Bobby McFerrin demonstrates the basics of teaching

Take a look at this Bobby McFerrin clip. Then if you have time watch it again and think about how he teaches and what makes him a good teacher.

We as language teachers have a lot in common with music because music has many similarities to language. In fact, many would say that music is a language. The interesting thing is that by the end, the whole audience knew which pitches to sing and when. Here are a few other common themes I noticed.

1. There was a sense of play

  • You notice that it was not just the students, but also the teacher and there is a healthy amount of laughter.

2. Minimal grammar

  • At the beginning, he didn’t say, “Okay everyone today we’re going to learn the major pentatonic scale. It consists of scale degrees 1,2,3, 5, and 6. Let’s begin on scale degree one in the key of C. Now we will write out the major pentatonic scale in all 12 keys. Okay, everyone got it? Good. Now you will write some songs that I have created to help you drill the major pentatonic scale. etc. etc.”
  • The grammar was meaning based. The audience experienced the language of the music and it just flowed. It just made sense. Why? Because language makes sense to people when it is meaning based and not grammar based. Meaning-based grammar is the most that students want to know  and are ready for in the beginning.

3. Repetition

  • He went over the notes several times to establish meaning and fluency so that later the students were able to have quick recognition.

4. The students are doing most of the work

  • He runs with them for a little while and then eventually they are doing most of the work. He is just there to make sure they have a plan.

5. It is a story

  • You may be thinking, “What?” It is true, they told a musical story. It went here and there, up and down, there was a direction and eventually it had an ending. In this case the ending made sense, but it still had a noticeable story line. We as humans are story beings and this is what makes sense to us.

6. He kept them focused

  • At times you notice that the people are having so much fun that they start laughing and he keeps them on track by keeping the storyline moving. Water is the same way. If it is stagnate impurities start to find their way into the water. We remains pure by being in a current or a flow. So, we as storyaskers need to keep the plot moving in order to keep them focused. If we focus too much on the details, the story gets stagnate.

7. There was a community

  • As they were playing and laughing there was a sense that people were engaged in what was going on and apart of something special. The audience was willing to come together to play and learn with each other. This is the way it should be in our classrooms. A time where the class comes together and faces  in the same direction toward a common goal.

At the end he makes a comment that everyone gets the pentatonic scale wherever he goes. I think that is because we all get language when it is presented in a meaningful way. We are all made to get language, it is innate. Why would we deny our students of this experience in the language when it can be so powerful? I hope I can strive to have this in my class. The possibilities could be grand.


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Filed under Encouragement for hard days, Storytelling tips, Teaching Discoveries, teaching grammar

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