3 Ways to Provide Better Feedback This Year

3 Ways to Provide Better Feedback This Year

Resolutions are easy to make and hard to keep. Instead of resolving to clean out the large instrument closet (which we all know isn’t happening), choose a resolution that you can implement in your classroom incrementally every day.

Communication in December

Preparing for the holiday concert didn’t leave a lot of room for providing thoughtful feedback. The goal was to get your students sounding their very best, often on a short schedule. Educators have to handle so many details to prepare for the concert that we often don’t have time to offer feedback beyond “Don’t miss that F# again!” or “Showing up to the concert with white socks under your black pants is not acceptable!”

Why not leverage the resolution season to improve your teaching? You can by resolving to give your students better feedback in the new year.

1. Adjust Your Vocabulary

Giving technical feedback is easy. Music educators rarely struggle with adjusting sloppy bow holds, reminding students to tighten up their corners, or coaching students to follow the written notation. But how much feedback did you give in 2016 about making beautiful music? Did you help your students become better artists, or merely better craftsmen?

Instead of making technical recommendations about the physical mechanics, include language that helps students make beautiful music. Of course, this isn’t as simple as it sounds. If we change “tighten your corners” to “give me your best sound,” we’ve removed the instructional language entirely! Instead, tie the instructional language to a musical goal. Try phrases like “take a deep breath from your diaphragm and you’ll be able to make that phrase more easily” or “firmer corners will help your high range have that ‘maestoso’ tone color.”

You can provide technical feedback and musical feedback simultaneously when you choose your words carefully.

2.Improve Your Conducting

What about the feedback you give to students while they play? Your conducting is a form of feedback all on its own. Becoming a better conductor is a great way improve the feedback you give to your students.

Conducting is too big a topic to address properly in this blog post. Luckily the SmartMusic blog has had some great guest authors on this topic. For incremental improvement over the course of the semester, look at Tyler Austin’s conducting “etudes,” and for a longer look at conducting, try Dr. Barry Kraus’ article.

And stay tuned for additional conducting tips coming in future posts!

3.Use SmartMusic to Provide Feedback

Giving better feedback in the classroom is great, but students also need feedback when they practice. They need to practice the right material and practice it correctly so as not to imprint mistakes or bad habits. You also need to make sure they make progress as they practice.

SmartMusic can help. The red notes and green notes help students improve their reading abilities. More importantly, you get to hear students when they practice. Connecting you to your students means you are more efficient in rehearsal and students get the best musical education possible.

Because the new SmartMusic is web-based, there’s no program for students to download, and nearly any student with a web-enabled device can participate. In addition, the new SmartMusic allows you to set your own scoring and assessment parameters and give comments directly to students based on their assignment submissions. Rather than just evaluating red notes and green notes, you can listen to your students and offer feedback about their dynamics, articulation, tone quality, and phrasing. You can also include these custom parameters in your assessment grading scale.

One challenge educators have had in the past is getting every student on SmartMusic. The new SmartMusic not only works on the most popular devices (including Chromebooks and iPads) it also introduces a free version. Learn how you can use the new SmartMusic with more of your students by signing up for a free trial.

Student Success

When you provide better feedback to your students they receive the information they need to succeed. Including language about artistry, improving your conducting, and using the best feedback tools will help you and your students start the new year right!

In addition to his role as MakeMusic’s social media manager, Ryan Sargent is an active teacher and performer in the Denver-Boulder metropolitan area, and a member of the music faculty at the Metropolitan State University of Denver. A graduate of Baylor University, he has studied jazz composition and improvisation with Art Lande and Alex Parker.

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