The Practice Experiment
There is ONLY one way to know what your students are doing at home...
I spent 1 week watching my students practice and it was one of the most profound things I have ever done in my teaching. I believe that if more teachers did this then we would be able to help more students reach higher levels in their violin playing.
In this video and correlating blog post I explain how I organized a week of watching my students practice and why this was such a powerful use of time.
How I organized this:
The week prior to watching students practice I had told them to expect something very different at their coming lesson but I did not say what it was since I wanted to observe them in their "natural practice state" as much as possible. I was hoping to avoid students preparing for this observation since it would not be an honest representation of their work and defeat the purpose.
On the following week I brought my computer to my teaching studio and reorganized the space so I could sit at my desk. After explaining that I would be observing them practice, I was silent and typed up a personalized report for each student while they showed me how they practiced. We reviewed the report together at the next week of lessons and went over suggested modifications to their practice routine.
It was a heart-felt but shocking and humbling week.
I was touched by the loving interactions between parent and child but I was truly shocked that only about 20% of my students actually followed their practice notes (I create a personalized lesson sheet for each student to help us stay organized). Also, I was humbled that after 20 years of teaching and priding myself on being highly organized that so many of my students were not clear on:
1- What was actually expected of them.
2- How to execute the specific teaching points by themselves even after covering in repetition at their lesson
I also have always assumed that if something was not accurate then the student would isolate the issue and create a practice spot out of it. I was wrong on this because over and over again I heard my students plow over obvious inaccuracies in their interpretation
((((((Deep Exhale from Me))))
The other part of this humbling lesson is that I had first heard about doing this years ago but delayed implementing it. I regret this because had I done this in past years my students would absolutely be having a higher success outcome with their efforts. I will know at the end of April if I am accepted into nursing school. If so then this will be my final 9 weeks of violin teaching from a 20+ year career. Better late than never but hopefully by passing this along here you can carry the torch and watch your students practice to best serve them and nurture their gifts.
The following is an extreme statement but I think the sentiment will be heard:
It DOES NOT MATTER how great of a teacher you are and it DOES NOT MATTER how talented your student is. IT MATTERS how they interpret the lesson information and practice in their own space and time. The only way to check in on this is to actually watch them practice.
We want to hear from you and know how you help your students reach their highest potential.
Please add to this conversation by sharing a comment on the blog or youtube videos.
4/9/2017 12:49:20 pm
I really like this article. In my lessons I sometimes have my students play a piece for me that they want to show me. I love getting to watch them play something they really like.
4/9/2017 01:33:26 pm
Hello Teresa - Thanks so much for the comment and for sharing your teaching ideas. I am confident this will be of value to others. Also, I love that you embodied the philosophy THROUGH LIMITATION COMES INNOVATION. You shared a great example of the creative discoveries that came thru a limiting experience - a wonderful reminder to all of us who inevitably will experience the ups and downs of life. Thank you
4/9/2017 07:53:38 pm
So good to read this! I just experienced this very same shock just a few weeks ago with my students and their practice journals. I take very organized detailed notes for what they need to practice that week, in what order they ought to play things, and how many times it should be played. But a few weeks ago I was really on a kick with asking my kids, " Does this help you?" regarding all different areas of our lessons and their playing. So I asked, " Are my notes helpful to you? Do you look at this and follow it during your practices?" and sure enough my sweet 7 yr old boy gave a strong, "No. I don't open that book. I only really ever play from my Suzuki book." .... well Ok! Thank you for being honest, young man! I went on to discover that many on my students to just that too. So I've started using big oversize sticky notes directly in the Suzuki book. I think it's been working much better!
4/10/2017 08:42:33 pm
Hi Mercedes, Thank you so much for the comment. It sounds like we came to the same conclusion/reality about lesson notes as well as we both keep detailed notes for ourselves. I appreciate your suggestion to put sticky notes directly into the book. I would love to hear how this works out for you. Thanks so much! Heather
Great discussion and great ideas! I really appreciate your sharing this as I try to continually improve and refine my own teaching.I've been using practice notebooks for the past few years too but am beginning to wonder if that is actually very useful. I know it is for the parents who oversee their practicing very directly, but the others, probably not so much.
9/7/2017 12:48:54 pm
Thanks so much for your comment Bonny! Best wishes, Heather
4/10/2017 06:59:24 pm
This is amazing! I am excited to implement it in my studio! We have a recital coming up and it would be very beneficial for all of my students to do this. You really are amazing! Sometimes I record my lessons for the purpose of critiquing MYSELF. I listen to the recordings and how I respond to the student's playing and it is EYE OPENING. I am able to improve my teaching just by changing how I would answer to their playing. I don't do it for all my students or all the time but even one lesson is beneficial to help me improve on my end of the stick! :)
4/10/2017 08:43:56 pm
Hello Paige, Thanks for such a great comment and suggestion. I have always wanted to tape myself teaching but always been a bit shy to do this. It sounds like a valuable tool and I hope others reading this hear are able to take advantage of this suggestion. With appreciation, Heather
Mary Beth Akers
4/16/2017 05:44:26 pm
I very much appreciate this very helpful article. We think that we are critiquing ourselves by observing our students' progress, but we don't always know how to improve the outcomes we see from week to week. This is surely one the best, most effective, and most efficient ways to discover the root of many of our disappointments. As in physical health, we need to know the cause before we can find an effective cure.
4/17/2017 07:37:17 am
Hello - Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment. I love how you compare this to health and agree with this analogy. If you do this (or something similar) in your studio please let us know how it goes. Thanks, Heather
4/17/2017 07:51:43 am
This is a fantastic idea. I've only been teaching violin for a year, and I know I have so much more to learn about being an effective teacher. I know that home practice is important, but I fall into the same trap of hoping my students are reading (and understanding!) my notes, but not really knowing if they do or not. I'll definitely implement this … as soon as I work up the courage as I'll probably learn some very humbling things about myself, haha.
4/29/2017 07:32:45 pm
Hello Betsy, Sorry it took me so long to reply. I really appreciate your thoughtful idea and if you are inclined wanted to ask if you would mind taking a photo and writing a few sentences to share this as a blog post. Thanks and I wish you continued success in your teaching! Heather
4/29/2017 04:36:01 pm
What a brilliant idea...we have only three weeks of lessons left for this year, but that is something I am going to have to implement next year!
4/29/2017 07:34:04 pm
Hi Sarah - Thanks so much for taking a moment to comment. I would suggest doing at the beginning of the year so there can be adequate time for follow-up. I did it during a time period when we are preparing for recitals and wish I had started the school year with this for more room to follow thru with suggestions. Please let us know how it goes. Thanks and best wishes Heather
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Hi! It's me, Heather. I absolutely love working on the Music for Young Violinists project and all the many facets: blogging, website, music, teaching materials, freebies, videos, newsletter and giveaway contests. The best part is connecting with you so feel free to drop me a line. You can learn more about me on the "ABOUT" page. Thanks!