115 – An Alternative to Student “Evaluations”

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Episode Summary

Putting together formal student evaluations can be very time-consuming. If you like the idea of evaluations or progress reports but struggle with the time required to craft them, I’m here to offer an alternative solution!


Items Mentioned

Writing Student Evaluations Using Evernote

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

067 – Year-End Meetings Made Easy

Why Student-Led Conferences Work So Well in the Music Studio! (Musiclovemusic.ca)

How to Plan Student-Led Conferences in Your Piano Studio! (Musiclovemusic.ca)

Student-Led Conference Worksheets (Mustlovemusic.ca)

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As you return from Spring break and gear up for the final quarter of the school year, I imagine many of you, like me, have at least one or all of the following occupying your thoughts: spring recital and awards, year-end meetings and evaluations, summer offerings, and policy changes for the next school term. There are a lot of things that hit us over the head at once this time of year!

Last week, in our first ICYMI (in case you missed it) episode, I shared a resource you might find useful for your spring recital and awards. In the coming weeks, I plan on sharing details on some of my own studio offerings and policy tweaks for the summer and next school term, and today, I want to talk a little about the year-end meeting and evaluation portion of our Spring madness.

Putting together formal student evaluations can be very time-consuming. As a proponent of never being stuck in one way of doing things and always rethinking various aspects of life and business, this is one area that has evolved a little bit every single year.

If you like the idea of evaluations but struggle with the time required to craft them, I’m here to offer one possible solution that might help streamline and simplify the process.

By the Way, I’m Amy Chaplin and this is episode 115 of The Piano Pantry Podcast.

First, if we consider the meaning of the term, when we conduct an “evaluation,” it’s about using methods and measures to judge student learning and understanding.

In my first year of teaching, I used an actual evaluation chart with items like rhythm, pitch, steady beat, etc., and then numbers 1-10, where I rated how a student was doing in each area.

The next year, I moved to a 5-point scale and included a more specific rubric with verbiage describing the rating. I also started listing student achievements like the number of pieces they had learned, the number they memorized, recitals and festivals they participated in, and so forth. At the time, I used Evernote to write these and even detailed this in a blog post on the Piano Pantry blog called Writing Student Evaluations Using Evernote.

After using that format for several years, I saw someone on Instagram post a picture of a beautiful “Piano Progress Report.” It looked like a resume with the student’s photo, a list of skills, and future goals. I put together this elaborate template of verbiage where I could just cut and paste statements into each student’s report. For example, for notes, I might have four statements:

  1. Can name and play notes between bass F and treble G
  2. Can name and play notes between bass C and treble C
  3. Can name and play notes between low F and high G
  4. Can name and play notes on the grand staff including notes with up to 3 ledger lines

So, students had all of these “can do” statements.

While I believe that was a step forward, and I put a lot of time into writing all those statements, I started asking myself what it was really accomplishing.

It was certainly an impressive report, both from the perspective of the time, attention, and detail I put into it and for highlighting many specific skills students had.

I was proud of them but also quite exhausted. After doing these for three years, I kept feeling this little inkling inside of me asking, “So what?” Was this really time well spent?

Two years ago, I started adding an element into these final meetings where not only did I briefly go over the report with families and talk about what goals we might have for the next year, but I started showing a few video clips of students playing over the past years and highlighting things in the students playing verbally such as “notice that in this video they’re using both hands but one moves a lot more than the other and in this video from the following year, the student had a lot more movement between the hands happening.

I’m not going to lie. This was a brilliant addition to this year-end meeting, so much so that I shared it with you in episode 21 of this podcast, A Simple, Effective, and Magical Element for Student Evaluations. It was even awarded a replay spot in episode 67, which I renamed Year-End Meetings Made Easy.

After three years of writing Piano Progress Reports in Canva, I was ready to rethink that aspect of year-end meetings for this school year. The videos will stay, but my big question was: Why am I talking about some of these things as if it were a grade card at a point in the year when there’s no chance to make an impact or for families to adjust? Around half of my students don’t take summer lessons (although that will change this coming year), and in my experience, summertime does not seem to be a time when many families can kick a better practice schedule into gear.

If you think about schools, they don’t hold parent-teacher conferences the last week of school; they hold them mid-semester, so there’s room to adjust and react to needs and goals. Duh! Why has it taken me so long to make parallels to this?!

So, here’s how I’m rethinking evaluations this year: first of all, I’m no longer using the word “evaluations,” which is why it’s in quotes in the title of this episode, because the solution I came up with removes formal written evaluations altogether. I took a step forward when I started calling them “Piano Progress Reports” a few years ago.

