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12 minutes reading time (2495 words)

Incorporating Metacognition into the Group Piano Curriculum

My interest in metacognition grew out of a rather simple and straightforward question (or at least so I thought!) that I posed to a third semester piano class for music majors at my university. My question was this, "What do you do when you look at a piece of music for the first time before you begin to practice it?" It was my hope that this question would generate a robust discussion, but what ensued was utter and complete silence! Their response, or more aptly lack of response, shocked me, and at the same time challenged me to examine my teaching approach and the assumptions that I make as I enter the classroom setting. The result was one of those "epiphany moments." While teachers believe that they are educating their students on how to practice,1 students relate that this is not the case.2 Indeed, I wanted to instruct my students on ways to become better "practicers."

DEFINITION OF METACOGNITION

Metacognition involves a reflective process "of one's process and progress towards a goal."3 It signifies an awareness about one's own thoughts and has been described as "thinking about one's own thoughts."4 Metacognition has been shown to correlate with skill development and allows students to "become more active in guiding their own learning."5

Conceptually, metacognition consists of two components: knowledge of cognition (awareness of one's thinking) and regulation of cognition (the ability to control one's thinking processes).6 Knowledge of cognition relates to our under- standing of our cognitions and comprises three elements: declarative knowledge, or knowledge of the elements that impact our performance; procedural knowledge, or knowledge of available strategies that are at our disposal; and conditional knowledge, or knowledge of when to implement a specific strategy to use in a particular passage.

We will focus our attention in this article on the regulation of cognition and ways to implement this component into the class piano curriculum. Regulation of cognition encompasses three factors, which closely interrelate with one another: planning, monitoring, and evaluating. Planning happens prior to the start of practice and is directed toward preparation for task execution. It involves goal setting, selecting specific strategies to be executed, and organizing/ planning practice time. Monitoring is the implementation stage and entails making the connections found in the music. It represents "the critical analysis of the effectiveness of the strategies or plans being implemented."7 Lastly, evaluating occurs after the task is completed and the focus is on the end result. This phase may generate additional planning, monitoring, and/or evaluating. Such a process does not consist of linear movement from planning to evaluating, but rather involves a cyclical movement.8 It is important to note that it is possible for more than one of these elements to occur simultaneously.

INSTRUCTIONAL STRATEGIES

The following techniques foster the advancement of metacognition into the class piano curriculum.

1. PAUSING TO REFLECT
At the beginning of the semester, allow students to spend a few minutes reflecting on their previous semester, or prior piano experience. Ask them whether there is anything they want to do differently in the current semester to improve their overall performance. Encourage them to be as specific as possible in their responses! Ask them to jot down their thoughts on a 3 x 5-inch index card. After collecting the cards, read aloud their comments, and try to validate something in each response. In doing so, another student might be encouraged to incorporate in their practicing an idea that they may not have previously considered.

2. SELF-ASSESSMENT
A. Index Cards
Following a quiz or exam, pass out 3 x 5-inch index cards for a brief self-assessment to be completed by the students. You may ask the students to respond to the following:

• List three things you liked about how you played today.
• List three things that you would like to improve about your performance today.
• Was there anything you could have done differently in your preparation for your performance today?

B. Self-Assessment Rating Scale
This provides an opportunity for students to engage in a structured reflection on their performance, and ways to improve both preparation and/or performance. This rating scale would be similar to those used in adjudications. Students would assign themselves points under each category listed (i.e., correct notes, rhythm, technique, and musicianship, etc.). See Self-Assessment Rating Scale (Figure 1).

C. Exam Wrappers
Exam wrappers provide another assessment tool. Students are prompted to ponder three specific areas:

1) their preparation for the exam;
2) any errors made on the exam; and
3) modifications they would like to implement prior to their next performance 

Return the completed sheets to the students to review before the next scheduled exam and ask them to adjust their practice regime accordingly. See Playing Exam Reflection sheet (Figure 2). 

Several components of metacognition are addressed by these self-assessments, which do not take up much class time. As a result, students are evaluating their strengths and weaknesses, reviewing their performance, and incorporating any necessary behavioral adjustments. Students are self-monitoring and their metacognitive skills are being advanced. 

