September 2013

May I have 12 minutes? - The 80/20 rule applied to parent involvement

September 23, 2013 21:37

It was the conclusion of what I thought was an outstanding lesson with one of my brightest students. My student, 14, is a bright young man that has the world at his feet. He comes from a comfortable, supportive and nurturing environment that will prove to be to his benefit in the future. However, direct challenge isn't something that he is accustomed to encountering. So, when struggles began to surface there was resistance almost immediately. Even though he was excelling in many ares, the growth that he was experiencing presented new challenges that required him to climb the internal mountains of his mind. A person grows multi-dimensionally if they stimulate this growth from within. That's why this time for my student was both exciting and invigorating for me to watch as a teacher but can be frustrating for the student. As our lesson came to a tension filled close I gave him some words of advice and encouragement before leaving the piano bench.

As a ritual, I meet with the parent(s) after each lesson to fill them in, in detail, on the progress their child is making, areas they are struggling with and the next plan of action. I structure my briefing with the parent in this way: New material covered. Review material covered. Challenge areas. Strategies of challenge areas. Assignments. Areas of excellence. The reason I structure my briefing in this way is because I want to start and end with a positive tone, sandwiching the struggles in the middle as to not leave the parent thinking the student is always struggling. If the student is practicing, and has sound instruction, you can always find areas of excellence to highlight. This briefing wasn't structured any differently. I went through all the steps in order to inform the parent of what a great job he was doing and some of the challenges he was encountering. When we got to the challenge portion, the parent wanted to know how much she needed to be involved during the week in order to help him in these challenge areas.

This was a good question, considering that, in this time, very few parents are involved during the practice times the student spends during the week. If they are age seven and above, the parent seems to let the child practice on their own trusting that they are doing the homework they were assigned. So when she asked this poignant question regarding her involvement, I immediately applied the 80/20 rule to the situation. If you aren't familiar with the 80/20 rule, it is defined in the following manner: The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, events are constructed in where roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. Therefore, in this case I asked her how much time does she currently involve herself with her son's practice time. Her answer spoke volumes; none. "Here is the problem," I thought to myself quietly.

Consequently, I realized that approval and recognition had been the main challenges my student had been encountering. He felt that, even though his parents were massively supportive, that they weren't always approving, leaving him to feel as though he wasn't good enough - when we was growing by leaps and bound. The answer was clear, she needed to spend 20% more time with her son in order for him to get past these internal woes. More directly, she needed to spend time listening and praising him constructively in order to inform him of her acknowledgement of his growth. This would dispel any idea of "babying" him or "looking over his shoulder". By simply spending 20% more time with her son during his practice time he would be able to know approval without feeling smothered. So my next step was direct, I simply said spend about 10-15mins with your son during the last part of his practicing(he practices 60mins a day, for you math nerds). This will ensure that he is warmed up and rehearse before you are there, giving him confidence and security in his own abilities. I also went on to tell her that she should tell him that she is going start participating in his practice sessions. This will also boost his confidence and showcase the recognition he has been looking for.

The result: ten-fold. By the end of the month he was smiling more and performing with more energy. Also a wonderful side effect was a closer mother-son bond, which is extremely valuable amongst today's teens. In conclusion, I wish I had asked about her involvement sooner, in order to gain more insight. Nevertheless, the time my student spend stewing in a negative mindset was quickly relieved by the 80/20 rule, or as little as 12 minutes of a mother's approving attention.

5 replies

The Rhythm of Life

September 16, 2013 10:06

It was 8 o'clock in the morning at the First Christian Church and I was excited and anxious all at the same time. I had been commissioned to compose new music every week for the church services, to be played by violin, cello and piano. The instrumentation was perfect to set the mood required for a worship service. The music was light, filled with bright colors and textures that seemed to echo the esoteric sentiments of the stained-class filled windows.

As the first note rang out, I felt my heartbeat speed up in excitement. I was beginning to hear with my ears what I had been hearing in my head all week. Then, something very interesting happened; I noticed that my heartbeat began to match the tempo of the minuet that I had composed. This marvelous event has only happened to me a few times previously. I remember when I had been playing a hoedown and my heartbeat had matched beat two and four. Just as the astonishment came over me, began to leave and I started to focus on the performance of the music.

