If you were a wind, brass, percussion, or string student back in elementary or middle school, were you part of the practice log generation? I wasn’t but my sons were. My husband and I were two of the many parents who had logs presented to us for our signatures indicating that our budding musicians had validly invested time and effort into practicing their assignments. It was through the ritual of signing off on the logs that I made up my mind not to use them in my own teaching.
Before you’re inclined to express shock and dismay, allow me to clarify. I’m of the mind that my students deserve the opportunity to process the tasks before them as fully as possible. As a Google Classroom school community, we regularly post assignments, supportive materials, and a great deal more on our course portals. If you were to visit my ensemble portals, you would find my students’ part assignments, recordings of pieces currently being prepared, and (perhaps more importantly), pdfs of full scores being prepared for upcoming performances. I began including the full scores because I encourage my students to think outside of their own musical silos and raise their awareness of how their individual parts engage with others in the ensemble.
The last resource we use is the practice journal. I actually started using this when the pandemic brought about distance and synchronous learning. Here is a sample of what it looks like.
My students access this as a Word doc. They can stretch it as they need to in order to include their own comments (read reflections) The big idea for using this resource is to encourage them to be as proactive with their practice strategies as possible: think about what they, as individual musicians, need to do in order to refine their playing. My students are growing in their understanding of just how much control they have over the manner in which they prepare their work. They are given the opportunity to listen to full-performance recordings while reviewing full scores. They are encouraged to tap into their own musicianship while they review elements such as pitch accuracy, rhythms, articulations, dynamics, etc…anything that is written into their individual parts and which can be found throughout the entire score.
Once they’ve made an efficient review of their music and identified potential spots with difficulties (as we call them, speed bumps/sand traps), they are then responsible for listing strategies they will use while practicing. These include and are not limited to:
- Using their metronome app to enable them to negotiate beat placements, especially when prepping music that is syncopated…
- Isolating and deconstructing rapid runs to smooth out fingerings or embouchure adjustments (16th notes can be hazardous!).
The big idea is for students to think through the process and apply their strategies. Once their work is completed, students are then called upon to reflect on whether or not their practice actually benefitted from the strategies they chose to employ. If they find it helpful, they can still list the number of minutes they spent practicing (after all, so many of our students are number-oriented). I remind my students that I’m looking for honest responses…not just what they think I want to read. It has been a pleasure to note the progress they have made since their first installment of a practice journal.
Like many other music programs, we have our share of students who perform as if they were born with their instruments in their hands. Sitting right alongside those students are others who we constantly encourage in their quest for progress on their instruments. We have found practice journals to be effective resources as we continue to encourage the development of a growth mindset in our middle and high school ensembles. Practice journals are helping them recognize their own power over practicing.
What are your thoughts about this means of developing a growth mindset? I look forward to hearing from you.
Stay well and safe…
p.s. If you’re interested in a working copy of the practice journal, message me!