The other day I was giving my daughter a saxophone lesson. I began my career as a music teacher and I cherish every chance she and I have to play music together. Not only does it bring me closer to my daughter, it also brings me right back to what I love the most – teaching! Working with her reconnects me to the strategies necessary to teach content for comprehension.
As we worked through the first few measures of music, my daughter began to get frustrated by the complexity of the musical patterns. I asked her to play only five or six notes, breaking the musical phrase into a short snippet of the entire passage. I chose the notes purposefully. They were a succession of notes that were repeated many other times in the composition. They were also the most challenging rhythmic pattern in the piece. I knew that if I could get her to play that passage, she would be successful.
She struggled through the five or six notes. I knew she would. I complimented her on the successes she had, then asked what she noticed about the notes. Katie identified both the rhythmic pattern and that the notes moved step wise “like on a staircase,” she said. After reviewing the fingering for the note succession, she tried it again and was successful. I asked her to play it again. I complimented Katie excitedly and asked her to play it again and again. Each time, she was successful, I was exuberant. Each time she struggled, I asked her why she thought she made a mistake. Sometimes she remarked that she misread notes or that she wasn’t sure of the fingering.
Eventually, we worked through the entire piece but did so quickly after the first identification of the challenging passage and the repeated, purposeful learning done there. The next day when I came home from work, she had her saxophone and was practicing the piece of music. To my great joy, Katie played through the piece over and over again, smoothly and confidently. I knew she struggled through certain parts but to hear her play it, you’d never know. I was so proud.
This “bit by bit” or “chunking” of learning reminded me that to reach out goals, it must be done so with purpose and intentional actions. Already three weeks into the new year and I am pleased to reflect on this time. My goals this year are quite large and I realized to obtain them, I could only get there “bit by bit” so I am employing the same teaching strategy used with students (and my daughter, Katie) to my own desired outcomes. I have broken each goal down into smaller, incremental “wins”.
Breaking goals down has accomplished two things for me. It has given me a great sense of accomplishment because I am making small gains each day. Even writing this blog is a purposeful, planned activity to meet a goal. The other positive outcome from operating in this manner is the ability to remain on track. So far, my goals don’t seem as daunting as they might have been if I just put something momentous on my “to do” list without breaking it down into achievable pieces.
I hope that this post reminds you that you can accomplish anything if you plan, remain intentional, and commit to goals one step at a time. Teaching and learning has always been a source of happiness for me. I am pleased that those little moments still remind me how precious and exciting learning can be.