What happens when the students take charge of the lesson?

Group tuition on the students' principal instruments can take place in a number of ways. One common feature of many group models is that the students learn from each other, either by guiding and being guided by their fellow students or by actively observing the guidance provided by the teacher during the lesson. What happens when the students take charge of the lesson?

Group tuition – independence and reciprocity

Professor Jens Harald Bratlie has chosen a group tuition model very much based on the idea that the students should coach each other, hence the title of his development project. His group comprises one first-year master student and two students in their second year of the bachelor's programme. The students attend weekly group lessons in addition to their one-to-one lessons.

The three students gather around the piano and take turns to perform, while Professor Bratlie observes from a distance. The students make their comments after each performance, and different solutions are discussed and tried out along the way. Professor Bratlie occasionally adopts a model whereby one of the students is given responsibility for the entire lesson, almost like a masterclass, but where the other student is also involved in the discussions. Here is one example from such a lesson.

Professor Bratlie rarely intervenes, but in order to encourage further reflection he will sometimes ask questions or coax the students into investigating certain topics in more detail. He says he never corrects the students' comments at the time, as that would be unconstructive. He is anxious for the lessons and the guidance provided to be the students' responsibility. By taking on this responsibility, the students evolve as independent musicians and become increasingly capable of reflection and of articulating their choices, both in relation to their own playing and when coaching others.

"During the last lesson I realised how much these lessons have changed me as a human being and a musician."

Increased awareness

Photo: NMH

In diaries and interviews the students make it clear that they greatly value the group lessons and that they prioritise them even though attendance is voluntary. They point out how they have learnt to listen more actively both to their own playing and that of their peers. They also explain how the other students can serve as an “extra pair of ears” to help establish whether the students' performances come across as they had intended. They find that the discussions and feedback make them more aware and independent while also learning to be more responsive to they way in which their peers interpret the music.

The students also highlight the importance of learning how to express themselves verbally about the performances of others and of being able to give constructive feedback. One of the students summed up the group lesson experience thus:

– During the last lesson I realised how much these lessons have changed me as a human being and a musician. They taught me how to listen, to try to understand, to express my opinions clearly, briefly and accurately. NN and KK (fellow students) are people I can learn from. I feel a huge amount of respect for them.

With his model Professor Bratlie demonstrates how the students can mature both as musicians and as human beings when they are shown trust and given responsibility for their own learning and the learning of their fellow students.

Jens Harald Bratlie's development project is part of Teaching Principal Instrument in Groups.

Last updated: 28. May 2015