The Size of the Problem
Students come in with baggage from the week. We all know this. Some of them are overwhelmed, some guilty, others defiant. Occasionally they get in a preemptive strike. Here’s one from David Barton on Twitter, I couldn’t practise much as I needed to use my music to make origami butterflies for my art exam.”
One of my colleagues, tells the story of her student who said, “I couldn’t practice ’cause I was out walkin’ ma pig.” Then, there is my student who, in a preemptive strike said, before he ever played a note, “This sounded better at home.”
Students also come with inner baggage. Probably my student had some of that or he would have at least played something before he decided it had sounded better at home. Inner baggage includes that feeling that you haven’t done enough, been quick enough, or any number of other things even though you have given it all you had to give.
Inner baggage can cause withdrawal, anger, tears, defiance, and sadness to name a few things. This week, I learned about a new strategy to help students talk about what they are experiencing in a post from Fablana Santos. She looks the person in the eye and calmly asks, “Is this a big problem, a medium problem, or a small problem?”
I’ve used it all week and it works with all ages, even adults. Somehow a dialog is opened because the question forces a person to put things into perspective and (at least this first time) was so unexpected. It is also not accusatory in any way. Remember the ‘calmly’ part and be interested and friendly even if you are not.
A student who missed a few notes, but had really prepared his piece well, decided it was a small problem after we estimated all the notes in his piece to be over 500. He quickly realized how infinitesimal those missed notes were. The perfectionism that caused him to be upset over those few missed notes is a big problem though and he began to think of things he could do when perfectionism rears its ugly head again.
The student who brought her piece in and hadn’t progressed for the third week in a row decided we had a big problem. She had been trying to get through her work as fast as she does with her written schoolwork. We counted all the hours she had wasted practicing poorly (4 weeks counting the week ahead) and she realized that, if she had just practiced using the strategies from her lessons, she could have accomplished much more in the long run and been a lot happier too.
The best part is that the solutions come from the student (with a little guidance from you of course). I’m pretty sure that this strategy isn’t a cure-all and fully expect to need to follow up with it again and again. Still, it’s a great one to have in my teaching toolbox. And, the best part is it’s part of yours now as well.