021 – A Simple, Effective, and Magical Element for Student Evaluations

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Episode Summary

Adding a video element to your end-of-year evaluations can be a simple, effective, and wow-inducing approach to displaying student progress.


Items Mentioned

Crafting Year-End Parent/Student Questionnaires (PianoPantry.com)

Writing Student Evaluations Using Evernote (PianoPantry.com)


Do you take time each year to do any kind of evaluation with your piano studio families? Formal parent/teacher meetings are one of those things that’s easy to overlook or dismiss either because they’re not required like in a school system or because meeting one-on-one can feel like an unnecessary and overwhelming task.

I’m here here today to tell you today it doesn’t have to be that way. Over the past 10 years, while my overall process for end-of-year evaluations has evolved, there’s one particular element that has bubbled to the surface in the past couple of years that is hands down the best and easiest part. In fact, it’s so good, this year I was telling myself to consider making it the focus from now on and throwing the rest out. It really is so easy and truly almost magical.

Welcome to the Piano Pantry Podcast where together we live life as independent music teachers. I’m your host, Amy Chaplin. In this space we talk about all things teacher-life related from organizing our studios to getting dinner on the table and all that comes between. You’ll get loads of easily-actionable tips on organizing and managing your studio while balancing life and home.

Evaluation meeting, end-of-year meeting, parent-teacher conference – choose your term. It’s the same idea.

The main goal is to get some formal and preferably face-to-face sit-down time with your studio parents and students. With parents dropping students off to lessons, it can be easy for the entire school year to pass by and never chat with that parent face to face. I always find these meeting times to be really encouraging and rejuvenating for all involved.

There can be two overarching goals for this time: a time of looking back – that is, measuring progress and highlighting achievements the student has made and looking forward – what are some goals or areas of grown to look toward.

This process does not have to be all up to you. I always send a questionnaire to studio families requesting they are returned prior to our meeting so I have a chance to look at their feedback. In the past I had printable forms for them to fill out – one for the parent and one for students. These are available for a free download on Piano Pantry which I’ll link to in the show notes. I now do this in Google Forms and just have one form. Some questions are directed at the parents and some to students. Be sure and make it clear at the start of the form that both should be present together to fill it out.

Every year I ask different questions based on the kind of feedback I’m looking for and will admit the form has gotten shorter over the years. My main goal is for them to take a moment to consider their own progress and efforts – what worked well and what didn’t.

My portion has also evolved over the years. I used to do a quite in-depth assessment actually assigning scores to how the student was doing in multiple categories such as rhythm, sight-reading, and so-forth. What I’ve learned over the years is that for the majority of families, it means nothing. Not that they don’t care – it’s just that me assigning a score to how well the student is performing is really unnecessary extra information. Really, all they want to know is overall, how is my student doing, and what are some things to consider as we move forward.

If you want to read more about this evaluation form I used for years and organized using Evernote, I’ll pop a link in the show notes to that form as well as the parent student questionnaire.

We’re inching closer to the big reveal about the whole “magical” part, I promise.

About 5 years ago, I started using Google Photos for all my media as opposed to Apple Photos. While they have a lot of the same functionalities, I just found Google Photos more visually appealing and user friendly. In recent years I’ve also started being more proactive in recording my students playing pieces once they’ve mastered them. We don’t capture all of them, but I try to get a few recordings each year.

Most especially, I started recording students performing their recital piece at our final evaluation meeting time. The last week of our school year calendar – the week prior to the recital – is our evaluation week. Students come in and the first thing I have them do is play their piece so I can record it – then I sit down with them and parents and we chat about the year, their accomplishments and some future goals.

I don’t’ know why this took me so long, but it dawned on me a couple of years ago that I should pull up old videos of the students playing to show their progress.

One of the ways I use Google Photos is to create Albums for each student. Google uses facial recognition and automatically adds photos into each students album. It’s incredibly slick and takes absolutely no work from me – well, except for videos. It doesn’t usually recognize faces in videos and I have to manually make sure the videos are put into the student’s album. It’s super easy to keep up on as every day I spend a few minutes going through any photos or videos taken that day. That’s just a good general life organization principal, really.

The great thing is this is not something that really takes any effort – it practically organizes itself throughout the year. All I have to do at the evaluation meeting is open up Google Photos and pull up the students individual photo album.

The moment I say, “Hey, I’m going to show you a video from the first year you took piano lessons.” Everyone gets excited and crowds around the screen. I’m telling you, you can immediately feel the excitement and energy from both parents and students and everyone is happy and smiling. I try to play one video for each year depending on how long they’ve been in lessons. I make sure they know from the time stamp exactly how long they had been in lessons at that point.

Remember, they had just heard their student playing the recital piece for this year and then to turn around 30 seconds later and hear them playing a pieces from 3, 4, 8, or even 10 years ago is incredibly impactful.

As they watch the video I try and point out specific things like: “look” you’re only playing with one hand at a time here or “did you hear how short that pieces was?” or “you were having a hard time keeping a steady beat here but notice how well you played in the next video with a solid pulse.”

Ugh. I am telling you, this is the stuff. Even for students who perhaps don’t make as much progress as I would have liked in a school year, you’re still going to notice something that feels like growth.

Playing back videos of student performances from months or years past is so much easier and way less work than sitting down and writing out a formal evaluation form.

That being said, I’ll admit, while I’m tempted to rely on that entirely and call it a day, I do think it’s still important for us to take the time to write out a few tangible points so when the next year’s evaluation rolls around you can look back at the goals and say things like “hey, one of my goals last year for you was to work on having a more consistent hand position – look how well you’re doing now” or, last year’s evaluation note mentioned you were struggling with scale fingerings and this year you played them like a breeze.

Sometimes solutions for things in our lives and studios don’t have to be that hard. While technology isn’t always easy, it can often create amazing solutions we would have never dreamed up even a few years ago. This is one of those ways.

If you enjoyed this episode take a minute to jump on over to apple podcasts to leave a review and rating so other teachers can find it. If you’re on social media, connect with me on Instagram at amy chaplin piano or on Facebook at Piano Pantry.

Since Google Photos was brought up in this episode, it suddenly jogged my memory that I actually used to love taking photos in high school. You know, one of those good-old film cameras? When I met my husband, he had been doing photography – in a way more professional way than me in high school and had even started shooting weddings. Once I met him, my own picture-taking fun just kind of died away to the point I almost forget how much I enjoyed it back then. Wow. That really takes me back. He’s since sold off all his equipment and that was another life for both of us. Anyway, thanks for being here, see you next week!