On Saturday I lead my first class of beginning violin String Project students. They are a crew of four and five year olds. Several take private lessons weekly with me, but the other seven study with two other String Project teachers. The group class began well as we peacefully arranged foot charts, played the watching game, and took a bow. However, the class began to run into complications as I found out certain students did not have instruments, know how to stand in rest position, or had not built a bow hold. The situation, one I walked into confidently thinking we were all starting from scratch together, was not one situation at all but nine different situations.
The problem was, I didn’t know exactly where I was starting with each student. I didn’t know what learning opportunity would (1) produce the most correct responses, (2) minimize errors, and (3) increase habit strength of positive, productive behavior and thought. I was working with seven students, completely new to me, who are now three weeks down a sequence of private instruction that is different from my own. Furthermore, I was not exactly sure what had transpired in the practice session between my lessons with private students and class. Lack of knowledge lead me to leap forward in instruction based on what I knew my private students had begun to master, and then realize all too late that seven students were left disoriented, uncomfortable, and frustrated.
I acknowledge I am responsible not just for the success of my students but also for their failures. This week, I missed an opportunity to truly begin at the beginning and did not foster a sequence of healthy, happy habit building. But next week, as I get on board with other junior cadet teachers, begin at the true beginning, and inch forward towards our target, I will be in control of facilitating their success.
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.