Do your piano students actually understand what you’ve just told them?
This is a big question to ask yourself. We give so much information in such a short period of time. So much of what we say is important… and so much of what we say is to 7 year olds (who may or may not also be thinking about macaroni and cheese… or centipedes).
So how are we to know if that “nod of the head” is actually a legitimate indication of understanding. Does the word “yes” actually mean yes? Was that correct answer actually correct or a lucky guess? Check out our 8 Ways to Check for Understanding below to find out!
8 Ways to Check for Piano Student Understanding
1. Use a five-finger system: Instead of simply asking “Make sense?”, ask your student to rate their understanding on a scale of 1-5 using their fingers. Once this is introduced you can simply say “One to five?”. This requires your student to actively analyze their thoughts: “Is this easy for me? Are there still some questions I might have? Do I not really get it at all?”. Over a rating of 4 means they likely just have one question. Under a rating of 4 means they are lost and need a new form of explanation.
2. Compare and contrast: Ask your student to compare what they’ve just learned to something they already know, either by showing it’s similarities or it’s differences. If they aren’t able to, then you likely need to delve further into the concept.
3. Switch roles: After explaining something to you student, switch roles. Have your student then re-explain the concept to you as though you were the student. You’ll gain a lot of insight into misconceptions and misunderstandings with this exercise.
4. So if I were to ___ what would happen?: Use this sentence prompt to gain a great insight into your students’ abilities to connect what they are learning with real-world scenarios.
5. Check for misconceptions: Present your student with a common misconception surrounding the concept you are learning and then ask for their opinion. Start with “Some people might think….” and then judge their understanding based on their response (if they agree or disagree and their explanation).
6. Be frequent: Avoid leaving a concept completely, but instead refer to it at least 3 times that lesson. Frequency allows you to break through any distractions that may have been happening in the moment when the concept was first introduced that could have caused confusion.
7. Hit the “Three ways”: Ask your student to represent what they’ve learned to you in the “three ways”: aural, visual and kinaesthetic. Can they tell you what they know, show you what they know and somehow manipulate objects or move their body to demonstrate the concept?
8. Play: But not the piano. Put the concept into a game-based situation. When students are “playing to win”, you get a true insight into their strengths and weaknesses surrounding the particular concept.
Effectively Gauging Understanding Saves Time
Knowing exactly where your students are when it comes to their level of understanding makes you a more efficient teacher. You avoid giving your student repertoire that is incorrectly levelled. You avoid having to re-explain concepts months down the road. You avoid having students who memorize rather than truly understand. This means that your students follow the progression of skills that you intended… and this results in faster progress and better results. So print out this list, stick it beside your piano and the next time you hear yourself asking “Do you understand?” go 8 steps further.