Musical Notes from a small island blog 59 – What is the difference between a good and an outstanding teacher?

It is my privilege to have observed hundreds of music teachers and I always learn a great deal that then informs my own teaching.  I am required to grade colleagues and the margin between a good teacher and a outstanding teacher is always an interesting one; not least for my colleagues !

In my Blog 53 I referred to the work of Professor John Hattie and his research into effective teaching.  He has compiled what he terms a ‘table of effect sizes’ and Feedback is top of the table.  Feedback to a student demands different levels of assessment; whether it is the teacher listening to and correcting the student ( level 1 ); the student being guided how to practice to avoid errors ( level 2 ); the student learning how to self assess away from the lesson and thereby develop self confidence ( level 3); and the vital stage of adding the ‘music’ to the performance ( level 4 ).

I have considered each of these areas and found practical examples of colleagues using them to ‘outstanding’ effect in their teaching.

3 Feedback Questions

1. Where Am I Going?     Discuss with the student what they want to achieve and write it down in a practice diary.

2. How Am I Going?   Return to the agreed objectives on a regular basis.  The simple fact that the student agreed them with you makes them much more personal and therefore achievable.

3. Where To Next?    As the objectives are met there is an ongoing discussion about the the future and what comes next.

The value of the feedback questions was beautifully illustrated by a colleague teaching guitar to secondary age pupils.  He discussed with each of them what they wanted to achieve and then constantly referred back to the objectives they had agreed together.  It became very obvious that his students were highly motivated to achieve these targets.  This had a marked impact on their practice away from the lesson.

The Focus Of Feedback – The 4 Levels  The important thing about these levels is that there is no hierarchy.  Each level is valuable and the outstanding teacher will not only know this but will use each of the levels appropriately and effectively.

1. Correct or incorrect.  The student is corrected when errors are made.  The skill of the teacher is to ensure that the student is motivated by the corrections and not disheartened.  Continually pointing out errors is never the best approach.

Colleagues working with small groups of students can use pupil assessment as a powerful technique. Within a group lesson it is important to have the students playing together but also to be able to hear each student on their own.  The challenge is always what to do with the other students whilst one is playing.  the outstanding teacher will be able to involve the other students; perhaps by asking them to look out for technical issues as they observe their peer; perhaps by being asked to listen for particular elements such as dynamics or phrasing; or perhaps by being allowed to play simple accompanying parts – drones or rhythmic ostinati.

2. Process.  The student is guided as to how they can correct errors.  The learning of scales is always a subject of discussion amongst teachers and the outstanding teacher will always find a way to make the scale relevant to the student.  How to practise a scale is also something that the outstanding teacher gives a great deal of thought to.

It is a rare student who likes practising scales and therefore they can have a disproportionate number of errors. Long notes will develop control and sound quality.   Playing from the root note and then adding one note at a time can really help the student who struggles to play the entire scale.  Returning to the root note after every other note of the scale will develop concentration and intervals.  The outstanding teacher will know many different ways of practising scales and will find the most appropriate way to suit their students.

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.  The aural training demanded in continual self assessment is very beneficial.  This is where I.T. can be very helpful.  Recording and videoing students is of course a very sensitive issue and full awareness and permissions must be obtained.  The benefits of a student hearing and observing themselves can be enormous.

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.  For many of us this is at the heart of musical study.  This develops the ability to know a piece so well that the technical issues of creating the sounds become second nature and the student can concentrate on the musical ‘soul’.

It is tempting to think that only advanced students have the technical ability to be able to get to the heart of a piece.  Outstanding teachers understand that less able students can and should be trained to think about the meaning of the music and how they would like to play it.  This then becomes second nature for their future study.


About jeremydibbmusic

Jeremy Dibb MA Bmus (hons) A.R.C.M. P.G.C.E. Composer, music educationalist and author of 'Get The Singing Habit'
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