Questions to Ask Students

At our local music teachers association meeting this morning we watched a webinar by Dr. Barbara Fast and Dr. Andrea McAlister on Overcoming the Brain’s Negativity Bias: Empowering Students Through Positive Engaging Language. From Dr. Fast’s segment, I especially appreciated the specific questions she suggested using during a piano lesson (some she gleaned from a masterclass with Leon Fleisher):

  • What did you focus on this week?
  • What did you practice the most?
  • Can you tell me how you succeeded in what you were trying to achieve?
  • To what extent did you achieve what you wanted?
  • What questions remain for you?
  • Any places that you wish were easier to play?

I love these open-ended questions and hope to employ some of them with my students this week!

Dr. McAlister shared many helpful definitions as she discussed the importance of language. These are the top three memorable points she made that I hope to keep in mind as I teach:

  • Listen with the intent to praise, not criticize.
  • View those sitting on our piano benches not just as students, but as musicians.
  • Encourage curiosity (“the desire to know”).

I’m so grateful for the inspiration and fellowship of our local association meetings and teachers. If you’re not part of such a group, I encourage you to check out the MTNA website and get plugged in with an association in your area!

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4 thoughts on “Questions to Ask Students

  1. I love the reminder of listening with the intent to praise, not criticize. It’s tempting to just focus on what students need to fix, but I think we all respond better when feedback is cushioned with praise. I remember the contrast between my college teacher who told me “You’re doing it all wrong” vs. the next teacher I had who offered encouragement along with correction. My confidence and skills grew more with the “less credentialed” teacher because she recognized my efforts despite my imperfections.

  2. Thanks, Heidi! That was such a great reminder for me, too. It’s so easy to get in the mindset of listening to correct problems instead of looking for opportunities to affirm them.

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