What kind of questions do you mostly ask in your piano lessons?
Did you know that not all questions are equal and some types have more learning power than others?
I played a game with some of my pupils this week where they had to spot every time I asked a question. It was great because it really kept me on my toes but it also highlighted that I had a problem! More on that later.
There are three types of questions we need to be aware of in our teaching. Before reading on take a couple of minutes to see if you can work out the differences between the following three groups of questions.
- Shall we try going slower?
- Shall we play this part hands separately?
- What’s the name of that note?
- Which finger should go on G?
- Did you remember the dynamics?
- What happened to the fingering in bar 5?
- When could the rallentando start?
- How does the music make you feel?
The first group are Imposter Questions. In other words they are not questions at all but are direct instructions just dressed up to appear like questions.
The second group are Skinny Questions. These are closed questions that require fixed answers in that they are either right or wrong.
The third group are Fat Questions. These are more open ended and therefore leave a bigger space for the pupil to reflect, explain and take ownership. Fat questions lead to learning.
Unfortunately in my teaching this week I caught myself asking LOTS of imposter questions – definitely a ‘could do better Sally’ moment for me! So, if you find you have asked lots of imposter questions don’t worry, we all do! It is a style of questioning that should be avoided whenever possible as, from the pupil’s point of view, imposter questions restrict learning.
Skinny questions have a place in lessons as they give facts and answer questions. They are usually quick to answer and because control remains with the questioner (you the teacher) they feel safe and the lesson keeps moving.
Here are a few examples:
- Definitions – “What does crescendo mean?”
- Memorising – “What’s the name of that note?”
- Repeating – “F sharp is the key signature of G major. What is the key signature of G major?”
Fat questions are the really interesting and useful ones though. They require longer answers and encourage the pupil to think and reflect so learning starts to happen. When we ask fat, broad questions we are helping our pupils towards higher-order thinking.They are asked to consider their opinions, the questions engage the emotions and control of the question passes over to the pupil.
Here are some of the categories of fat questions with examples:
- Comparisons – “What would it sound like if it went at a different speed?”
- Contrast – “What happens if you play the chords with different fingering?”
- Classify – “How might you label the structure of these two phrases?”
- Defend reasons – “Why did you want to play it in that particular way?”
- Design – “What elements of the piece could you use to create your own song?”
So what type of questions can you catch yourself asking? It’s quite hard to monitor yourself so like me why not ask your pupils to help you in your teaching over the next few days.
Join me next week when I will be looking at 2 more question types.
This blog post was written by Dr. Sally Cathcart, Co-Founder and Director of The Curious Piano Teachers.