GUEST BLOG: "The Fine Line of Assigning Value," by Emily Pearce
Date: March 18, 2014
THE FINE LINE OF ASSIGNING VALUE, by Emily Pearce
We assess our singers. Whether our choirs are community or school-based, we assess our singers performance and effort, make a judgement, and provide feedback.
There is a fine line that exists, and your stance in relation to that line depends on your teaching philosophy and the singer in question. On one side, the singer needs to be rewarded for their effort, be accepted for where they're at, and get positive feedback that will boost their sense of self-efficacy. On the other side, they need to recognize the actual merit of the technical skills performed, know how they stand in relation to the expectation, and understand what they can do to improve. For some, motivation comes from knowing that they need to "pull their socks up," while others may feel deflated or unappreciated if they don't get validation of their effort. However, if you only say positive things, those of who need the critique may stop trying, or lose respect for you if they think your standards are low.
Interestingly, when in the role of student, I am of the second group: I need the positive reinforcement, the "you can do it" mentality, and a lot of sandwiching (positive comment - criticism - positive comment). I am socially motivated, and will work as hard as I can to feel valued or validated by others. Criticism or solely negative comments put me in shut down mode. That being said, learning to appreciate criticism has been instrumental in my musical development. Which is why, when in the role of teacher, I feel it necessary to be honest with my singers about how their performance actually measures up.
I believe it comes down to knowing your students and your teaching philosophy. Do you value high performance standards? Do you value participation and effort? Do you believe that all students should be assessed on the same scale, or do you different expectations for different singers? How do your values compare with the needs of your students?
Knowing yourself is the first step, and knowing them is the second, but don't be afraid of opening this conversation up to your singers: they should learn to identify and communicate their own needs as well. Assessment should not be a secretive process, it should be embraced by all as a fundamental requirement for improvement. If you negotiate and have dialogue around values and expectations, then everyone can be on the same page and move forward as a unified team... which makes the line a little thicker.