Assessing Understanding

Don’t assume that just because you’ve taught something to your student that they understood it and have retained it. Even if they can play a piece which uses that concept, they still might not have actually understood it. You need to check in regularly on your student’s understanding of their level’s core concepts. 

Some easy ways to assess your student’s understanding of a concept include:

  • Playing a game that uses it
  • Asking them to explain it to you
  • Getting them to teach it to their parents, friends or siblings
  • Giving them a piece to learn independently at home
  • Composing a piece together and having them notate it

If you’re unsure of which concepts your student should be familiar with at their stage, you can refer to the curriculum document you started to develop in the Planning module. 

Filling in the Gaps

Whenever you find a gap in your student’s knowledge or understanding, you need to make a plan to address it. 

Sometimes this is as simple as doing some review games for several lessons and then making a note to follow up a month or so later to ensure it was retained. Other times, it’s not quite that easy.

If a student has a more fundamental misunderstanding, or you sense the real issue is further back than the issue at hand, you’ll need to do a little more digging. 

For instance, your student may be getting the names of all ledger line notes wrong. But the problem isn’t that they don’t know the ledger line notes – it’s that they can’t seem to work them out from notes on the staff which they do know. That suggests that they’ve misunderstood the staff in general or, at the very least, the way ledger lines work.

This is where reaching out to your support network is crucial. Other teachers can help you troubleshoot the issue you’re having with a student and get to the root cause. That’s another reason why being a member of VMT is so fantastic! You can ask about any student issue you’re having in the forums and you know you’ll never be judged, criticised or talked down to.

Finding the Mastery-Boredom Balance

We need to provide enough pieces at and below a student’s level to allow them to feel mastery of the concepts at that stage. At the same time, we need to be careful to include enough challenge within the repertoire to motivate students to move forward.

This is one of the intricate balancing acts of teaching. Too far in either direction, either consistently too hard or too easy, and they will lose interest. 

Having a mix of levels of repertoire for your student at all times goes a long way towards achieving this balance. You’ll also need to keep your eyes open so you notice when your student begins to lose momentum and you can change gears as needed.

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