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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

How to Improve Your Teaching

Teaching is not a mystery. Teaching is something that we can all do. Before we had the ability to print books, we learned by emulation and imitation. We apprenticed ourselves to others who were more expert than we, and we followed the advice of mentors. If you are a teacher, or a parent, this blog post is for you. Yes, if you are a parent, then you are a teacher. You teach your child many things before the child even reaches school age:
  • How to dress
  • How to eat with utensils
  • How to show manners ("please" and "thank you")
  • How to pray
  • How to pick up toys
  • Any number of other things depending on your situation. My mother taught us to swim at a young age. I have read of other parents who teach their toddlers how to ski.
In a previous blog post (, I discussed how to analyze a song for the purpose of revealing the song's teaching points and generally considered four areas:
  • Left hand skills ("Finger, bow, go!" Dr. Suzuki said, so left hand skills ranked first in priority)
  • Right hand skills
  • Preview (how to teach or introduce the song)
  • Later problems (the deterioration of skills that happen over time and how to identify them and correct them, or better yet, how to prevent them)
However, there is another step that would improve a person's learning in order to be a better teacher: the ability to see the big picture. Here is how I suggest we do that. After going through the above exercise to determine the teaching points in each song in the Suzuki volume, I suggest we make these additional summary lists:
  • What left hand skills are learned in this book or could be learned in this book?
  • What right hand skills are learned in this book or could be learned in this book?
  • How can we use this current material to prepare for the next book or next set of skills?
  • How can we use this material to cement the foundation of things we have learned already (review program or group class activities)?
When we study a particular volume of teaching material, we tend to think about individual pieces as presented in the volume.  When we consider the volume as a whole and how it fits within a larger picture, and we make a list of the general skills learned in totality in the volume and how these skills relate to future learning, we see a different progression of skill development. I suggest that these summary lists be revisited frequently, because as teaching experience grows, so will the discoveries, and the lists will need to be revised to reflect these new discoveries.

So, in addition to the four quadrant dissection that I advocated in my earlier blog post, I suggest making a summary list of the quadrant of skills developed in the volume of material. With each step backward or "zoom out" step we take to consider a bigger picture, we will uncover a broader list of skills to develop and focus on. The more "big" pictures we discover, the bigger our arsenal of teaching ideas. This ability development -- the skill of seeing the big picture -- is what will improve our teaching ability.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting! I'm naturally a big picture girl. I also incorporate everything I learn naturally. Like the comment: does a fish know what water is, I used to assume everyone incorporated too. When I realized I had to teach how to incorporate - I became a much better teacher! Now I wonder what I'll notice when I teach today about the "big picture". Smiles! Diane