Trying to teach
Sometimes it can be really hard to teach the students at Pelican Primary. They don’t always listen – they don’t always remember to listen, and they also get distracted easily. Many of them have lived their whole lives surrounded by a certain amount of constant chaos, I would say. It’s not an environment that encourages calm focus as a matter of course. There is also a high number of English Language Learners (EAL/ESL) students in the school – some are new arrivals, others have only started learning English when they started school. Therefore part of this tendency towards distraction may also be caused by the weariness that comes from constantly needing to process and decipher unfamiliar language. I sense too, that the kids who can focus, get fed up with waiting for everyone else so they switch off too.
I’ve been working in this kind of environment for some years now, so I have some strategies that I feel are very effective for teaching musical principles and disciplines through environmental and implicit means,rather than explicit instruction. However, there are limitations on what can be explained or taught in this way, and there are definitely some days where I go home feeling weary, and bothered by the sense that I didn’t really teach anyone anything that day. I didn’t challenge or extend any of those who are dying to be challenged, and I didn’t sufficiently engage those other students who need to be given sparks to motivate them to latch onto something.
Therefore, the days when I do get the chance to explain something, to teach them, are exciting – thrilling, even! Last week, I played a game with the 4/5 class, where we try to count the numbers 1-10 in order. Anyone can say any one of the numbers, but if more than one person says a number we have to go back to 1 and try again. It’s a simple enough game but quite tricky to realise, and they love it. That particular week we had some time, and we had good focus from everyone, so were able to dig into the game more deeply. We observed and discussed patterns and tendencies that individuals have. We talked about competitiveness, and the way some voices constantly take the initiative, come to the fore (but in doing so can take space away from the others in the group). We experimented with taking some of the more dominant characters out of the mix – not as a punishment, but just to see what happened in the game if those people weren’t involved.
The whole game lasted for about fifteen minutes and as I looked around the class I could see thoughtful, engaged faces, puzzling over the notions of teamwork and ensemble that arise in this game, and the skills inherent in ‘making space’ for others. After the class their teacher told me that she’d also been fascinated by the way they played the game that day. “All those issues that were arising and getting discussed are issues that play out among them on a daily basis,” she said. “Who goes first, who has to talk over the top of others, who has to make sure their voice is heard first giving the answer to something, ever when everyone knows they know…” Perhaps this prior awareness was one of the reasons their engagement was so strong. It was satisfying to be able to facilitate them grabbing hold of a problem and nutting it out in a positive, solution-focused way, that meant that they could learn from the experience, and be changed in some way by it.