"You Watch Your Phraseology" has been a statement that I've thought of a lot over my career. (Btw, 2 points if you know where that quote comes from!)
A few of years ago, I was working with a young student on finger shape. I used all of the imagery I could think of, I showed him with my hand, I shaped his hand for him, and when he finally got it, I said, "Yes! Can you play like that forever?" His response, "Yeah!"
And you know what? He has!
Granted, he still needs reminders from time to time, but this one student, who struggles like all kindergartners do with their hand shape, has been more consistent than any other young student of mine.
That got me thinking - what was different? Was it the student? Was it the song we we working on? Was it what I said? Was it where he is in his studies?
After mulling over all of those questions, I decided to do a little experiment. Whenever a student and I fixed their finger shape I said, "Yes! Can you play like that forever?" That's when I realized that it was how I said what I said that made the most impact.
We all have been taught that our tone matters as much as our words, but I'm finding that kids are hearing the same phrases from every adult and they are starting to tune them out.
Here are a few of my favorites:
Rephrasing Common Statements
"Tell me." Instead of "Use your words." (This one has been HUGE! My students give clearer responses and actually think about what they're going to say.)
"Show me how you did this at home." instead of "Did you practice the way I asked you to?"
"I'm going to remind your thumb that he belongs on the keys too." instead of "Fix your hand please."
Replacing Statements with Questions
Asking questions makes us think. So naturally rewording a statement into a question will get your students more focused on what's going on rather that what you said.
"Did your eyes get lost on the keys?" instead of "Look at the music."
"Are your words confusing your fingers?" instead of "Don't stop playing when you count out loud."
Changing our wording also gives students the opportunity to think about their mistakes from an observers point of view. When we make poor word choices in our corrections, we make our students feel like they're failing or being attacked for making a mistake. But when we take the time to address the mistake as a learning opportunity, students are able to see that they are in control of the situation. They are empowered to make the necessary mistakes of learning and to take initiative to fix those mistakes.
Sometimes I blame their fingers for the mistake to help my students save face and give them the chance to get over the embarrassment of having a train wreck moment. I'll hold up the offending finger and have a candid conversation that goes something like this....
"What are you doing, finger 2? It's not your turn to play there. That's not fair to finger 4 who was supposed to play. Do you promise to let finger 4 have it's turn and to only play when it's actually your turn?" I then have the student tell me if their finger agreed and they happily play the passage again without finger 2 getting in finger 4's way. 🙂
Now, there have been some unsuccessful phrases, but sometimes rewording what we say reaches our students where they are in the moment and makes for a happier and more productive lesson.
What interesting phrases have you caught yourself saying?
Do you have a different way of correcting your students? I'd love to know!