The Independent Student

Great insight into the minds of our teenage students. Take away thoughts:

  • We need to give students a a sense of agency.
  • When given the choice, the student will choose the task that gives him a chance to be creative.
  • When given the freedom to explore, students begin to find questions in everything.
  • Everybody truly wants to learn.
  • This type of creative learning doesn’t involve a lot of fancy equipment.
  • When the adults get out of the way, the students learn.

Now how can we apply these ideas to teaching piano? Maybe the first step is to put away the method books for a while and see what happens.

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6 responses

  1. I would have a bit more interest in these sorts of things if, in my experience, they were not almost uniformly spearheaded by people with an absolute raging contempt for the sciences. I’d have to be very guarded in my opinion of this sort of program until I learned more about it.

    The desire to be creative was what got me OUT of music and into physics. Contrasting “right notes versus wrong notes” with a wide-armed welcoming for innovation and new ways to solve problems and even new problems to solve was why I had an 18 year hiatus in piano. IME, formal music can rarely to never touch the vividness and celebration of creativity of the sciences and math.

    So I would hope that this program isn’t run only by a bunch of arts types who can’t add, but also includes math teachers and chemistry teachers who are anxious and eager to demonstrate the beauty and vitality of their disciplines as well. I’ve known as many math professors in my day who CAN play an instrument at a near-conservatory level as I’ve known musicians and arts types who can’t count to ten on their fingers. I just wouldn’t want to see this program pitting the rainbow ponies and daisies of the arts against the evil gunmetal tanks and mules of the sciences.

  2. What I liked about this program is that it came from the students themselves with no teacher or administrative supervision except for one guidance counselor who is their adviser. They do address the sciences and math in a very creative exploratory way. The kids teach themselves by choosing a topic, exploring that topic in detail, and then sharing their knowledge with the other students in the program.

    Granted, this video is slightly off topic from my usual piano/music posts, but I think it’s important because it gives teachers an insight into the way a student wants to learn.

    Here’s a link to the NYT article about the program….

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/15/opinion/15engel.html

    • Good good good! Awesome! As long as it’s complete, and truly well-rounded.

      I’d hate to imagine trying this in my high school. FWIW, I went to a Catholic high school for girls, and under no circumstances whatsoever would they have allowed us this much latitude. The boys’ school, maybe. Not the girls’ school. Never in a million years.

      It would also be interesting to see how something like this would be translated into a very disadvantaged school. I imagine an exact, one-to-one transfer of the idea might not work, but there should be a way to move this type of thing into a poorer school.

      Regards piano, I’ve felt for a long time that teachers need to do more than just teach technique, important though that is. Looking in a real historical way at the lives of various composers (especially if the kid will be expected to choose one to specialize in), picking out songs by ear, designing left-hand accompaniment, then writing … It would have made such a difference to me had I know that it really was more than just right notes versus wrong notes, what I call paint-by-numbers.

      I think sometimes the right notes and wrong notes approach is more comforting for a teacher, because they will always know the answer when a student asks a question and will never be without an authoritative reply. “Play it that way because that’s what Haydn wrote.” “Too slow, the metronome marking says 60.” You’re never caught flat-footed, and success or failure is always completely defined.

      If the topic is more interpretive, there’s a chance the teacher will have to reply, “I’m not sure,” or the dreaded, “I don’t know.” Or worse still, “However you like.” It will take a while for both student and teacher to get used to the idea that there are no longer right and wrong answers, with an A for one and an F for the other.

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