Better teaching through observation

I was very fortunate to study under Dr. Clifford Madsen during my schooling at Florida State University. A legend in the field of music education research, he implored us to regularly observe our own teaching in order to truly see what we are actually doing with our instructional time.

I recommend a handful of observation types, and you likely know which is most important for you:

  1. Percentage of lesson time spent on student performance vs. teacher talk vs. student talk

  2. Number of approvals vs. disapprovals vs. approval error vs. disapproval error*

  3. Percentage of complete cycles of instruction** vs. incomplete cycles of instruction

  4. Percentage of lesson time spent on-task vs. off-task

Observation periods need to be long enough (at least 10 minutes) to account for the flow of lessons / classes / rehearsals. Taking samples from various lessons taught over time will give even more valid results.

I have found that tracking over time builds awareness while I’m teaching. I very regularly can hear the “tick” of a mental clock when I’m talking too long and we need to get back to singing. I’m convinced that this awareness has been built by observation.

Here’s a video tour of an app that makes timed observations a snap! [This is a great app to help with timed observations, such as #1 and #4 above]

*Approval = saying something was right. Disapproval = saying something was wrong. Approval error = saying something was right when it was wrong. Disapproval error = saying something was wrong when it was right.

**Complete cycles of instruction: Put briefly, a complete cycle of instruction is prompt—>attempt—>feedback. Too often, students make an attempt without getting clear feedback. Not knowing whether the attempt was “right” or not, the time spent making the attempt is less useful than had they received feedback.

Kyle Ferrill teaches voice and vocal pedagogy at the University of Memphis, SongFest, and the Interlochen Arts Camp and performs around the country, primarily in art song and oratorio.