Saturday, December 1, 2012

Zero to Sixty in Four Pages (or less)

One of my long-standing pet peeves is when otherwise competent educators miss the point entirely when compiling a course of study. I’ve seen it in every field I’ve taught in, and it continues to drive me nuts. My guess is, it also drives student’s nuts when they’re trying to make a bit of progress but the lesson essentially abandons them part way.

What I’m referring to is groupings of exercises that jump from introductory to advanced with no warning. How often have you seen a basic pattern on page one and a complex pattern on page three? I’ve even seen complicated patterns thrown in on page one!

The way you learn is through ‘baby steps’. You master a little bit, then you add a bit more or change it around slightly. You don’t -- and can’t -- jump from the basics to the advanced without going through the intermediate steps.

So why do some teachers do this? One theory is that they want to show off. I’ve seen instances where I know this to be the case, and it’s disturbing to see a teacher putting an ego boast ahead of the student’s learning needs.

Perhaps the authors simply don’t know any better. This could be the result of either of two teaching faults. One is not understanding the material well enough to lay it out in an approachable manner. That’s not a good sign (and possibly motivation for looking around for someone different to study with). The other possibility, and I think the one that is most pervasive, is that the teacher knows the material well, but has forgotten that the student doesn’t have the background to unpack it and fill in the blanks. This is not exclusive to drums or music. I see it everywhere.

The best teaching advice I’ve heard is to assume the student is just as smart as the teacher but knows almost nothing about that topic. I expect my students to be able to figure some things out for themselves, but if they haven’t been given proper preparation, it may be too obscure or frustrating. The lesson must move from simple to advanced in logical steps. Even a gifted student may not be able the make the mental leap we experienced players made long ago and perhaps after years of experimentation and cogitation.

So if line 3 seems much too hard compared to lines 1 and 2, ask if the author has created a reasonable, logical progression or if line 3 is perhaps in the wrong place.

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