Content breadth vs depth
Megan F., Nebraska
I have a student whose mom is a fourth grade teacher, and she made a comment last night that I didn’t quite know how to respond to. In referring to the white board on which I had written the notes, including assignments from Foundation Level 3, Acc, C&I, and Arr, she said something to the effect of, “It seems like a lot – for me, anyway – maybe not for my daughter. If I think of it in terms of teaching math, I wouldn’t try to teach adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing fractions all at the same time”. I just told her that Simply Music tries to develop breadth rather than forging through in one area, but I don’t feel like my response was adequate.
Anyone have any insight to offer? Her classmate is going through a valley, so the lesson is a little shaky at the moment, but this particular student is actually doing pretty well.
Ian M., Indiana
I’ve started talking up the capacity of the human brain to learn in this way. I think a lot of the resistance to practicing comes from a place of fear that things will get harder the more songs they have, so I might say “Remember how I said that you’ll learn 30-50 songs in the first year? That’s only scratching the surface of what’s possible. Your brain can add songs with very little effort. There is a lot of space in there for songs”.
If the student is a teen or above, a discussion about how many songs they can sing along with on the radio can drive this point home.
Mark M., New York
But she does teach math, science, social studies, and language at the same time. Adding, subtracting, multiplying, and dividing fractions all build on each other far more directly than the multiple components of music. Indeed, within just language, I’m sure she teaches spelling, writing, and reading all at the same time.
Not only that, but one learns subtraction based on addition. And one learns multiplication based on addition. And one learns division based on multiplication. These are progressive skills, not learned at the same time. On the other hand, though math classes aren’t typically structured like this, there absolutely are math topics that could be taught in parallel because they’re separate enough.
Joy O., Alabama
I’m a SM piano teacher and also a certified math teacher. My first thought to that mom’s comment: “It isn’t math”. Sometimes things can be compared, and sometimes it’s not really the same at all.
You might take a quiet moment to speak to that mom and respectfully ask how she would feel if a student or parent questioned her math assignments in terms of their own area of expertise.
Gabrielle K., Iowa
An analogy: I was home schooled and I easily read 30-50 books in each year of education, and people constantly asked me how I could keep track of it all and get done at 1:30pm. The brain just knows how to compartmentalize effectively. Absolutely breadth first, then depth through breadth.
Stan M., Virginia
I’m a fan of mirroring words. It slows down the conversation, slows the person’s process, and allows them to hear what they are saying. “It seems like a lot?” The idea is for you to continue asking questions and mirroring back what they said until you understand what this situation is bringing to them in the order of feelings. I would speculate that they wouldn’t complain if their students wasn’t in a valley. If that is true, then it’s not the real issue. You might find this an opportunity to unfold something much bigger (that could be scary for some). It takes longer but I would always rather spend more time dealing with a real issue vs a short amount of time on a fake or distraction issue.
Laurie Richards, Nebraska
Another good analogy would be a garden. Focusing on only one area is like only planting one kind of flower (or one flower). Planting different types of flowers enhances the beauty of the garden, and the colors complement – not take away from – one another.
Also, there is ‘companion planting’ where flowers planted next to certain veggies help them to grow by cross pollination. So you can use the playing-based strategy to apply to the broader context – e.g. Arrangements give you ideas for C&I, and Acc helps with understanding various aspects of music – they all cross pollinate in some way. They are not mutually exclusive.