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The Many Faces of Learning

The other day, my daughter's piano teacher had a chat with me after the lesson. During the lesson, the teacher had shown my daughter a piece to learn to play by rote. While she was still playing, my daughter started copying her. As I was near the piano at the time, having just worked on a trio together, I put my hand on her shoulder and muttered "wait". My daughter ignored me and carried on. After the lesson, the teacher told me that as a parent, she would probably have reacted much the same. But she asked me to trust her and told me that she was still getting to know my daughter and what she was capable of - because she'd actually nailed the entire piece!

I reflected that as a teacher, I often have much the same conversation with parents of children in my classes. As parents, we want our children to behave well. Turn taking, listening, paying attention and eye contact are important for getting along with each other. And they come through practice - at least with my children!

However, maybe sometimes our expectations around behaviour can get in the way of learning. Because learning has many different faces.

It can look like the toddlers taking themselves off to the to the opposite end of the room to play their shakers -they're keeping the beat perfectly but want to be in their own space.

It can look like the child who has to think on their feet - sitting down for too long is torture for them.

It can look like the child who seems to pay no attention whatsoever - and yet, given half a chance, the music will bubble out of them. And they will be several steps ahead of the rest of the class when we start analysing the song and working on the music theory.

I'm fascinated by this. It is something I try to pay attention to more and more, and I love how inclusive it is. Maria Montessori, the great Italian pioneer educator, stated that a child who is fascinated is a child that behaves well. This may make us think that a child who is fascinated is a child that sits quietly on their bottom, obviously pays obvious attention and waits for me to finish speaking before putting their hand up and answering a question.

Not so. This is an unrealistic expectation because we are working with children, all of whose brains work at different speeds and all of whose bodies have different needs. If I look for Victorian age "good behaviour", I will constantly disappointed. But if I look at each child as an individual, if I expect each child to move and think like a child, if I see them through their own eyes - then I can see the learning. Then I can see the pleasure that comes from trying things out with my body and with my voice, the thrill that comes with connecting the dots in my head. And then beautiful things happen - learning swirls around the room in a dance of joy.

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