May 2014

Three Keys to Lesson Success

May 29, 2014 17:41

We live in a fast paced world where it has become harder and harder for the teacher to capture the attention of the young student. Teacher can resort to stunts, games and other crazy strategies in order to attempt to engage the student in focused attention. Even though I think these strategies are important to sprinkle the lesson with, I think being result focused as a instructor is by far more important. We must ask, "What is the RESULT or outcome of this lesson?" When we focus our own attention to what really matters for that limited time in the classroom with the student, we achieve massive results regardless of the attention span of the student. We must adapt to the attention spans versus attempting to change them.

There is one singular focus that every teacher should take into every lesson in order to impact the life of the student in a way that is doesn't need the students attention approval. That focus should be to connect something they don't know with something they do know. This would apply with any student regardless of knowledge level. This may mean playing directly into their distractions such as video games, current news and preferences. When you connect what is familiar with what isn't familiars via finding something that IS a familiar connection between the two the learning is virtually painless, happening with ease.

1. Understanding what is known outside the subject matter.
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What does the student really understand or like and use on a regular basis in their life? Understanding this by asking questions and learning about the student will give you great insight to how to connect the information you want them to absorb.

2. Look for a Sliver.
Imagine in your mind the information you wish to teach the student and find anything that is exactly similar to what the student relates to.

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You might need to do some deep insightful work and introspection into the information you wish to depart to the student. Sometimes it will be easier, sometimes it will be hard.

3. Connect
Connect the information in a way the student will understand. This will be different depending on each student, i.e. why knowing the student well is very important.

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Once the connection is found you should make that connection as many times as possible. Mentally keep your focus during the lesson as to keep directing the new information towards the connection between the known and unknown.

By following these three keys, you will see amazing results in each lesson -- with a virtual guarantee in a successful lesson every time. By following these steps you are becoming apart of the their distractions and morphing your new information into what ever they are currently focusing on, pulling them into your educational world. Keep your focus as not to be pulled off task. Simply keep referencing the connection and pulling the young student back into the world of music.

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Every Child Can Learn -- On Their Own

May 28, 2014 19:56


As I do every Tuesday afternoon, I drove up eagerly to the house of one of my students. My student, age 6, is a very energetic and music loving child in which I enjoy teaching very much. Sometimes I pinch myself in disbelief with the quality of students that I am privileged to have a chance to impact. As I park the car I notice that my student is running out to greet me with a, more than normal, excited glow about her. I pop out of the car, exclaiming "What are you so excited about today?" In which the answer came bolting out of her month before I had barley finished my question. "Mr. Thomas! Mr. Thomas! I learned Boil em' Cabbage!!!" She proclaimed with the enthusiasm of a thousand children. Puzzled, I knelt down to her level and said, softly, "But you already know Boil em' Cabbage. I taught it to you several months ago." She looked up at me sharply with her big brown eyes, cocked a secretive smile and whispered, "No Mr. Thomas... I learned it on the guitar!"

She is a piano student.

This five year old energetic little girl took it upon herself to learn a song she loved on another instrument that happened to be in the same house. This is one of those moments as a teacher where you want nothing more but to encourage the behavior of your student so there is a positive experience engulfing the actions she took to think outside the box and act on inspiration. And that is exactly what I did. We exchanged high-fives and smiles as we walked into the house so she could show me the great work she had done -- on the guitar.

I understand that I might not showcase the same mind set as some of colleagues regarding this type of self-inititive action by students. In fact, it has been brought to my attention recently that teachers are shunning and putting down students for this type of activity. It is my understanding that teachers may feel as though students are "stepping out of bounds" or into the teachers territory when a students takes it upon themselves to learn a new song or transfer knowledge to another instrument, arguing that the technical components of that activity needs to be monitored by a "professional". A solid argument; did my student have perfect technical form on the guitar after only knowing piano? No, of course not. But by focusing on that, or shunning, would automatically stifle that light in her eyes as she proudly performed for me a song she transferred on her own, making that experience negative. We should all agree that music is for FUN first, not to be used as a tool to decided a hierarchal system between masters and mortals. Where have we gone so dreadfully wrong to think that stifling initiative and "outside-the-classroom" thinking is a part of a teachers job description?

