Conferences, improving as a teacher, Motivation

NCKP 2011 | (13) Student-Centered Teaching, by Randall Faber

I don’t normally post on Saturdays, but I’m so close to having all my conference notes posted that I decided to finish up today with the last one rather than wait until Monday!  Whew, thanks for bearing with me through the long haul!  Lucky for us, the last one is a good one.  🙂

I’ve always wanted to hear Dr. Faber speak since I am a huge fan of the Faber Piano Adventures method, and I’ve heard such good things about their sessions.  At the NCKP, I had the privilege of attending their publisher showcase and this session on student-centered teaching, which provided a lot of insight into the Fabers’ research on human learning and their teaching philosophy in general.  It was fascinating!

Student Centered Teaching: The Process, by Randall Faber.  F @ 11:15am.

Dr. Faber began by talking about the teacher perspective.  He shared a wonderful photo of a child sitting on the piano bench, eager and excited to learn, looking up into the camera (or into the teacher’s eyes).  The next photo was of a stern looking teacher, looking over his reading glasses from his chair alongside the piano.  Everybody laughed when they saw this photo!  This is the student perspective!

Joking aside, though, sometimes we aren’t always doing the job we think.  Sometimes we simply tend to teach the way we were taught because that’s what we know.  Dr. Faber made an argument that in order to be the most effective as teachers, we need to be as student-centered as possible. 

The “gifts” of piano lessons include things like physical skill, self esteem, mental ability, sensitivity, focus, creativity, discipline, skill development, etc.  Now, are all these things the process or the product?  And do we pursue the product at all costs, or are we aware of the process too in order to achieve the full gamet of those gifts we mentioned?  It’s the process that actually brings those gifts, not the product.

What does the process look like from the student’s eyes?  Dr. Faber showed a slide of a piece of music with tons of strange accidentals and intervals, and asked us to quickly memorize it as if we were going to play it on the piano in a moment.  Then he showed a slide of the same piece with all the notes spelled enharmonically correct this time, and it turned out to be a simple piece in the key of C with a simple melody and arpeggiated accompaniment!  This illustration shows that when our mind is overwhelmed by the complexities of notation, we miss even the most obvious aspects of musicality.  When the piece was written the second way, we could all see the patterns and we were able to effectively chuck small pieces of information into larger, meaningful chunks.  This is what we need to teach our students to do.  We need to help them learn to find patterns and chunks so that there is brain-power free for focusing on expression.

And so, one of the keys to student-centered teaching is Pattern Recognition.

  • As teachers, we need to be aware of the student’s actual recognition.  We can’t assume that the student is seeing the same patterns that we are seeing!
  • In addition, we need to be taking ongoing assessment.  We can’t assume that just because we taught it, the student has learned it.  Students often need multiple explanations, repetition, and reminders.  We need to be aware and ask: what does the student really know?
  • And, we as teachers need to be careful not to assume that just because something is important and meaningful to us, it is important and meaningful to the student.  Perception can’t be forced.  It must be invited.  This leads us to another key of student-centered teaching…


  • Are we operating on the student’s 90% attention capacity, or 6%?  Just like perception, attention can’t be forced.  It must be invited.  When a student tries to contribute and direct learning, do we inwardly swat them away and stick to our lesson plan?  Harnessed attention is a gift, and yet we so often forego perfect opportunities for learning when the student shows interest.
  • One secret to engagement is the idea of curiosity.  Curiosity is a wonderfully useful state of mind!  It engages attention, and is a prerequisite to learning.  Not only should we let the student lead learning with curiosity, but the teacher must also model curiosity.  The student will learn how to learn, and want to learn to how to learn.  🙂  Curiosity leads to more curiosity, which leads to careful, focused attention.

Engagement is most important in learning.  Then you can correct things along the way.  The most important thing is to prevent breaks in attention.

Now we can see that the engagement key to student-centered teaching is really the prerequisite to the pattern recognition key mentioned above.  We need to engage the student before we can teach the various aspects of pattern recognition (which is kinesthetic, visual, and aural).

In closing, Dr. Faber suggested an adjustment to the triangle diagram we commonly see in pedagogy textbooks, where the parents, teacher, and student each have a corner of the triangle (representing the relationships needed for success).  The diagram really ought to include music.  The triangle really should be 3-D, with the bottom three corners (parents, teacher, student) reaching up towards the top point, representing MUSIC — both the process and the product.

Throughout this session, Dr. Faber showed video clips of his wife Nancy teaching lessons to students to demonstrate the points he was making.  It was wonderful to see the examples of the students becoming increasingly curious and engaged as a result of Nancy’s close attention to the student!  They have some very creative and effective ideas for teaching various concepts.  I suspect that the videos he showed us are from the new Teacher Guide with DVD for the Primer level that is now for sale (see here) — I’ll bet it’s a great resource to have.  There are, however, some free videos on their website about teaching from the “My First Piano Adventures” books that anyone can view (see here).  Check them out and see what you think.  I really enjoy seeing Nancy’s teaching in action, no matter the age or level!

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2 thoughts on “NCKP 2011 | (13) Student-Centered Teaching, by Randall Faber”

  1. Thank-you for your summaries.I especially appreciated you summary of Dr. Faber’s talk since I teach Piano Adventures. May I quote your words on my website as I explore what child centered teaching looks like and feels like?

    1. Sure, Gabriele — just be sure to properly credit Dr. Faber of course. 🙂 Your blog looks nice! I’ll have to check back when I have more time to explore everything you have up.

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