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Emily Grossman

May 6, 2005 at 10:40 AM

I was told several times throughout college that as a teacher, I should always sandwich my criticism between two praises, so that the student feels good and the pill is easier to swallow.

I ponder this method practically every time I give feedback in a lesson. I don't completely buy it. Here's why.

In college, I was enrolled in a technique class as part of my degree. We spent this period alternating between performing etudes for the other colleagues, and providing feedback and learning to train our critical ears. I was amazed at how quickly we attained the ability to pick apart each other's playing, and I became increasingly nervous about performing.

One day, the professor decided that it would be better if every student began his or her critique with a positive comment, so that we would all have something good to take with us from the lesson. I observed each student as they purposefully placed their token praise at the front of each public shredding; if the performer was lucky, the shredding would be followed by one more token kind word, thus completing the sandwich.

It was my turn, and I was ill-prepared on my Kreutzer etude. I hesitated my way through, imagining the responses I was going to receive for the sour notes and generally poor technique. There was an awkward pause at the end of the display, and I stood alone with my violin, watching my peers as they processed the ordeal. Our college concertmaster broke the silence:

"Nice shirt."

From Mark N
Posted on May 6, 2005 at 11:58 AM
Hi Emily ,
that was a thought provoking story .I think that the prasie element only really works when it is spontaneously done ,as well.

hope you had a nice birthday

Mark N

From Evelyn Ray
Posted on May 6, 2005 at 1:03 PM
My teacher is very conservative with praise. I've learned that moving on to a new exercise, measure or piece is her way of saying "ok you have that". I just recently started vibrato. As we worked on it for the first time, I felt her eyes scrutinizing every movement as I struggled to get a sound...any sound. As I was about to give up, a couple of "wah-wahs" emerged. She shouted, "That's it...that's it." I beamed. She was truly excited for me. That was worth waiting for. I'm a senior citizen, though; Children may need their egos stroked a little more often.
From Pauline Lerner
Posted on May 6, 2005 at 9:40 PM
I believe that giving praise works *only* when you're sincere about it. People can tell the difference. I think that your teacher's remark about your shirt was in terribly poor taste. No one should do things like that.

I've seen a related problem. Even when praise is sincere, students and others can be reluctant to accept it because their own self image is so bad. It takes skill to deal with this problem, too.

From Pauline Lerner
Posted on May 6, 2005 at 10:20 PM
I just had another thought. Sometimes one of my students does play something terribly badly. Often they'll even say so. Then I tell them, "This piece is quite challenging. Play something else you're more comfortable with to warm up." This helps them feel more confident and we can go on from there. Sometimes I tell them, "This is a strategy you can use for practicing on your own. If you're having a lot of trouble with something, play something easier and work up to something more challenging." Even playing something badly can be good as a learning experience.
From Ed Barreto
Posted on May 6, 2005 at 10:40 PM
I usually would only like positive feedback when I deserve it. Even then, do it sparingly.

When you get showered with compliments you get overconfident and you start relaxing on your practicing.

I'd like it to be almost like a masterclass everytime I'm there.

From Peggy B.
Posted on May 7, 2005 at 12:09 AM
What a great story! And everyone can identify with that moment of nakedness when you know you haven't played well and are hoping for a scrap of compassion...or a merciful silence. =^)
From putch panis
Posted on May 9, 2005 at 8:20 AM
My last teacher told me that he'd tell me when he believed I'd done good. Most of the time during our lessons he would be frowning or, at best, looking tired and resigned. But I would live for the moment when he'd say, "That's it! You got it!" Those times were very few, but I'd rather have those sincere few praises than a lot of half-meant compliments.

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