After the musically filled church service had concluded, I thought of this heartbeat event on my walk home. The fall colors of dim yellow, deep maroon and earthy brown peppered the ground caught my attention. Often, we find the most simplest of life nuances the colors the pepper the ground we walk. As I walked on I thought that just as we sometimes forget to notice the colors of fall, we fail to pay attention to the natural response of our heartbeat in music education.

"There should be an entire class on bringing attention to our heartbeats!", I thought to myself as the birds whistled to my footsteps. This aspect of our human existence is so fundamental to being human - to being alive. Even as I reminisced of that morning's events I felt as though the music gained a fresh fragrance that lifted the music, making it more personal. "This personal connection should be experienced by everyone, and what a better way than to point young students in that direction?"

There is a definite link to better thinking, experiencing and creativity when connecting to our innate heartbeat. A study of 120 infants between 5 months and 2 years old, suggest that humans may be born with a predisposition to move rhythmically in response to music. "Our research suggests that it is the beat rather than other features of the music, such as the melody, that produces the response in infants," said researcher Marcel Zentner, a psychologist at the University of York in England. "We also found that the better the children were able to synchronize their movements with the music, the more they smiled." In another study continued this line of research with staggering results, stating, "Recent music neuroscience research indicates that steady beat does affect attention behaviors in humans. We typically process steady beat in the premotor cortex of the brain, an area also related to attention (Bengtsson et al. 2008). Zentner and Eerola (2010) found that 120 infants, ages 5–24 months, were more engaged with rhythm-only stimuli (for example, a steady drum beat) than with speech-only stimuli. The results of this study indicate that children have the potential to be more engaged when listening to steady beats than when listening to verbal-only instructions. Therefore, it is conceivable that listening to a steady beat pattern during mathematics teaching activities in the early childhood classroom could promote better attention and increased engagement in young children." Continuing, "Steady beats and rhythms that parents use to soothe their infants or rock them to sleep and the songs they sing to their children contain many complex patterns."

Since our heartbeat is our most natural rhythm, we should therefore implement it into our teaching more often. Furthermore, we should not contain this line of teaching simply to children. It is important to note that every musician can benefit from becoming more connected with our own personal internal rhythm. In fact, it might be suitable to spend part of your practice time in a quiet space, listening to your heartbeat. As an experiment, sit with your heartbeat before a practice session, asking yourself the following questions:

How does it change?
What does it mean when it changes?
Is it strong?
What is the time signature?
Can I play a song to it?

These questions and many others can give us great insight to how our personal natural rhythm works, sounds and feels. This enlightens us to something that is overpassed for it's simplicity. Our heartbeat is a part of us, just like music is a part of us. Let's join the two together to gain the simple nuance that lifts the music into joining our life essence and resounding beyond what our mind can do alone.

3 replies

Limitless Musical Expression

September 13, 2013 22:21

It was a cool late night in September several years ago that I found myself sitting underneath the open sky, lit only by the moon and stars. Music flowed freely between the large trees that stood to outline a glorious natural skyline. I wasn't the only one enjoying this magnificent display of music and nature. Without thinking twice, I knew this was where I was supposed to be. That particular moment echoed within me a sense of freedom and creativity everyone longs for. I wasn't alone in my experience, I was joined in unison by hundreds of other campers at the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Ks. While there was a communal air amongst the musicians who attend this open air musical celebration each year, this unique moment can be experienced by anyone willing to take music outside.

Just as I felt that freedom that brilliant night in September, we too can give that feeling to our students. We can show them that there are many wonders to playing music outside. We can show them that their music is directly affected by the environment they are a part of. Furthermore, there are many musical components not available to us in the classroom; Bird calls, wind in the trees, rhythm in rain, rustling of the grass and distant sounds of the unknown. We hold a deep connection to these outside nuances. Therefore, we should do everything within our power to show this to our students.

