No Dumb Students: Teaching the Non-Intuitive Student. (Pedagogy Saturday VI)

Article excerpt

Opening Session Report Peter Jarjisian, commentator

As director of choral activities at Ohio University and a church choir director as well, I work most often with groups--ensembles of singers and instrumentalists--but also one-to-one, coaching conductors, soloists and future music teachers. Every week I teach more than 200 people who range in age from 17 to 75. Now--thanks to Earl Oremus--I teach differently.

Here's some of what Oremus presented that continues to influence my teaching.

Brain Research: Each person's brain "adapts its function according to its circumstances, that is, according to each individual's experiences." When we're working with students and find that "what works with one, may not work with another, the reason may not be the child's fault." Although this may be overly simplified, it provides some scientific justification for our recognition that no two students are exactly alike.

"If they learn differently, I must teach differently."

Will Rogers once said, "We are all ignorant, only in different areas." Earl Oremus paraphrases, "We are all non-intuitive, only in different areas."

Characteristics of Intuitive Learners: affinity for the activity; motivated by challenge; able to persist despite setbacks; self-supporting; able to intuit sytax, the inner structure, the mechanics of the discipline effortlessly and/or unconsciously; less instruction is needed to achieve mastery; progresses rapidly; extraordinary retention.

Characteristic of Non-Intuitive Learners: distaste for the activity; defeated by high levels of challenge; unable to persist through failure; needs supportive environment/teacher; unable to intuit the internal structure; can't deduce next step; must be taught each fragment overtly; intensive, detailed, carefully sequenced instruction required; unable to "reorder" or use elements taught out of developmental sequence; progresses slowly; constant practice and review necessary; rapid forgetting.

I know, you're already thinking of your most and/or least intuitive students. Is there any facet of their musical intuition that seems especially lacking?

Do they love making music?

Affect is paramount. How a student feels about the activity makes all the difference. If the experience is pleasurable, the learning will occur more easily. The power that "affect" plays was emphasized for each of us when Oremus asked us to recall a "nightmare experience," an activity about which we had felt uncomfortable, incapable, embarrassed, fearful and non-intuitive--feeling what you and I might describe as "performance anxiety." (I remember that just thinking about it led my muscles to tighten and my pulse to rise.) On the other hand, we could designate activities that come easily for us, those that provide the kind of challenges we yearn for. I smiled broadly when Oremus described how it can feel to engage in an intuited activity. He said, "It's not only that you love it, but it feels as though it loves you." Oh, I know that feeling so well when I make music, don't you?

Teachers make mistakes. Oremus reminded us that standard teaching practice may lead us to faulty conclusions. Teachers may have been taught to value and reward the intuitive learner as a "good" student and the non-intuitive as a "bad" student. We may have developed a desire to work only with intuitive learners. What about a student who appears to be noncompliant? In truth, one who seems to be resistant may just be non-intuitive. I don't think I'll ever forget Oremus's description of John, the seventh-grade boy who could read aloud articulately from The Old Man and the Sea, but who broke down in tears when challenged to explain its meaning to the class. I sat there imagining John's pain, and I started to cry myself. We want to prevent our students from experiencing that kind of pain.

"If they learn differently, I must teach differently. …