Monday, August 11, 2008

Thinking Outside the Box

I consider myself very logical when it comes to teaching. I don't really consider myself creative or "progressive."

But, lordy, I've joined a piano teachers list. And it's completely shocking to me how far outside the box I teach. In fact, I'm so far out of the box, I'm standing in the next field, staring at them a bit stunned, wondering why in the heck they are way over there.

It's a little weird, because I just assumed everyone would be standing over here.

A whole lot of teachers dig through "methods," trying to figure out which ones get which results. I don't understand this. I have certain goals of understanding for my students, and... I just teach it to them. The thought of sitting around and waiting for a method book to present a principle or skill is completely beyond my comprehension.

You look at the student, where they are, and you figure out where they need to grow, and you teach what they need to learn.

What's even more bizarre, is someone will pop on the list, and say "Oh no! I have X problem!" And FLOODS of people will helpfully listen and suggest, "Switch to X method!"

Er... um, if you tell them how to fix the problem, they won't NEED a method. A method won't fix anything! It's just... silly! Tell them how to fix the problem!

But a method is very comforting. It promises that the student is getting a complete education (not that it always delivers). It promises that the teacher won't forget a skill. It promises that every skill will be sufficiently learned. It promises to do all the heavy lifting.

I think, sometimes, when we want to improve our writing or get published or get an agent or whatever, we seek the "method." After all, the method promises to get us to our goal without a single missed step.

In my experience, the "method" works with about 10% of students, if that.

Because what they need to review, what they need learn next, what they need for motivation, what they need to table for awhile, is not only different for every student, but different for every student every week.

I definitely think it's important to learn from other people. It's much wiser to learn from other people's mistakes. I think that's where the line stops. Learn from other's mistakes. But find your own way and keep your own counsel.

Sometimes the method will take you around the block, down a side street, over a hill, and around the town before you get what you wanted.

Just look at what you need, where you want to go, and you will see the direct line. And you'll be surprised, if you look around after you arrive at your destination, at the detours a "method" takes.

Have you ever "gone" somewhere in your own way, a way perfectly logical that worked, only to look around discover you're way outside the box?

20 bonus scribbles:

lainey bancroft 8/12/2008 09:20:00 AM  

I hate the very word method.

I hate that my kids (who are both good in math) have been dinged for points numerous times for not 'showing their work and using the correct method' du jour. A right answer is RIGHT!

Trying to enforce the wrong 'method' on certain people would inhibit learning. I wish more teachers--of music and everything else--would understand that.

Writing-wise I got tired of hearing you HAVE to write 300-1000 words everyday if you want to be a REAL writer. Sometimes I do. More often I'm way more succesful when I take a day or two away from the writing and then sit and spill 3-5000 words in one sitting. *shrug*

conley730 8/12/2008 10:11:00 AM  

I always hated having to show my work in math too, Lainey! I knew how to get the correct answer, but I didn't always get to it the "right" way.

Spy, your non-method teaching seems far more rational to me than making each student into a method robot!

Melanie Avila 8/12/2008 10:36:00 AM  

LOL, I had the same problem with showing my work!

Great post Spy! I hate all the rules that get forced on us in different disciplines. As long as you understand the end point, the rest shouldn't matter. (beyond the basics, of course)

spyscribbler 8/12/2008 11:20:00 AM  

Lainey, that's frustrating! I remember hating to write out all those steps.

Yes, it's so true about writing. I do have to write every day, or I get rusty, but I've gone weeks without writing. Even months, sometimes.

And missing a week of writing helps me see my WIP more clearly when I go back.

spyscribbler 8/12/2008 11:22:00 AM  

Conley, I agree. I mean, I taught a method book for one student, once, because she was a transfer student with slight learning challenges. I didn't want to mess with what worked.

When she left two years later, I realized we'd done very little. I think it turns the teacher into a robot!

spyscribbler 8/12/2008 11:23:00 AM  

Totally, Melanie. There's a line, you know? It's good to learn from other people, but there's a point where you have to find your own way. We're all different!

