Saturday, January 21, 2017

In Their Words #3: What I'm Working On

As a part of my reflection and growth as a teacher, I regularly ask students for feedback.  This series documents some of the more profound statements that students have made and my reflections on their thoughts.

It's powerful to ask for students' feedback, but if nothing ever happens after that, is it really worth it?  As a part of this exercise, my students wrote a bit about what would make class even better.  I was pleased to see that I got very few responses like, "Let us do our homework in class so we never have to take anything home," and many more that were things that were actually feasible.  As a result, I wanted to choose a few things to focus on improving in my teaching this semester.

There were three overarching themes that became my action points for improvement:

"I think it would be better if she played string instruments with each individual instrument."

I enjoy playing with and modeling for my students, but usually I end up playing on piano (because I can play more than one part at once) or singing (because I can move around the room and have my hands free).  This made me realize, though, that some learning is lost when students aren't seeing and hearing an exact model of what they are playing.  I have been much more conscious of pulling out a violin or cello to play with them lately.  I even got some nice reinforcement when a student wrote to me, saying that she has understood the parts much better since I've been playing on string instruments!

"Spend equal time with all instruments. She spends most time on Violins and some time on cello/bass/viola."

Okay, true story, I tend to spend more time in rehearsal with sections that either 1) have more tricky parts or 2) are struggling more with their music.  Often, that ends up being my violins.  This comment made me reflect on how I am paying attention to each section in rehearsal and giving them something to work on, even if it is basic notes for my violins and dynamics or bow distribution for my other sections.  I have also tried to be more explicit with my students about my thinking during rehearsal - saying something like, "Cellos, you have whole notes here, so do we need to go over this?  No?  Okay, I'm going to work with violins for a minute."  Even if it does not change the fact that I am working with one section more, hopefully it will help my other groups feel less neglected if I check in with them.

"I think that it would be great if she had something some of the class could do while she's working on specific parts with a different section."

Many of the comments along these lines suggested having a computer program or activity that students could work on while I am working with another section.  Music teachers - if you have ever used anything like this, I would love to hear about it!  My struggle is that, often, I am only working with a specific section for 1-2 minutes at a time, and the transition between different activities would take too long.  What I can do, however, is make sure I give students something to do such as pizz, finger, air-bow, or look ahead to a different section.  I have tried to be more conscious of this in our first few weeks back!

Feedback is important, and I want to be continually improving on my craft.  None of these suggestions were brand new ideas to me - rather, they were reminders of strategies that I can use during class.  Hearing what the students want has helped focus my planning and thinking during class.  And as I have been making changes, I have been explicit with the students about hearing what they said in their surveys and trying to put some of that into action.  I want them to see that they have a voice in our class!  This process has been fantastic with my evaluator, as well - our conversation is so much richer when the voices of the students help drive the improvement process!  I am not advocating for students completely driving the class, but as the main consumers of our teaching, don't they deserve the chance to express their thoughts and have them heard?

I am not perfect, and am always looking for areas to improve in my teaching.  My students helped me see how to better meet their needs, and their requests have become my goals for this semester.  Do your students get the opportunity to express what would help them be more successful in class?  Do you act on their feedback?


  1. Great reflection Aubrey! I love the fact that you use student feedback to help you improve and that by doing so, you model a growth mindset for them. If they see you reacting positively to feedback, it teaches them to do the same. Excellent!

    The overarching theme for your action points seems to be "differentiation", something I think most teachers struggle with to some degree. In your case, with so many instruments to teach, it must be much harder - I'm impressed that you manage to pull it off!

  2. Aubrey - that is so brave to seek honest feedback from students. This is where you can have some real reflection and make adjustments for your students. This is such a great practice!

  3. You are so right--we need to seek feedback from our students. I love your attentiveness and receptivity to students' needs. Sign of a creative teacher! (And the format with their comments is just plain cool.)