At the end of his essay titled Effecting Change, Dr. Robert Duke speaks to the necessity of having a unit of analysis for observation. A lesson is an incredibly complex and multifaceted event. Filled with instruction, feedback, gestures, playing, storytelling, demonstrating and countless other activities, it can be difficult as a novice to sort out the significant and the insignificant.
Dr. Duke trains our attention on two things. First, because the purpose of teaching is to change students we must look for student change within the lesson. The words and actions worth paying attention to in lessons are those directly correlated to student change. Second, observers should narrow their focus from the heterogenous instructional interactions of the entire lesson to discrete moments of work on proximal performance goals. By using short time periods of instruction, which Dr. Duke calls rehearsal frames, as an organizing principle it is much easier to discern effective units of teaching and identify productive patterns of instruction.
I focused on the subject of the home environment in parent education at String Project this Saturday and Dr. Duke’s discussion of observation reminds me of the way Dr. Shinichi Suzuki compared music education to language learning. Submerged in a rich environment of constant, complex communication children soak up information constantly. However, awash in novel information the organizing principle used to derive meaning in language is observation of direct change. They hear “milk” and milk is in their mouth. They hear “bye-bye” and someone is absent. They hear “up” and suddenly their body is in the air. As a novice teacher I can find myself overwhelmed in observations. Like a baby, I can’t yet navigate the nuance of lessons. However, if I study change in student behavior within rehearsal frames, effective instruction will begin to be evident. The complexity of observation shouldn’t be avoided, in fact we should all continue to submerge ourselves in rich environments of quality teaching, but in knowing where to focus attention observations become far more enlightening.
This post is one in a series of concise reflections on Dr. Robert Duke’s Intelligent Music Teaching: Essays on the Core Principles of Effective Instruction. Find the others here.