Alexandria Online

Saturday, April 26, 2014

I can hear you learning

My 14 year old son is learning a Beethoven piece that is actually too difficult for him right now: sonata 8, Pathetique. He misses notes and feels his way back to the right key. He plays too fast and goes off the rails, then he goes back and traces his steps one chord at a time. He plays and he listens, plays and listens, plays and listens, trying for different tones and dynamics. When he's ready he makes the instrument thunder for a few measures.

I cannot see him learn when he is reading or listening. I suppose I could smell him learning if he was learning to cook. But when he is playing the piano I can hear him learning distinctly and clearly.

Much of what a teacher does is to serve as a witness to the lives of children. This passive activity is powerful. When we watch over children, they feel the pull of our expectations. How often have we used the term "the look": I gave him my "look" and he got back to work right away. We are looking and listening.

We distributed iPad minis to some of our varsity coaches. The have very high quality cameras, stability control to improve the shakiness of handheld video, they are light and sturdy and their screen is just big enough for two people to look at comfortable. Now, when a kid says, "coach, I did it just the way you showed me," the coach can play back the action and show the athlete what the problem is. Now the student can see herself learning.

Providing students with information is one part of education. But there has to be a two-way signal. Students transmit as well as receive. It is very important that their transmissions be received by peers and teachers. Solitary learners are rare, and even solitary learners are motivated by an essentially social impulse to engage with other minds.

Your students are sending you all kinds of signals. Tune in and reply.

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