3. JOURNALING
Journaling provides a way for students to reflect on their learning process and execute necessary improvements. "Developing reflective awareness in relation to one's practice appears critical in making practice deliberate, the kind of practice generally argued to most efficiently produce expert performance." 9 As a result, students begin to take a more active role in their learning process, providing them with a glimpse into their own cognitive processes. It is important for students to realize that there are no right or wrong answers in their journal entries. You will want to consider whether you would like students to have an actual journal to hand in, or submit their journal entries online. Another consideration would be how often the entries are submitted: weekly, every two weeks, or specific dates throughout the semester. The journal entries could be structured as follows:

• Reflections on their thought process while practicing, or any observations gleaned during a practice session. 
• Assigning specific requirements, such as having the students record themselves and critiquing their performance. In this instance, I would also request a copy of the performance being critiqued. You might focus on one specific repertoire piece and have them submit recordings and journal entries at different points throughout the semester. This could serve as motivation when the students see just how far they have progressed.
• Provide students writing prompts for their entries. According to Benton, furnishing prompts affords structure.10 This may be especially helpful for students who may not be used to thinking about their approach to practicing. 

Writing prompts may be used to facilitate journaling. Giving students an incomplete sentence and asking them to finish it is an effective writing prompt. For example:

• I want to focus really hard this week on improving the following aspect(s) of playing the piano...One concrete way for me to do so is by implementing the following into my practice...
• What is the best way for me to prepare for a performances in front of others so that my nerves will not get the best of me? List three things that I will do to feel more confident in playing in front of others...
In thinking about the way that I approach and structure my practice, I need to make the following change(s)...
My goals for this semester in piano are the following...

4. INTRODUCE "METACOGNITIVE MOMENTS"
You might consider allotting a brief period of time (three to five minutes) at the end of class for students to reflect on their class performance. Such an activity would consist of students writing a response on an index card, or perhaps as a journal entry, to a question posed by the teacher. The questions asked could change from week to week. Some examples may be:

• What do I need to do differently in order to improve?
• 
What specifically am I struggling with at this point in the semester?
• 
Am I putting in sufficient practice time in order to accomplish my goals? If the answer is "no," why not?

It is important that questions are open-ended, requiring more than one-word answers. Open-ended questions are "a necessary characteristic of metacognitive strategy use so that students will reflect on and evaluate their performance."11 Incorporating time for personal reflection within the class will allow for higher-order thinking to occur in students.

5. MODELING
It is important that teachers make a resolute effort to model their own metacognition. "Too often teachers discuss and model their cognition (i.e., how to perform a task) without modeling metacognition (i.e., how they think about and monitor their performance)."12 Rather than simply demonstrating the sound we wish to achieve, we need to describe our thought processes as we play. The more explicit this modeling, the more beneficial it becomes to our students. One example may be rather than simply instructing a student to practice a passage slower, that in demonstrating a slower rate of speed, you discuss certain aspects that you are focusing your attention on. For instance, you might point out that you are listening to hear: if your right-hand melody is singing out over the left-hand accompaniment; whether or not you are releasing all of the staccato notes quickly; or, how you are coming off the end of your phrases. Other students may also serve as valuable models by sharing their own thought processes. Often, these students provide more effective modeling than teachers.13 

6. PARTNER PAIRINGS

Collaboration of all forms is increasingly seen as an essential and important part of education... collaboration can be viewed as a tool to support approaches that encourage an inquiry orientation, the utilization of strategies, the development and sharing of mental models, and the making explicit of personal beliefs.14

I have found this activity to be effective with sight reading in group piano. The teacher first explains the activity to the students. The structure is as follows: 

• Students are paired together with a partner, usually side-by-side, on headphones. Sight-reading examples are passed out face down, along with scripted questions, devised by the teacher. These questions are directed toward preparation, highlighting the important elements of the music. Both students in each pair take one of the papers when instructed.
The students are given a three-minute period of preparation. During this time, the student with the sight-reading example will analyze the score, while their partner asks them several questions.
Following the three-minute interval, the student with the sight-reading example is asked to play through their passage without stopping to make any corrections and/or changes.
• At the conclusion of their playing, students are given a 
one-minute period to reflect on their performance and assess their playing with their partner, sharing any adjustments needed.
• 
Students are then given another opportunity to play through their sight-reading example and incorporate necessary corrections.
• Partners then switch roles and repeat the process with a
new sight-reading example. 