Zoe Winters 8/12/2008 03:45:00 PM  

I have a lot of books related to writing and the business of publishing, and I often wonder, "well why the hell hasn't someone combined these points over here, with those over there, cause that sounds like an awesome plan!"

And yet, I find that I'm the one who has to pick through and pick and choose a la carte and figure out what's going to work for me. I disagree with something from every book I read. But I also find new knowledge and am persuaded in new directions.

I think it took Edison like 10,000 tries to invent the light bulb. And he wasn't following a "method." A method is a "one true way" and with anything creative or worth doing there is never a "one true way" to get there. There's just "this worked for this person, that worked for that person. Figure out your path from there."

The key for Edison was experimentation, and I think that's the key for everyone. If Edison had followed a method, we'd all be writing in the dark.

Stewart Sternberg 8/12/2008 03:45:00 PM  

Your words are wise. However, once long ago a therapist and I worked on a psychoeducational group. He applauded my group work skills but was appalled by my then lack of knowledge about theory.

"You have a great intuitive grasp. But sometimes you need something for backup when the intuitive doesn't work."

Teaching is that way. I have my own system, but I often consciously plan other approaches to reach different students, since there are ,if you believe Garnder, seven intelligences, and there are different levels of intellect and personality.

Edie 8/12/2008 04:07:00 PM  

Spy, I have a teacher friend and a teacher sister. My friend doesn't follow all the rules, and my sister did. My friend retained the joy of teaching and my sister ended switching back to her old job this summer. I think that says it all.

As for writing, if she stick too slavishly to what we perceive is "the method," we might be stripping the personality out of the work. I think that's true in any creative field, whether you're teaching or doing.

Robin 8/12/2008 09:15:00 PM  

Every time I try a method I suck at it. I went to a long conference to learn John March's "method" of treating kids with OCD. Part of it involves them laying on a couch, trying to relax, and breathing through their diaphram. When I tried it 2 kids refused to lie on the couch, one kid called me a fruitcake, and 1 kid had a panic attack. I'm not very relaxing to be around.

Dube 8/12/2008 11:44:00 PM  

Fascinating. People flock to "methods" because they seem so easy and require little thought. A lot of self-help books are designed this way, too.

But you're right. The "method" that works for one person will need to be tweaked, or changed completely, for a different person. Kudos to you for doing just that. :)

Bernita 8/13/2008 09:05:00 AM  

know what you mean - the emphasis on process formula rather than results.

Michelle,  8/13/2008 11:04:00 AM  

All I can say to this great post is, yes, all the time and in many different ways. You have described it perfectly.

spyscribbler 8/13/2008 08:14:00 PM  

Zoe, I think that's the perfect method: find the bits and pieces here and there that help you. A la carte is the best, I think!

spyscribbler 8/13/2008 08:17:00 PM  

Stewart, in the piano world, there's this bizarre thing: many of the people who write these method books don't actually teach. And then there are the piano pedagogy teachers who get a degree and have NEVER taught in their life: but they have the degree.

It's true, I read all the theory. I steal from sports coaching, classroom teaching, whatever. But a whole lot of theory is just theoretical and has no practical use. At least in piano!

spyscribbler 8/13/2008 08:19:00 PM  

Edie, what great words! They say that we human beings have a basic need to grow. Sometimes, when I'm in a rut, I force change just to shake things up. I need that shaking things up! :-)

spyscribbler 8/13/2008 08:20:00 PM  

ROFLMAO, Robin! I find the same thing with piano "methods." So many are theoretical, based on this study or that study, and they don't work in the "real" world.

spyscribbler 8/13/2008 08:22:00 PM  

Dube, I admit to flocking to self-help books for just that. It's at a point, though, that I realize it's the hope that helps me, not so much the method, which I usually abandon after a day!

spyscribbler 8/13/2008 08:22:00 PM  

Results, yes, that's it Bernita! Exactly!

spyscribbler 8/13/2008 08:24:00 PM  

Michelle, isn't it such a strange feeling to look around afterward?