outline what it should look like and what can be learnt from it.
Finally, get some part of the aim achieved with you at the piano in a group. For example I might have an aim of learning to play a C major chord. At the start of the lesson, once I have modelled it and we have discussed aspects such as fingers used and how to find the notes, I would then ask each student to play the chord for me on the main piano. This way I can check that they have understood before they go off the keyboards to practice and consolidate.
I hope you have found some useful tips on how to monitor your students in a group lesson here; do let me know if you have any questions! You can find me on my Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/keynotesmusic01/ or our group for teachers: Group Piano Pioneers
All the best, Melanie x