As you can imagine, the benefits that are possible by playing music outside are incredible. First, there are physical responses, according the National Wildlife Federation, spending time outside raises levels of Vitamin D, thus helping protect children from future bone problems, heart disease, diabetes and other health issues. It also reports that exposure to natural settings may be widely effective in reducing ADHD symptoms. And it states that children’s stress levels fall within minutes of seeing green spaces. Imagine being able to impact your students health and response to stress by simply going outside. These are just three of over 15 benefits listed in their report. The American Psychological Association also states that; "...being outside enables children to learn more effectively, and improves a child's ability to concentrate."(Frances Kuo, PhD, founder of the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.) and these reports don't even begin to show the benefits of adding music to nature.

If we are lessessed we are able to express ourselves more freely, as a result.

As cultivators of creative education, we need to try to take the opportunity to teach outside. Many have suggested that when teaching a child outside, that the child may easily become distracted. However I have seen that while there may seem to be more distractions, but the child is actually able to concentrate on the music more.

When we play for the birds and the trees we are enabled to express ourselves without feeling as though we are being judged. For nature doesn't judge us, we are able to play with our true feelings exposed. We can say what we are feeling without speaking - we play it. We express ourselves in a magnificent juncture of music and nature.

3 replies

Educators Are Cultivators That Influence Generations

September 8, 2013 13:09

We live in an ever changing age. Possibly the people most effected by all of these changes are the developing future - children. Children are bombarded every second with high-sensory stimuli that penetrate their psyche's, separating reality from fiction. Although not all of what children are exposed to is bad or detrimental, the majority of what is popularized in the mainstream sets a shaky platform for our young adults of the future.

In a nationally representative study (Douglas A. Gentile, Ph.D. Iowa State University; Psychological Science, September 22, 2008), Douglas A. Gentile, Ph.D. found that the average American 8- to 18-year-old plays video games for 13.2 hours per week on average. That might not seem alarming, but let's take it a few steps further; According to a survey of parents nation-wide, 36% of children ages 0-6 years old have played video games. Furthermore, a child's brain grows 75%-90% of it's adult size by age 6. Continuing, by this age(6), children have begun to have interactions with individuals outside the family nest and should be faced with the dilemmas of having to solve conflicts with other children and adults, i.e. school, pre-school, play dates involving other adults in authority positions, etc. If children have been exposed to violent media; video games, TV shows, news, advertisements, etc - they are more likely to resolve conflicts aggressively and through violence(ActAgainstViolinence). This behavior is directly reinforced as they enter ages 8-10 and solidified as a more "natural" way of responding after continuing into young adult-hood.

Children are met with an increasing amount of responsibility, as well. By the age of 5 they have officially entered first grade, in where most children are expected to act like little adults and sit quietly in their chairs to do their work. In a sense, we are grooming them to be workers, not creative unique individuals. With this, children are met with massive amounts of pressure at an early age. Leaving them to run to mind-numbing media to subdue them. This reminds me of a poignant quotation from American singer-songwriter Jim Morrison:

“Whoever controls the media, controls the mind”(James Douglas Morrison, December 08, 1943-July 03, 1971).

As artistic and music educators we have the unique opportunity to influence all children and to combat the negative influences of today's media. As stated before, not all media is bad, but many examples are. Therefore, we hold a special position in the lives of our students. We represent everything that is creative, wholesome and nurturing. We place an instrument in their hands as a mode for stimulating their minds to think individually and expressively. Through this cultivation there are strides made towards a stronger community of individuals focused in a sharing of internal thoughts and feelings.

A McGill University(1998) study found that pattern recognition and mental representation scores improved significantly for students given music instruction for a three-year period. They also found that self-esteem improved while they were taking music lessons. so we see that through music we have increased their mental score, improved their self esteem, encouraged creative thought and stimulated their mind to think expressively. We see that through this we hold the key to future non-violent resolutions between leaders of the next three or more generations. For there is a compounding effect that is at work within the positive work we do with children. As we enable a child to think positively and abstractly in the face of difficulty, we also enable the child to pass these virtues on to their children, friends and future colleagues. Therefore, this makes our job as innovative educators of utmost importance and value. We need to make a personal connection instead of the electronic connection that pervades their life.

We are more than educators, we are cultivators. We play a pivotal role in the shaping of our future society. We are the important role models that set more then a musical example. We set a human example. There is nothing more precious than this, that we are able to change the course of history by simply teaching a musical instrument.

With additional editing and review by Betsy Dysart, life-long educator and homeschooler.

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