Friday, April 20, 2007

Born Again Suzuki

So, I just had an awe inspiring moment in Rhiannon's Friday violin lesson. Now that the festivals are over, she is eager to move on to the next pieces in her book. And the next piece for her is Perpetual Motion. So her teacher was patiently showing her the beginning of the song and said, "Now, do you think you can copy me?" and Rhiannon says, "I can play it, watch, " and before the teacher could show her anything, she played the first half of the song. Her teacher and I are sitting there a little stunned and she says, "and I can play the rest, too" and she finishes it. Of course there is a lot of polishing to be done but she had never played that song before. Ever. She had only listened to it a couple hundred times. She didn't read the music, she just played it.

I am so grateful that we have found these Suzuki lessons - because it could have been anything. I knew nothing about different methods when I started looking for violin lessons. What I am grateful for is that it is based on how the brain works and how we actually learn. We learn to talk by hearing those around us. We learn to play music by listening. In fact, learning music at a young age has the same effect on the brain as being bilingual. (in my psycholinguistics course, I did a 20,000 word research paper on the effects of bilingualism on the brain)

I have been thinking about this a lot lately - the way the brain works and how we learn. We have been inculcated by the school system for several generations now. We have come to think that learning happens in school as we memorize and regurgitate. Often when skeptics talk about 'unschooling' they say, "yes, but who would voluntarily learn grammar or...." Because we have experienced that learning these things is deadly boring and dull. And we have totally bought into that learning it the way they teach it in school is the only way to do it. These methods sprung from a society that was largely illiterate and those who could read, often couldn't afford to own very many books if any at all. Times have changed. Our society is literate and we have easy access to all kinds of books.

But I have watched this miracle who is my youngest daughter - my only child who has never been to school - and she has astounded even me. Her voracious reading has led to voracious writing. And during her reading, she has come to me and said, "what is that little thing?" "That's a comma," I reply. "What is it for?" and so on. And then punctuation has begun to appear in her writing. Recently while Dean was in Nashville, she sent him an e-mail that was almost perfectly punctuated with hardly a spelling error. What? No spelling lists to memorize? No spelling tests? No grammar lessons?

No. Because that is not how we actually learn to spell and punctuate. We learn those things by reading. I learned that getting a minor in linguistics. Yet the school system clings to its ancient methods and we (as a society) buy into it and we fear that our kids wouldn't learn otherwise even though that is not how we learn. I know when I did grammar tests in school, I never memorized any rules, I simply tried to figure out what felt right or what sounded right to me (after sitting through mind numbing lectures on grammar and punctuation). I hardly ever got one wrong because I already knew the grammar. I learned it from reading....

Rhiannon is a constant unfolding of understanding in me of how we do actually learn. And as I understand it more, I see how far off the mark, traditional methods are. How much time is wasted in school, persisting in methods that research has long proved faulty. How much of their (students) lives is wasted away in classrooms when they could be living! And I yearn to make a difference...

5 comments:

Mary-Sue said...

wow! LOVE this post. SO inspiring.

beetlemack said...

yah! i totally didn't pay attention during grammar lessons, but i was always excellent at grammar becaue of how much I read. but i couldn't have recited the rules of grammar to you; even now i don't know many of them. i just KNOW them, you know?

Andrea said...

And actually english grammar can be very difficult to 'get' as we use a 'latin' grammar to describe a germanic language...

julie said...

Jill and I were just discussing this same idea tonight - how amazing it is to watch our children grow and learn all in their own time and simply because it is natural to them. And what they learn from their own questions stays with them, with no need for endless studying and testing.

Andrea said...

yes, it is amazing, isn't it?