Friday, September 5, 2014

Six Questions to Ask a Learner

Foundations for Learning #1:  Introduction - Six Questions

As teachers, there are six questions that we should potentially ask of our learners, if possible.  Before we ask them, though, it's important to ask ourselves these same questions since we are all life-long learners.  Below, I answer the questions for myself.  I already ask a version of a few of these with my students, but I look forward to adding these into my conversation with new students as I do believe it will help me tweak my teaching to their learning styles.

How Am I Smart?
I am musically smart.  In the music world, I generally pick up things quickly.  That doesn't mean I don't have to practice -- for perfection, I'm like anyone else, I still need to drill.  However, I can pick up the gist of a piece fairly quickly.

I am book smart.  I have always been a voracious reader across many interests.  I enjoy learning most things -- science especially.  This has been a great help to me as a homeschooling mom for a younger kid.  The Peanut is still at the age that I'm truly learning right along side her, although her independence in this matter is starting to shine through.  I have enjoyed learning all sorts of things with her that I probably wouldn't have otherwise taken time to learn.  As the teacher in this relationship, it helps if I can grasp the big picture concepts quickly so I can help guide her.

Finally, I am people smart.  I don't think I always was, but teaching one-on-one has really helped me in this area.  In a one-on-one setting, being able to read people is an important skill as it helps move things along faster.  In a lesson, I push my students to their limits, but the limits vary from kid-to kid.  Knowing when I'm about to run up against that brick wall and pulling back gives them the best lesson I can offer.  In the group setting of the co-op classroom, that reading skill is important to help me know where the kid is at -- is she getting it?  Did I just blow his mind?  Are those two chatty because their bored or because they haven't seen each other all week?

What do I know about learning?
Everyone is different.  What works for me may not work for someone else.  I was pleasantly surprised that The Peanut's learning style is similar to my own.  As I explore curriculum and lesson ideas, I always ask myself if this would work for me.  If it does, I have a good shot of making it work for her.  Even so, I still often need to tweak and adjust things for her.

In the one-on-one setting, I talk to them about how they learn in school and how they learn their instrument or choir music already.  The first two - four weeks involves experimentation on my part to see what really works for a student.  Since this is a phase where we're getting to know each other and routines are still being established, it's easy for me to try several things.  Some students I struggle with for longer while some students just click immediately. 

In the classroom setting, I do what I would imagine all other teachers do, I try my best to adapt to each kid and what I know about their styles.  Some of these kids, I've been teaching for a couple of years and know them quite well.  Since our study groups are small -- usually no more than 12 kids -- it's easy for me to get to know the newer kids.

What works best for me?
I am an audio/kinesthetic learner.  I need to hear something first and, in the case of lectures and school work, I need to write information down.  In the case of music, it helps me to play the line on the piano since I get both aspects at once.    When memorizing music, I write out the lyrics on a separate piece of paper and listen to the song a lot on my iPod.

What are my strengths and weaknesses?
My strengths:
  • Intuition -- not only my ability to read people, but my gut usually doesn't lead me astray when I'm questioning what to do next.
  • Open-mindedness -- I do my best to listen to others and continue to learn from those around me.  I try very hard not to judge a situation or person until I get to know them.
  • Loyalty -- I am fiercely loyal to my friends and colleagues.  In the music world, it's extremely important to have a group of people you can trust and rely on since it can be very competitive.  In the teaching world, it's great to have several people to bounce ideas around with.  I am lucky to have fallen in with "the good crowd".
My weaknesses:
  • Confidence -- this can be a positive trait, but sometimes this spills into cockiness when it comes to what I know and don't know.  I recently had a performance that could have gone better because I thought I knew the music better than I did.  It may have been fine if it has been a perfect day, but I was battling exhaustion because I slept poorly and allergies.  The music wasn't anywhere near to muscle memory and the performance suffered because of it.
  • Lack of a filter -- I tend to say what's on my mind which, again, can be positive.  Sometimes, however, it doesn't come out the way I would want it to.  Sometimes, I say it when I should probably not say anything.  I've worked hard in the teaching environment to stop and think before I say something.  In other areas of my life, I seem to not always have this capability.
What helps and hinders my learning?
The biggest hindrance I have is lack of focus and time management.  I usually am juggling too many balls so to sit down and focus on one thing is difficult.   I am working very hard on making the time and making it a priority as I look to starting grad school.  I am also working harder at communicating to those around me when I need it quiet so I can focus.

If I have that quiet focus time, I'm usually pretty good.  My studio space serves as my learning space for music -- it's usually quiet there so I can just focus on the songs I need to learn.  If I put away the distractions (the smart phone, etc), and have an updated prioritized task list, I can usually jump right in. 

Where and when do I learn best?
It depends on what I'm doing.  I learn my music best in my studio.  I do best in small focused chunks bursts of learning (which thankfully works best with my student schedule) so I can background process while doing other stuff.

I do my other work either in the morning or the evening for usually no more than an hour or so at a time.  More than that, and it all starts to blur together.  If I need more time than that, I try to schedule more time with breaks in between in those time periods.  I find book learning difficult in the afternoon, while I could work on music at any time in the day.

Who do I learn best with?
Again, it depends.  As a performer, I am often working as part of a group.  I like to learn my own part by myself, but once I have the basics down, I do best in a group setting because it helps me to understand the big picture better.  I know my performance suffers at least a little when my group is forced to pull something together last minute.

In the case of more academic learning, I can go either way.  I am fine to learn on my own, but I do like have the resource of my peers and/or the teaching staff available to bounce ideas around with if I'm stuck.  I also am fine working collaboratively in a small, focused group.  All too often, though, that group ends up being a chance for social time and not much studying gets done.


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