One of Sympatico’s main methods of teaching is called scaffolding. Often, students are at different ability levels when they engage with the material for their particular ensemble. When introduced to a new piece, students pick up and understand the piece at varying speeds. Yet to play together as an ensemble, all students must be able to produce the same types of sounds at the same time and speed, using the same technique and approach. Each of Sympatico’s music teachers engage in various types of scaffolding to ensure that all students are learning. Here’s one example.
This morning, our Keetman Ensemble was using a bit of exploration to find the connection between singing a song that they know and playing it on the xylophone. Keetman’s teacher used “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” as the main theme of the day. He began by introducing the first few notes of the piece (corresponding to the lyrics “twinkle, twinkle little star”) on the xylophone, so that students could follow along and mimic him. But rather than make the experience all about the teacher, Asif divided his class into pairs. Students then worked together to figure out the rest of the line (lyrics: “how I wonder what you are”) by themselves.
Thus, students become teachers. Those that are more comfortable with the part help out those who are struggling. Together, they explore the rest of the instrument, trying to find how they can make the line of a familiar song into what they’re playing on the xylophone. This process creates a more close-knit support mechanism for our students, making it possible for them to recognize that they can create the knowledge they need in order to learn. Having this support from a fellow student scaffolds their learning experience, giving them another way of understanding.
At Sympatico, we use this technique across our ensembles. Strings at Sunrise is often divided into smaller instrument groups, putting violinists with violinists, and cellists with cellists. Then, groups are mixed based on ability level so that those working on a particular piece are with one another. In JABBA, students improvise solos that are then taught to the entire group via the scaffolding method. It is a useful and effective technique that allows individualized attention to be offered to all students.