When we dig deep and understand ourselves as teachers we find that we are much more than conduits of information -- we are enablers. As instructors our chief aim should be to enable each student to be able to operate on the principles and systems that we have taught them. In the end, they will go off and live lives without the helpful hand of an instructor. But isn't that the goal with everything else?; In math, science, homemaking, accounting, car maintenance, we never prescribe an instructor for ever. We teach them everything we know so they will be able to live on without us and grow from the foundational information we have laid before them. Teaching music should be the same. Our chief aim should be to enable them to take discipline, dedication, commitment, and memorization as skills that can be applied to other aspects of their lives. Furthermore, we should heavily encourage self-starter behavior so that they understand the value of exploring, being curious and venturing into unknown lands of creativity and expression. By doing this we are cultivating a future that is bright and prosperous via the values we install through our mode of teaching in the minds of children.

As instructors, we have a choice to make -- right now. Are we going to allow space for our future to expand and explore? Or are we going to claim that we know best all the time nothing should be done outside of the classroom?

As a professional, tell me you've never learned a song without a teacher. You can't.

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The Winds of Change - Tech in Teaching

May 6, 2014 11:55

The day was a Tuesday as I entered my student's house, I noticed that every person in the the house was sitting in front of a screen of some kind. Interestingly, I felt like the "bad guy" as I pulled my student away from her screen to the piano where there was, odiously, no screen.

I have been personally battling internally with the emerging trend of mass technology that is influencing the lives and brains of our children -- the next generation. Honestly, what are the pros and cons of this emerging obsession of technological fixation?

(I've only listed three in each category for sake of an overview)

Pros as I see them are; 1. New ways of educating., 2. New ways of engaging the information being taught., 3. Faster learning.

Cons that concern me are:1. Shorter attention spans. 2. Limited physical engagement. 3.Limited human engagement.

For some, the cons "out-weigh" the pros in almost every argument made. But just as the wheel now helps us get across the country to visit family, so to does current technological advances aid us , if we don't spend every waking hour consumed by it's forces.

After the internal battle smoke had settled, I decided to, tastefully to experiment with implementing the use of technology into my lessons. Initially, I wanted to see if there were improvements in three main areas;

Student engagement.

Depth of concept understanding.

Attention during the class.

Device Used: Kindle Fire HD

Apps Used: Whiteboard / MYOT(make your own test)

Essentially, the whiteboard is what I used the most, offering four different colors(green, blue, red, and black) with a save feature and the ability to take a picture to act as the whiteboard background.

MYOT is exactly as advertised. You can customize a test with varying degrees and types of questions. There is nothing fancy here, simply a test making app. Simple. Clean. Effective.

After two weeks of carefully deciding when to use the whiteboard, allowing students to draw symbols, excerpts of music or pictorial representations of the music they like the results were astounding. Although I had a bias, against tech use I was pleased and delighted to note the positive changes in the three classroom criterion listed above. It was interesting to observe that I saw improvement in each of the three areas.

Each lesson seemed to encompass the flow that did incorporate the technology that I was using. I realized also that it mattered not to my students what we were doing on the tablet, more that we were just simply using a tablet.

I came to understand that because children are so attuned to technology, just the slightest use of it sparks their interest. This is as if someone was driving the first car, they might be seen as royalty or of privilege. Now, everyone has one so it's common to drive to the store or your favorite restaurant. Now, with tech, children are used to seeing being used in the homes, stores and school as a central mode of communication and learning. Therefore, what the implementation of technology can do in the classroom, with control by the teacher, catches the attention in a way that isn't as novel as we might want to believe.

In conclusion, we must embrace new technologies and arising trends amongst the younger generations. They are changing with the times and educators should learn to flow with that change in a way that benefits the next generation is the best way possible. This reminds me of the Zen parable that states; "The tree branch moves in the wind as to not be broken by that which is unseen."

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