Says who?

April 11, 2011

Three of my girls take piano lessons. I am thankful to their Calderwood grandparents for funding the outsourcing of these lessons. I am a pianist myself, but I do not enjoy teaching piano. In the busyness of my life, I’ve found that it is very hard to find time to do things about which you are not passionate. Sometimes something’s gotta give; you cannot do it all. Know what I mean? I know you know what I mean!

Yesterday, Adrienne asked me to take a look at one of her assigned piano pieces. It was in 2/4 time, and the right hand was on the off beats in this syncopated piece of classical music. As I played through the piece for her, I flashed back to when I actually learned to play this piece as a child. I also remembered my teacher, who happened to be my mom, fuss at me because I didn’t always pay attention to the fingerings. And it didn’t only happen with that particular piece either.

There was a good reason why I didn’t always follow the suggested fingerings: I have a genetic thing where my pinky finger is smaller than the average person’s pinky finger. So what? Well, playing octaves is certainly a challenge. If you don’t have short-pinkyitis, don’t judge me. LOL Here’s a pic to prove my disability:

Notice how my poor little pinky only comes up to about the middle knuckle? Now look at your hand. I bet your pinky comes up to about the first joint on your ring finger, right? Because of this issue, I had to make some adjustments in the fingerings of music I played. I had to compensate for the stuff I couldn’t physically pull off.

I discovered that whoever wrote in the fingerings in my piano books wasn’t always correct. At least the fingerings didn’t always work for me. I had fun convincing my mom of this since I didn’t get the genetic issue from her side of the family. She would point out when I used the “wrong” fingers, but to me I was using the “right” fingers. Who said you have to follow fingering notations anyway? I doubt Mozart or Chopin included them in their original manuscripts.

Certainly fingerings in piano lesson books are there to help the budding musician adopt the easiest approach to playing any given piece. The fact was that just because it was easy for everyone else didn’t mean it was possible for me, so I adjusted the fingerings so that I could play more easily. I think my mom eventually gave up trying to enforce the fingering rules. I failed to conform because in many cases I just couldn’t due to the fact that my young hands were small, and they just couldn’t stretch like everyone else’s.

How does a tiny pinky relate to education?

Not all children are alike. Guidelines that work for one child may not work for the next child. In my teaching days, I was not always able to tailor a lesson to the needs of individual students due to time constraints. In fact, it was more like throwing all the information out there to the class and hoping some of it would stick with a high percentage of the children. I’d tell the class what I was going to tell them, then we’d go over the information together, and then I would tell them what we just “learned,” followed, of course, by some sort of quiz or test to see if they learned what we’d discussed.

Not all the children in my classroom were ready to understand the “ph” sound when I presented it. Not all children had the mental maturity to understand fractions just because the math book said it was time to learn fractions. In a classroom, it is difficult for a teacher to monitor each student to ensure that he/she has mastered each subject each day before moving on to the next lesson. The child either succeeds, partially succeeds, or fails. Or figures out a way to work around what they can’t do that everyone else can do.

In some cases, this involves self-protection devices where the child just gives up and accepts failure because he gets used to it, hoping that he’ll “get” the next thing that is presented in the sequence of the school year. Just as I totally disregarded the fingerings because so often I had to find my own way through the piece, children will find a way to work around what it is they cannot do. Or they will give up.

Had my mom insisted that I conform to the fingerings, I would have hated piano and felt a definite sense of failure. Instead, she let me find my own way through.

As a teacher of my own young children, I have learned not to be a slave to our curriculum. If my child is not understanding basic phonics skills that we’re doing together, perhaps I need to back off for a season. Who says every 6-year-old child is ready for phonics just by virtue of the fact that the curriculum says he should be?

Failure is not an option in my home school.

If a student isn’t “getting” something, I’m looking to see why. I’m looking at the possible reasons why he or she is struggling. Very rarely is it laziness on the student’s part. More often it is just a concept that needs to be presented in a fresh manner. (Reteaching, so to speak.) Or perhaps I need to set aside the consonant digraphs until the child is ready to understand blends.

The most important part of teaching children is understanding how their young brains work and not expecting them to conform to a curriculum in the elementary and middle school years especially.

What a great benefit of home schooling! The students move on when they are READY to move on. They don’t fail at a lesson and then just move ahead because we don’t have time to make sure they know everything to an A level. Of course we have time! But do we have the patience and stick-to-it-tiveness to identify the issue and then help the child find another way to understand the material?

If you get to a point in your child’s educational path where he is really struggling with something that is being presented, find out *why*he is struggling instead of moving on to the next day’s work, and help the student find a work-around.

Sometimes that may mean allowing them to do something a little unconventional like not forcing their little hands to conform to the fingering markings because they aren’t physically capable of playing that way. Or are they being lazy? Hmmm….as the parent, I should be able to discern the answer to that question. A teacher, on the other hand, may not be able to uncover the source of the issue because she does not know the child as she would know her own child. Conformity is the issue in a school classroom. Conformity is not always possible.

Says who? Says me, the parent of my children. Says you, the parent of your children. Don’t force conformity to curriculum without a good reason.


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