Pedagogy Welcome

Practice (With Feedback) Makes Improvement

I’m sure you’ve heard the old adage, “Practice makes perfect.”  While it rolls nicely off the tongue, it is not completely true.  I learned this when I had to take piano lessons in college as a music major.  For the 10 years prior to my matriculation into the university, I had played piano by ear and by self-teaching.  Don’t get me wrong, I could read the notes on the page, I just didn’t like to play them.  I also didn’t like the hand positions and fingerings that were provided in those student practice books, so I didn’t do them.  I played what I wanted how I wanted.  For the most part, I still do.  All of that practice didn’t make perfect because I continued to practice the wrong things the wrong way over and over.  There’s no doubt that the hours I spent playing all those songs helped me improve on those pieces (Piano Man still flows as easily as it ever did).  But my playing overall could have been better if I had received regular feedback from a qualified instructor.  My first lesson experience in college was very trying because of it. 

As you prepare practice opportunities for your students, plan for feedback.  Author Marianne Stenger shares the following tips regarding feedback:

  1. Be as specific as possible.  Vague feedback yields little.  Be specific, so that students know where they are doing well, where they are not doing well, and what they can do to improve. 
  2. Provide feedback as soon as possible.  The shorter the time between activity and impact the greater the opportunity to improve practice.  Real-time feedback, while difficult, reaps great rewards.  
  3. Address advancement toward a goal. Feedback should be clearly linked to the specific learning objective.  Don’t be ambiguous.  Let students know how close they are to hitting the target.  
  4. Present feedback carefully.  Know your students, and use your knowledge of their motivators and demeanor to your advantage.  Make sure your students know that you are truly interested in helping them become better. 
  5. Involve learners in the process.  Peer review and self-reflection can be a natural part of the feedback loop.  In many situations, peer review and self-reflection can be even more powerful than teacher feedback.  Build a system that maximizes them. 

Think about ways that you can incorporate more practice and more feedback into your classroom next week.  You and your students will be glad you did!

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