I had been feeling isolated throughout the previous course of PGCERT (I had to drop out). I felt real difficulty understanding how to find relevance in what most of the discussions were about. I felt alone because I was the only lecturer whose lessons were/are mainly one student with one tutor. It has been great to read back over my journal and see how much more sense it all makes now that I feel more able to draw relevance from our discussions on this year’s cohort and reread my previous plans and relate them to the way a singing tutorial now runs. I had felt very much on my own in the studio, and left to my own devices. I now see just how much autonomy I displayed. There was very little structure or guidance, and although I felt deeply responsible for the learners that came to me, I could have done whatever I wanted, and still be doing it now. In reading back over my journal I found this excerpt. Answering colleagues’ questions made me have to consider and qualify, and it adds another level of understanding when I now look back. In trying to explain myself and how I was making sense of the learning I was undertaking I can feel the level of anxiety and self doubt melt away. I do know what I’m doing, and it has changed immeasurably in the year since I stopped studying on our postgrad certificate (learning and teaching in higher arts), so it will probably shift and grow again.
(I always start my teaching sessions with a short discussion with the learner. Sometimes I supplant this with moving straight to a vocal warm-up but normally I ask them to tell me how the week has gone, what has been required of them vocally, and how they have felt they coped with their workload. I call this first chat “triage”. It allows me to collect a brief history, decide what I think we should work on, and then ask the learner to make the final decision. While there are times that I have asked the learner to have made that decision before they come in for their tutorial, I’m aware that often I’m just working with whatever they bring into the room, reacting to their immediate need or psychological state.)
(Excerpt from reflective journal, originally taken from an online discussion group where we shared our lesson plans with colleagues)
“I’m glad that my use of the word ‘triage’ didn’t draw the responses that I dreaded somewhat… I considered leaving the concept out of my lesson plan, simply because the associations are with trauma, warfare, and anxious decision making, and although I’m not denying that the process can sometimes feel exactly like this, I genuinely feel the need for a space to calm and focus both the student and my listening ear to what they bring in. I think that the nature of singing lessons allows a very intimate and close bond to be established. The students don’t have many one-on-one learning environments, and as with all performers the world over, the emotions and frustrations of what they are experiencing and trying to achieve seem particularly fragile when, as a tutor, you are in a room for one hour with their hopes. I have wondered in the past whether this is the equivalent to a therapy session, and although I do try my best to give pastoral care, I am constantly aware that I must angle their distress or fear or excitement towards something outside of themselves and useful to their progression, so thank you both for discussing the benefits and drawbacks of reflection when there are only two in the room.
I liked the Small Group chapter in Race, (p125-56, The Lecturers Handbook, Race, P. 3rd ed. 2007, Routlrdge) it forged the idea that I had always had, that my tutorials are actually small group sessions. I make a lot of trying to let the student feel that the exercises are for both of us to experience and play with, and feedback to each other, but as Race says, a pair is not really a group, and when i originally read it i did wonder at the usefulness of making myself the students’ equal partner, when perhaps other tutors employ better means by making sure that the hierarchy is understood and can be depended upon. Your comment about your methodology being confirmed or challenged really interested me. I think that holds particularly true in a one-to-one session, where, because of the intensity and detail being focused on one person, for a whole hour, often on just a few moments of delivery of a song, or one particular recurring phrase or the sustained but slightly differing communications of an emotion, there can often arise real struggles when a student doesn’t ‘get it’ and they start to need to talk about the process and their frustrations with it. I had imagined that this only took place in my sessions. I had also imagined that this flagged up the deficiencies in my teaching. When I first read Race’s pros and cons of differing group sizes, I will be honest, I did long for a slightly less intimate and intense group environment, but actually over the past few weeks, I’ve been asking the students more about how they learn and feel about their learning in our one to one sessions and I think I feel that I’ve got the best of two very contrasting scenarios… I trust that what I’m doing is scaffolding their learning without the distractions of them having their peers observe, and if I try really hard to make them feel partnered with me in their learning, they do feel able to reflect and tell me honestly want they feel about the process, so I must just try harder not to imagine their silences are indicative of discomfort that isn’t useful.
I considered the idea of pulling a few students together a little while ago, so it was interesting to hear you suggest that Ali, the dynamic would be amazing, but the students are promised a certain amount of time one-to-one, and I have to deliver it, but I think I might sneak some in without billing for it and see how it goes.”