Slowly coming to understanding

We finished the music term at the Language School last week, and presented our compositions to parents and friends. Only two students were graduating on to mainstream schools this term, which means we will have lots of the same students returning next term.

It was an interesting term. It seemed to take a while to get settled. I suspect I was more distracted by things outside the school for much of the term – redundancy, and the intensive thesis-writing mode I was in, in particular. Each class have lots of new arrivals, so the level of English understanding was almost zilch.

Interesting things to observe were the different ways students started to show their understanding of what was going on. ‘Experiences of success’ can come in many different ways. For example, I see them taking pride and care in knowing how to put the instruments away at the end of the lesson. This sounds like a small thing, but it is probably an act that is familiar, that they can figure out on their own. These newest students – boys and girls – will pass me the instruments one by one, then scout the room for anything further.

In terms of musical development, things happen at their own pace. Middle Primary has a new student from Ethiopia (I think, or maybe Somalia) who has had very little prior schooling. She spent the first couple of weeks positioning herself next to the teacher and looking very lost. She joined in everything until she had to do something on her own (such as say her name in time to a shared beat), at which point she would get very quiet and shy, understandably so. In the class composition she chose to play the glockenspiel, one of a group of four who were all playing the same melody. She never quite got the hand of it. Her teacher sat beside her, guiding her hand, and saying the rhythmic syllables (based on different fruits) out loud. Then she seemed to invent her own part, which we encouraged her to do; musically, harmonically, it worked, but her rhythm was never quite accurate enough to make it truly fit with the other parts, and for a few weeks there, we were all just tolerating it, and those others in her group got progessively louder (and therefore progressively faster) in order to drown her out!

So it was with great delight in our concert that I noticed her making small adjustments in her music, so that it fit better with the other parts around her. Gradually, she was building confidence in what it was she was to play, and therefore slowly getting to a point where she could let the other sounds into her ear, and be guided by them. My sense was that she had dropped into a new level in music, that I think will allow her to experience even greater awareness and success in the lessons next term.

The presence of lots of new students highlights for me the importance of patience, of trusting that understanding comes slowly, or at different speeds for different children, but that it does come. As with their English learning, it is first about exposure to the new language (sounds) and a slow absorbing of the rules and syntax, through experiencing them, rather than having them explained. If the environment is consistent, then understanding grows, and actual abilities can flurish, and start to be developed further.

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