Lessons from Music

Those of us writing posts for GEDI have likely adapted to and done reasonably well in the current education system. All of us are graduate students who love school so much that we would want to spend a few more years in it. But not every student feels this way. Lectures and coursework could come off as boring and obligatory. Some students might even find school not worth their while to want to make it through to the finish line.

The question of how to engage students and make learning effective is at the heart of education. (Just what did I learn back in history class?!) I’d like to share a pedagogy used by one of my piano teachers that has resonated with me and is relevant to the topic.

This teacher, let’s name him Mr. Motif, loves to repeat himself. I often think, “Why does he have to say the same thing five times in five different ways? How onerous!” Sometimes, he would even make me do ridiculous looking physical motions and emit weird sounds. But I have come to realize that Mr. Motif’s method worked, no matter how tedious it seemed at times. Because out of the many ways he tried to convey one single idea, at least one of them stuck.

Mr. Motif’s teaching method reflected the diversity in modes of learning and internalization. A single way of teaching will not likely resonate with every student. In fact, the word “teaching” implies a one-way transaction in which the student is passive. For some, being talked at might only result in words being bounced off.

Which brings me to the other reason for what I believe to have attributed to the success of Mr. Motif’s method: between the listening, physical motioning and sound emitting, I was an active participant who was able to make meaningful interpretations in a way that worked for myself.

I was excited after reading about the intellectual games played in Reacting to the Past. I saw the possibility of not only active participation but also individual student customization. By being an active game participant, the student could have the freedom to role play, essentially being responsible for his or her own learning. I could never have imagined that a pedagogy I have been used to on a one-on-one basis could be applied to a full-size classroom. Given the chance, I would like to try playing, even if it means braving through history class again.

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Musical motif: a short, recurring musical idea.