Saturday, March 14, 2015

Teaching "By Ear"

Want to see what we did for this painting? Go here and here.

This piece of art hangs in my office. I love it. I recently saw a Jackson Pollack painting in a museum; I think this one rivals that painting. It was done by 6-year-olds.

This painting represents one of my all-time favorite activities I did with kids. I love this more than anything else we've ever done.

And I've done it with a sum total of one class of kids. I've never repeated it.

I've been thinking a lot about philosophy and the way I teach. I think the best phrase that sums up what I do is this: I teach by ear...or by feel.

When you play music by ear, you don't use print music; you just play by how the notes sound. The sound tells you if you are doing it "right" or not.

I think my teaching is a lot like that. I choose activities and say things by what sounds or feels right for the class. In my second grade class last year, we did some learning on the move. I've worked with classes that could not handle that particular activity and I wouldn't have tried it with them. Or at least would have done it in a different way.

Some things I do all the time. I always use glue guns with every group of kids (since the first time I've done it). We always use the steering wheel or the large magnet board. Other activities I don't repeat as much.

I've not repeated the painting activity because it hasn't "felt" right. Other groups of kids I've had since didn't seem a right "fit" for that particular activity. I can't say why. Maybe it was me and not them. Maybe that activity wasn't a right fit for me at that time in my teaching life.

(To tell the truth, I've not even thought about the fact that I haven't repeated this activity until I began pondering the other day and this post began to form in my mind.)

When I teach, I think about what I want kids to learn. I think of concepts or standards or facts or whatever meets the particular teaching moment I'm involved in. I think about development and interests and skills and temperament.

But mostly I think about what seems right - what sounds or feels right for this group of kids at this moment.

I don't know what that means. Maybe it means I'm not a "real" teacher or a less professional one. Maybe it means I'm less effective or more effective. It doesn't make any difference in the long run.

I do know that if things feel right, if I'm teaching to meet the group of kids I have, everyone seems happier and more engaged. And I'll take that.

(P.S. - I think we may be trying this large painting on canvas with this current group of kids. It feels right.)


  1. You describe what I always thought of as the je ne sais quoi we need to have a as teachers in order to have a successful learning experience. I think it means you are a mindful teacher!

  2. Wow! Thank you for putting into words these thoughts! During this break, I have been reflecting about what I did last year and what I am doing this year with the kids. I started to feel bad when realizing there were some "cool" experiences I had not exposed this class to and I didn't feel the need to expose them to them either. I wondered if it meant I was being less effective this year, but then I thought about how instead I did other things that felt right with this group of kids. They are just a different cohort and so it makes sense I wouldn't give them all the same experiences no matter how great some of them are. Once again, thank you for putting this into words and helping me realize it is okay.