Rethinking Practice Charts

At the urging of a couple of colleagues in the music department, I started requiring practice charts of my students a couple of years ago. My kids turned in the charts with few problems, but there was definitely some grumbling on their part. I had insisted on doing practice charts the same way that I’d done them as a student…practice x hours per week to get full credit. All the charts required were for the students to write down the total minutes practiced each day, and a parent signature.

Probably not the worst thing you could do, but not the best either. Students could just play a few things mindlessly, not necessarily working on anything specific. Or, parents could just sign off on the chart without really checking that their student had done the work. The kids were basically just checking a box and not getting any value out of the practicing.

I decided to change it up this year. Practice charts are still required, but not any specific amount of time. My kids now just have to fill out a certain number of practice reflections each semester for full credit. They’re required to set a goal for their practice session, explain how they worked toward said goal, explain what they need to work on in the future, and tell me what specific help they would like from me to achieve their future goals. Basically, they have to think meaningfully about their practicing and approach it with a specific purpose.

I set up a Google Form on our class website for the kids to submit their reflections. This new approach has already yielded positive results. Instead of kids saying “I played for 30 minutes”, I’m getting responses like:

  • I really need to work on Hercules Vs. the Hydra with articulations and rhythms. I probably also need to do tuning more often with my flute.
  • I worked on posture position and air flow.
  • I wanted to improve my tone on some of the higher notes.
  • I wanted to improve my dynamics.

Even better from my point of view, the reflections give me a better understanding of what my students want to accomplish. With large classes, sometimes individual needs can fall by the wayside. Not the case here, since now I’ve got a written record of my students’ musical goals, and can incorporate those into class on a daily basis.

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The Trombonist's Mouthpiece by Joe Guarr is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License