Monday, October 29, 2012

Is technology changing the way children are learning?

I was talking to a music teacher friend of mine who was flustered by how long it took for many of her students to do things like memorize the notes on the open strings of a violin (there are four). The answer was often times on the page in front of them, and all it really should've taken was a quick glance at the page, some mental processing, and then providing the answer. Some of my other music teacher friends were bewildered by how some of their transfer students couldn't read sheet music without first writing out all the letters.

This all got me wondering about how technology affects the way children learn. In the Google generation, we don't really have to commit too many things to long-term memory since we have these pocket-sized devices where we can access a world's worth of information. How often do you hear people say, "Could you remind me to ____ by text/Email/Facebook?" I'm guilty of doing this, but conceptually, it's a really strange thing to do socially. The implication is I don't have the mental faculty to take it upon myself to commit this to memory or write it down. I'm going to ask YOU to remember to remind me about something you're expecting me to remember to address.

Don't think it's a big deal? Maybe it isn't. But I'm a little perturbed that I used to have all of my friends' numbers memorized. Since getting a cell phone, I can count the numbers I have memorized on two hands. It's a frightening to think about how dependent we all are on these devices.

But getting back to music and learning, it's pretty amazing how quickly my students can type paragraphs with their thumbs, yet some can't remember where middle C on a piano is. The piano is a heck of a lot more ergonomically and intuitively designed than QWERTY, but I wonder if we as teachers are failing to accommodate for the new ways that kids' brains are wired to learn.

Case in point, I have a young student (about 8 years old) with some mild learning differences. It's been a struggle to get him to focus on learning the layout of the piano and learn based off hand position and finger numbers (really basic stuff). I'm lucky if I can hold his attention for more than 2 minutes at the piano. However, the moment I introduced a computer and GarageBand, he had absolutely no difficulty concentrating and focusing for the 45 minute lesson. He was focused, creative, and inquisitive, a completely different student!

While I still feel that it's my obligation as a music educator to make him familiar with reading and playing piano, I also think that it's just as important to tailor his lessons to his particular strengths of learning. As much as I hate to admit it, a lot of popular music is written by people who program music rather than compose it in a traditional sense. However, doing so requires many of the same skills that go into becoming a good musician. If he can learn those core elements and have those with him the rest of this life, that will be a heck a lot more rewarding as a teacher than having a student who gives up on piano lessons because they're boring and irrelevant.

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