The learning trajectory

Often at the Language School, it feels quite hard to get a full understanding of how things make sense to the children, and what things they retain. When they first arrive, they figure out what to do in each class by observing the other children and joining in by copying. They have very little idea behind the intentions of the tasks. They are also silent, or pretty well silent. They are working incredibly hard just to listen and keep track of this new, alien environment.

Later, perhaps after a term or so, they become more confident in the class routines, and may begin to speak or offer one- or two- word comments in response to questions, or sometimes on their own initiative. Around this time, as their language skills increase, I think the many tasks they do in music, as well as in their general classroom work, make a bit more sense, and the intention behind the activity, or the learning objective/focus, becomes clearer.

It is coming to the end of term and students in each class – usually those who have been at the school three terms, although this can vary – are getting ready to leave the school and make the transition to a mainstream school. It’s an exciting time, but also, I imagine, an anxious time, as they worry about whether they know enough, and how they will feel, and if they will find friends, and what it will be like to be new and confused all over again.

So it gave me great pleasure in class this week when one of my Upper Primary students suggested at the end of the lesson that we sing People Get Ready, a song we had learned the previous term. Those who knew it (most of the class) sang with confidence and enthusiasm.

“Let’s sing … the one about swimming to Australia!” suggested another student. This was a song that we had composed together in th previous term. I ended up not being very convinced by it, as there were a lot of words to learn, and I’d given the students a lot of input into the melodic shape, which meant it didn’t have quite the contour that I’d have liked.

Australia is an island

With water all around

You have to go by plane or ship

If you tried to swim you’d drown!

No you can’t swim to Australia….

I started up this song, and again, all that knew it sang it with gusto. There was no faltering over the fast words, or the awkward melody. Afterwards their teacher raised her eyebrows at me.

“That was pretty good singing,” she said, impressed. “All those words remembered!”

Then Michael, a good-natured but often distracted boy from Liberia suggested yet another song that he remembered from his time in the school – “that one about… just arrived… new country…”

When you’ve just arrived in a new country (When you’ve just arrived in a new country)

Some things are very hard for you…

I began to sing it, and Michael joined it. At the end of the first verse I smiled at him, and told the rest of the class, “This is a song we wrote in Middle Primary. Michael knows it because he was in Middle Primary before Upper Primary.”

“Me too!” said another boy, Tan. “I know it too.” That’s right. Tan had also changed classes during his time in the school.

We sang another verse. I wasn’t sure I could remember any others. The boys paused and thought.

“There was another one, a hard one, with very fast words,” Tan remembered. Ah yes…

Your heart is full of many feelings (heart is full of many feelings)

Some things are very hard for you

Tan’s comment really touched me. Those words are fast. But now he can sing them. And he remembers that, earlier, when we were singing this song, he used to find them too fast, and very difficult. Of course there will be times in the students’ experience at this school when they struggle in particular with one thing or another. But it is rare that I hear them comment on this.

I think about Michael, when he first arrived in the school, how withdrawn he had been, and then unfocused. Or Tan, who had seemed so floppy and vague and disconnected. Now they are leaders in their class, singing solos, and knowing all the words. That day, I felt so proud for Tan, and Michael, and all the other exiting students, for the progress they have made, and for their memories of their younger, struggling selves.


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