When I had the opportunity to listen last week to that excellent speaker on diversified instruction, I was not a participant but a spectator. I am no longer in the classroom, so I just knitted my sock and listened politely as the speaker talked about students who can’t process things fast enough to keep up with the class, students who can’t process things slowly enough to keep back with the class, students whose problems at home make school seem unimportant, students with limited English. I thought of my own school experiences and my own children’s experiences in the classroom.
The speaker said that teaching ends up being all about IT. They get IT. They don’t get IT. How do we get IT across to them? It ought to be about the students, about helping them meet their goals, not about how much of IT we can shovel into them.
Since hearing that interesting presentation, I have thought about it often. I have done several workshops and columns on the subject of how to get IT across to the students in interesting ways, and I saw no real way around that.
But it strikes me that I am also a student now and a teacher now in music. In handbell choir, I am the student who doesn’t have enough background to be able to keep up. I am not hugely interested in handbells, but I am a willing and cooperative person, and I would be willing and probably able to learn to play handbells well. However, since the “teacher” (the director) has to get IT (the pieces we are supposed to play in the service) across, I have been put where I am least likely to cause trouble (the middle C bell) and then largely ignored. I have gotten to the point of being able to get the sound of middle C out at the right times, and that is probably where I will stay.
In choir, I am the student who already has IT, so you can ignore them. If there is a solo going, I can usually have it if I want it, but otherwise I am left alone. I will not improve or learn in that setting, either.
So I thought about the choir I am leading. We meet for the second time today. We have some able singers and some one-note Charlies, and then the group in the middle.
I diversify instruction, in the sense of presenting information in a number of different ways, covering things at all the levels present in the class, being responsive to student needs — but I kept them all in a single group. We did everything together. In handbells, I work hard to keep up, and some of the choristers in my youth choir are working hard to keep up. In choir, I wait politely through instruction that I don’t need, and some of the choristers in the youth choir are doing the same.
How to get around that?
Now, since this is probably not a topic that you care about deeply, I am going to add some pictures that #1 son took at Bonnaroo. To distract you.