Sunday, October 7, 2012

A new lens on Music Ed

SO much has happened since I have last posted that I have broken these most recent blogs into titles to make these readings easier to digest though I must apologize if this one particularly gets too academic or lengthy.

I would love to promote my colleague and former fellow Jonathan Govias ( who is brilliant and healthily critical of the El Sistema movement. In these past few weeks, he has brought so much to the table quite literally, once with homemade pies and once at the infamous Uno's, though as a side tangent they've stopped w the free apps/snack hours so we'll have to find a new spot-ideas are welcome, and figuratively with influence to the below insights.

Think of any orchestra. Can you name any of the members? Probably not, but chances are the conductor's name effortlessly comes to mind. The idea Dr. Abreu envisions of an orchestra being a model society, an ensemble that TOGETHER creates beauty, becomes significantly reduced when the public is only focused on one individual and all decisions are in that person's hands (no pun intended), the star player, the conductor. But this stardom doesn't only apply to professional orchestras. I'd like to use this blog entry to delve into how this stardom dulls the classroom's creativity and independence and why it is such a rare find to attain collective efficacy.

The idea of collective efficacy or rather that the students can guide themselves with a gentle guidance of a facilitator is a huge concept that should be prevalent in nucleos due to the restoration of ample time.  Yet so often more than not, the idea is relegated to the time-efficient star conductor leading the way.

We as teachers like to talk, yet how do children learn? By imitation, repetition, and observation/ACTION! Talking achieves none of these and is also why very few people will choose a lecture style over a hands-on approach. Furthermore, we may justify talking by rationalizing explanations of "teaching" a concept. However, as JG reasoned, his one year old daughter didn't learn how to walk by him telling her to do so. She learned by observation and imitation, no class needed, and after many repetitions succeeding. What would happen if we used the same approach for music? Instead of having the mere one hour a week or not sufficient rehearsal time, which is usually the explanation for succumbing to this debile approach, ES programs now have the kids multiple times a week.

What's the most obvious difference between a conductor conducting an ensemble and students conducting themselves? The time it takes to achieve success, which is obviously more when there is not a conductor (read: dictator or individual star) telling all what to do and some may argue less time efficient. However, the benefits and the long-term effects that are reaped are significantly greater in the latter. This is due to the idea of the zone of proximal development, or the zone between what a student can do independently and what a student can do with a tiny bit of help. Vlotsky, a Russian psychologist believes that the more distal the learning, the deeper it is ingrained into the child. How many of us have not had this experience?! One reason why music is so powerful! When one decides to self-teach him/herself guitar, the rate of success is quite high because it is the student's motivation that is driving this learning. And, for more academic knowledge, the motivation of a student and the influence and social environment of the motivation of that student, are the primary and secondary factors of learning success. This juxtaposed with studying for the SAT that a student only takes because he/she must and how quickly the information seeps out of the student's brain post-examination would be a more proximal example. I know I can attest to studying a wide amalgam of lexicon for the vocab session, yet if some of those words were to show up now, I could do nothing more than recognize them as words I had to study. In contrast, I still remember pieces I memorized in eighth grade on piano despite the fact Rachmaninoff is a) technically difficult and b) eight pages long.

The ideas of repetition (pattern), emotion, movement, relevance, and curiosity are the five ways to activate a brain (thank you @Lorrie Heagy, another former fellow and Teacher of the Year in AK, No wonder I can still remember the Rachmaninoff literally ten years later. Music engages in all these ways (and more).

On a simpler, more basic note, what is the role of the teacher in general? Is learning only a one way street (teacher imparting knowledge to the child)? Any great teacher (and I fully concur) says he/she learns more from the students than she is imparting on the students. One of my colleagues says she has changed her language in the following way: Instead of saying "give," she says "foster";  "" she says "encourage"; and "teach" she says "facilitate."

So can we/will we change the way we teach so as to truly educate and manifest critical thinking as the beautiful educators of SOKA, Montessori, some El Sistema sites and other alternative educators do, or will we continue with our inefficient, but "time-efficient" dictatorship? 

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