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Want to know how to get your students to practise?

Play some video games

My wife Emma is an English teacher and she asked her class of 15 year olds about how they played video games and what they did to improve.  The answers were fascinating. There was general agreement that video games set attainable targets at each level that the players strive for and they constantly raise the bar but only by a sensible and achievable level. A stimulating and even exciting learning environment is created and, guess what, they wanted to practise to improve.

Those of you familiar with the work of Professor John Hattie will recognise his comparison of effective learning with video games.  His research focuses on what makes effective teaching and he has created what he calls his 'table of effect sizes' in relation to what has the greatest influence on student learning?  Top of the list is Feedback.

He identifies 3 feedback questions and 4 levels of feedback focus and I have tried to explore how each of these might be applied to instrumental/vocal instruction and practise.  Let us assume that we are discussing an individual music lesson with a student and a teacher working on the performance of a piece of music.

3 Feedback Questions

1. Where Am I Going?   The end result will be the performance to the highest possible standard and the teacher will be modelling the final result to the student.

2. How Am I Going?   A practically based lesson will be a constant exchange between student and teacher in which modelling and guidance will take the student ever closer to the 'ideal' performance.

3. Where To Next?  Just as in the video game analogy the teacher will recommend the next piece to be studied that will challenge and stimulate the student without raising the bar too high.

The Focus Of Feedback - The 4 Levels

1. Correct or incorrect.  The student is corrected when errors are made.

2. Process.  The student is guided as to how they can correct errors.  Perhaps by demonstration of a practise technique that will help them overcome a challenging part of the piece being studied.

3. Self evaluation and self confidence.  The student is shown how to assess their own performance and have the confidence to do so away from the lesson.

4. Personal.  The student is encouraged to make the performance their own and consider the subjective aspect of performance i.e. the mood and feeling that is required in addition to simply playing the right notes and observing the musical elements.

How often do we get as far as level 2 but no further in our teaching?  How often do we consider levels 3 and 4 to be relevant only to more advanced students and that simply 'playing the right notes' is as much as beginners can manage?  When I reflect on my own teaching these 3 Feedback Questions and 4 Levels Of Focus really help me to understand what I need to do in order to be an effective teacher and to ensure that the feedback to my students is the best it can be.

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