Thursday, February 4, 2016

Peer Evaluation in Group Instruction - My Experience

Teaching piano has traditionally involved a single student with a teacher. For teachers venturing into the realm of group instruction, the class can evolve into a series of private lessons taught in spurts as they move about the room. These situations are missing the dynamic opportunities that come with the group setting.

Recently, I have been thinking about ways to actively engage students in learning in the group setting. I decided to experiment with peer evaluations and have been pleased with the results. I immediately realized that students were more aware of their own errors after evaluating others and began to listen to their own performances much more closely.

Students in Class Piano IV are currently preparing one of the following pieces -- L'Arabesque, Op. 100, No. 2 (Johann Friedrich Burgmuller) or Pleasant Morning (Jean Louis Streabbog) -- for performance in their upcoming proficiency exam. Since everyone is now familiar with the pieces, I decided this would be the perfect opportunity for peer evaluation. What I wasn't certain about was the best method to collect student responses. My goal was to gather helpful information for each student performer while assuring the evaluator felt comfortable speaking honestly about the performance.

My solution was to use an online survey created in Survey Monkey. Students listened to each performance and rated the performer in the areas of preparation, note accuracy, rhythmic accuracy, and phrasing. Space for additional comments was also provided for each area of review. Since each station of the piano lab is equipped with a desktop computer, students were easily able to rank their peers immediately after the performance. The online survey assured that each reviewer could offer commentary anonymously and without fear of offending their friend.

The results were insightful and clearly indicated that the students were listening thoughtfully and offered needed feedback. I repeated the process the following week in a master class setting. Students performed before the group once again (because they can never get too many opportunities to play the piece in front of others). This time, their peers were asked to provide oral feedback about each performance; comments were to include praise as well as suggestions of aspects of the performance that needed further attention. Students pointed out errors in pitch and rhythm, of course. I was very pleased to hear them mention phrase shape and articulation as well. After the master class, I asked students to share with me how they felt about offering oral feedback. They admitted that they would have been very hesitant to offer constructive criticism if they had not participated in the online survey first. Since the survey offered various areas to critique, the students realized how carefully they needed to listen to a performance in order to offer helpful commentary.

Now that I have seen the benefits of peer evaluation, I plan to incorporate it into all levels of group instruction that I teach. Its value is immense and the rewards are evident in the evaluator's own performance quickly.