Such an activity does not need to be limited to sight reading, but could focus on any aspect covered in class piano.

"Thinking aloud in specific ways, guided by carefully constructed questions, has been shown to be an effective tool for learning."15 This helps to focus the attention on the music in front of the student, allowing them to analyze the assignment and detect successful strategies to engage in. 

This experience functions as a type of "accountability check."16 Examples of questions that may be used include the following:

• What is the key of the piece?
• Does the melody move mostly by steps or by skips? Is the movement generally an upward movement or a downward one?
• What are some way to help you determine the starting hand position?
• Are there any measures that are identical? Are there any measures that are similar? Can you identify any patterns in the passage?
• Can you label the most challenging spot(s) for you personally?
• What techniques/strategies will you use to approach these spots?

CONCLUSION

Metacognition is essential to successful learning because it enables individuals to better manage their cognitive skills, and to determine weaknesses that can be corrected by constructing new cognitive skills. Almost anyone who can perform a skill is capable of metacognition—that is, thinking about how they perform that skill. Promoting metacognition begins with building an awareness among learners that metacognition exists, differs from cognition, and increases academic success. The next step is to teach strategies, and more importantly, to help students construct explicit knowledge about when and where to use strategies.17

By incorporating a variety of instructional practices into the classroom, metacognitive knowledge and regulation can be enhanced, resulting in improved practice and performance. "A curriculum which integrates student interest, active learning, and collaboration affords frequent opportunities for students to use metacognitive thinking skills."18 Assimilating metacognitive strategies into any curriculum will improve skill development and assist in creating a mindful, rather than mindless approach to practice and performance.

In concluding, think about your own thoughts about the topic of this article and answer the following questions: Do you feel as though you are already implementing some metacognitive strategies into your teaching? How would you like to foster and nurture metacognitive strategies in the students with whom you interact?


NOTES
1. Nancy H. Barry, and Victoria McArthur,"Teaching Practice Strategies in the Music Studio: A Survey of Applied Music Teachers," Psychology of Music, Vol. 22, Issue 1, (April 1994): 47.
2. Harald Jorgensen, "Student Learning in Higher Instrumental Education: Who is Responsible?," British Journal of Music Education, Vol. 17, Issue 1, (March 2000): 73.
3. Meghan Bathgate, Judith Sims-Knight, and Christian Schunn, "Thoughts on Thinking: Engaging Novice Music Students in Metacognition," Applied Cognitive Psychology, Vol. 26, Issue 3, (May/June 2012): 403.
4. Susan Hallam, "The Development of Metacognition in Musicians: Implications for Education," British Journal of Music Education, Vol. 18, Issue 1, (March 2001): 27.
5. Bathgate, Sims-Knight, and Schunn, "Thoughts on Thinking," 408.
6. Gregory Schraw, "Promoting General Metacognitive Awareness," Instructional Science, Vol. 26, Issue 1–2, (March 1998): 114.
7. Mohsen Mahdavi,"An Overview: Metacognition in Education,"International Journal of Multidisciplinary and Current Research, Vol. 2, (May/June 2014): 531.
8. Ibid., 533.
9. Bathgate, Sims-Knight, and Schunn, "Thoughts on Thinking," 403.
10. Carol W. Benton, "Promoting Metacognition in Music Class," Music Educators Journal, Vol.100, Issue 2, (December 2013): 54.
11. Arthur K. Ellis, David W. Denton, and John B. Bond, "An Analysis of Research on Meta-cognitive Teaching Strategies," Procedia—Social and Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 116, (February 2014): 4018.
12. Schraw,"PromotingMetacognitiveAwareness,"119.
13. Ibid.,118.
14. Gregory Schraw Kent J. Crippen,and Kendall Hartley, "PromotingSelf-Regulation in Science Education: Metacognition as Part of a Broader Perspective on Learning," Research in Science Education, Vol. 36, Issue 1–2, (March/June 2006): 120.
15. Benton,"PromotingMetacognition,"57.
16. RyanHargrove,"Fostering Creativity in the Design Studio: A Framework Towards Effective Pedagogical Practices," Arts, Design and Communication in Higher Education, Vol.10, Issue 1, (April 2012): 17.
17. Schraw,"Promoting Metacognitive Awareness,"123.
18. Ellis, Denton, and Bond,"An Analysis of Research,"4017. 

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