The lesson I learned from sharing videos with families for the past two years is that it’s much easier to verbalize a few notable skills in the moment than to sit down and write a formal report. So, I’m bringing this process to what I call a new parent check-in/observation week.

One of the reasons I always held parent evaluation meetings is that I believed in the importance of meeting face-to-face with parents at least once a year. So, the week before spring break is now designated on the studio calendar as parent check/observation week. It hits right in the middle of the longer second semester at a point when students are working on recital pieces and – at approximately 6 weeks before recital, is a good time to touch base with parents face to face.

So, what does this look like? At first, I thought I would just encourage them to drop in at the start of the lesson for a quick verbal check-in, but after more thought, I quickly realized what I really wanted was for the parent to observe a lesson live so that I could share things with them throughout the lesson. In essence, I wanted to highlight skills the student was working on while we were working on them.

It was very informal, and I didn’t even make plans ahead of time – I just tried to take the opportunity during at least 2-3 points during the lesson to verbalize things such as:

  • This recital piece is actually a pretty challenging one for Jade as her hands are moving a lot more simultaneously.
  • Erin has been struggling to use the pedal smoothly this year, but I’m definitely seeing an improvement. Legato pedaling is tricky because the foot doesn’t move at the same time as the hand (then have the student demonstrate). That might be a good time to explain to the parent what it looks like to make sure the student is placing their bench in a good position at home.
  • Dan has been coming to lessons with his theory pages completed every week, and I really appreciate that. I always assign a 1-page minimum, so they build a habit of doing it each week. Just a heads up that I tell all my students the best time to complete them is right after the lesson so they are done and ready to go for the next week and not forgotten.
  • Jack is starting to play pieces with larger intervals, meaning the hand has to move beyond its natural relaxed state to reach notes further away. We’ve been playing some games in lessons to help him recognize these new intervals more quickly which is what we’re about to do right now.

And so on and so forth…

Please know that these little interjections are quick and to the point. Once shared with the parent, I turn right back to the student and continue with the lesson.

Before they leave, I give them quick verbal reminders about the 2-week Spring Break shutdown and how many lessons there will be when they return before the recital (so the parent is aware of where the student is in their progress in preparing their piece).

There are a lot more details I could share with you about this process and questions that may arise, so I’ve created a free email template download for you available in the show notes to use when organizing your parent observation week. It answers FAQs such as:

  • Does the parent need to do anything besides attend?
  • What if they cannot stay for the whole lesson?
  • What if they’re not available at all?
  • Does the student need to prepare anything?
  • If both parents are involved in lessons, do they both need to come?
  • If they have more than one student, does the parent need to attend both lesson times?
  • Do they need to let you know whether or not they’re able to come?

You can use this text as a starting point for crafting your own plan and email to studio families.

I enjoyed this new addition to my studio so much that I’m considering doing one in early October as well.

As for the final week of the school year, when I used to do formal evaluations??? I still plan on having that be a parent meeting week, and I still plan on pulling out 2 or 3 videos to show student progress. However, I do not plan on writing formal evaluations anymore.

This year, I’m going to try an idea from Rosemarie Penner at Must Love Music about conducting student-led conferences. In these parent conferences, the student and teacher work together for a couple of weeks leading up to the meeting to determine a couple of items for the student to teach the parent on the piano. Rosemarie has a resource I downloaded and am going to use to help me walk through the process this year. We’ll see where it goes from there! I love trying new things!

Besides the student-parent teaching moment and the video highlights, I’m sure we will also chat about goals and plans for the coming year.

If you’ve never had a designated time to meet with parents, I strongly encourage you to consider doing so at least once a year. I’ve always found it to be a rewarding time all around.

Thanks for being here everyone and showing up week after week! As usual you can find everything mentioned in todays episode along with a full transcript at PianoPantry.com/podcast/episode115.

I would love to hear how what your year-end meetings with families looks like and if you’ve ever run parent observation weeks. Be sure and connect with me on Facebook at Piano Pantry and on Instagram at Piano Pantry Amy.

If you want to connect with me via email visit PianoPantry.com/subscribe. If you’re free tomorrow, Wednesday, April 3, 2024, I’ll be hosting our free monthly power-hour where you can log in with a group of teachers on Zoom and be accountable to stay on task and get some work done whether that’s writing emails, planning lessons, practicing piano, or preparing taxes last minute. Been there, done that! LOL

Grab the link to sign up for that in the show notes as well. I hope to see you there!