On giving and receiving feedback

Today I visited a Montessori classroom (around 30 children, 9 to 11 years old) and had the chance to attend a presentation about animal welfare, created by one of the children. First, it was a feast to see how much information she collected, how she organised it into a meaningful sequence, and how she presented, both reading texts written by herself and initiating brief guessing games where all children gladly took part. The presentation lasted almost an hour, and awoke the general curiosity. Many children set precise questions and she answered with sincerity.

Obliques

The most touching part for me was the final feedback from most of the people present, both children and adults (the teacher, the girl’s parents and a few guests including me): it felt sincere, accurate, carefully worded and spontaneous. I have read many articles and books about giving feedback and I thought I knew a lot, but was overwhelmed and almost surprised by how experienced everyone acted in that circle. I was equally moved by the quiet joy of the girl answering with a few words to each person, often with a simple, soft “Thank you”. It felt so right! She did a terrific job, put a lot of effort, time and passion into it, presented it to the whole group with an enviable nonchalance, then her classmates gave her positive feedback and a few points to improve: she deserved to be proud for that. It made me think of the times when my parents scolded me for looking too proud when I received compliments, and I am so glad that this girl, and the other children in that group, can practice this healthy feedback exchange from an early age so that it can become a natural, fully functional part of their growth.

Die Sonne genießen. N'Jumo, Orientalisch Kurzhaar.

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Autumn celebration and thought about teaching

Magic Fall

Autumn keeps being my favourite season, with its flamboyant colours, and its connection with school’s start. As a kid, I loved the beginning of school, with all the new books, pens, pencils, the lofty mountain of knowledge ready to be presented to me. The last weeks of summer holidays were filled with expectation and impatience. Even now I welcome the freshening of the air, the discolouring of leaves, the arrival of rain and mist with that same joy.

At the end of October I’ll start again with drum lessons, after a break that lasted a whole year. It’s hard for me to wait for these few more days, because my teacher has that blessed ability to spot what I can already do (no matter how minimal it is! Sometimes it’s just showing up at the lesson, while I’d rather be sleeping on the couch) and then suggests what to build on top of it, letting me learn new skills one step at a time. Others focus on what I can’t do, and urge me to improve moved by guilt, by the obligation to make the best use of my potential. He is currently one of the very few voices in my surroundings that underlines my strengths, in an honest way that I am quick to believe (while some encouragements are too far-fetched to be credible, even if they are totally well-meant), and that concretely motivates me. We don’t talk about that explicitely, but he surely sees how our time together transforms my mood and lets me grow as musician, and I’m sure we both find reward in our common enthusiasm.

Playing drums: notes and movement

Last weekend we worked with our drum teacher on movement while playing the snare drum. Today I thought about the connection between notes and movement, and which one influences the other, in which music styles and in my practice.

Drumline
Drumline – source: marchingbands.wikia.com

I remember having paid attention to movement in itself only in my first year of drum lessons, because I started focusing on technical challenges in reading notes, learning new rhythms and learning to play various percussions. I stopped noticing when I was getting tired and cramped, when the movement was not calibrated well and therefore the notes came out of rhythm. My response was to try harder – cramping even more – and finally give up.

During Saturday’s lesson I understood that if a set of notes is not sounding right, or even is not properly timed, it is very likely that the movements are not correct. I thought about pieces that are written with the movement in mind, from which the notes come out – for example marching band music, especially the more spectacular pieces. I have in mind my beloved Downfall of Paris. Look at Tormod’s hands and arms first, then listen to the music:

This video shows the symetry of movements and is for me a feast for the eyes:

And look at the bass drum players’ movements, especially at the beginning:

The movement has a big influence on the sound itself, because the speed of the stick hitting the drum decides how it will rebound – a light stroke will muffle the note, a faster/stronger stroke will make the stick rebound and produce a cleaner note. The skill of a drummer is being able to guess the movements just by reading the notes, and practice so much that the movement does not need to be adjusted with conscious decisions (a bit like when driving cars). This is made easier in marching music, because the building blocks are not single notes, but basic patterns (the rudiments) that are learned until they become “movement units”.

I feel that I understood something big, that allows me to make progress by spotting myself what I can improve. As with horse riding, I will in any case benefit from “an eye on the ground” and will keep asking for expert advice, but I know I can do a fair amount of work on my own.

 

Book review: “Sachgeschichten”, published by Duden

I regularly check the children section of my local libraries, because I find witty and instructive books written in way that is easy to understand. I appreciated this one a lot:

sachgeschichten

It is edited by Duden, unfortunately out of print. It features several one-page summaries of various topics, with accurate and funny illustrations, followed by two pages of related words. I like the open approach that permeates the book: each topic is presented in its various facets and with a lot of questions, suggesting further research. The final chapters explain how to prepare an oral presentation and a poster, and tips on how to present in front of classmates. I wish I had such a book when I was a kid! My schoolbooks were usually on the oversimplified side, while scientific literature was too complex. I am nevertheless happy to have found it now, because it is a great way to learn German! I noticed that I know around half of the words presented for each topic, so I have a lot to catch up 🙂

Body awareness through movement

It sounds super silly, but today I lived an enlightening moment during my first yoga lesson: my body has a third dimension! I am prancing with sudden joy:

30632367163_44955d2b54_z_d
Prancing Thoroughbred – see related post

I wrote before about my slight sight quirk and I realised how it influences how I see my own body. There is no doubt that my body is three-dimensional, but I rarely perceive it. My eyes see it as flat, as everything else around me. At the beginning of the lesson, I felt my body was composed by flat, paper-thin parts joined together, not even symetrical: I could imagine one shoulder with more detail, bigger than the other one, same with hips, legs, hands and so on. I felt like a quick sketch with some more refined lines here and there. I could not imagine my own side view. Weird – but functional.

Along the lesson, the movements and postures of yoga made me realise how body parts can or can’t move, how far my back can stretch and twist, which tendons start to hurt first, and whether one side of the body has more flexibility than the other. It felt like a careful study of myself. If this is the result after a single lesson, I’m really thrilled!

This experience made me realise how most other people are more fluent than me with movements, and how easy it is for them to use their bodies in an implicitly respectful way. I have been used to see my body as clumsy, but I still managed to move well enough not to need any particular support, so I quickly and silently gave up “studying” it. I was bad at dancing and at sport, but it didn’t matter, and I was not the only one. Now I realise what I missed, but at the same time I am happy to have understood what was going on, and to have found a great discipline and teacher to improve my body perception.

Did you have similar experiences with a new sport or hobby? You’re welcome to share it in the comment section!

Drawing session: mammal profiles

Today I went to my favourite library with my sketchbook and looked for a book with a lot ot pictures of mammals, as I wanted to put into practice a few tips from John Muir Laws’ lesson. Here are the results:

sessione-disegno-libro-mammiferi-attenborough--african-wild-dog
African wild dog
sessione-disegno-libro-mammiferi-attenborough--chimp-eating
Chimpanzee, handling a stone
sessione-disegno-libro-mammiferi-attenborough--chimp-water
Chimpanzee, playing in water
sessione-disegno-libro-mammiferi-attenborough--cinghiale
Wild boar
sessione-disegno-libro-mammiferi-attenborough--grizzly
Grizzly bear, hunting fish
sessione-disegno-libro-mammiferi-attenborough--indris
Indri (lemur), on tree
sessione-disegno-libro-mammiferi-attenborough--jaguar
Jaguar, climbing on tree
sessione-disegno-libro-mammiferi-attenborough--young-tapir
Brazilian tapir, calf

I observed attentively before starting with the drawing, and then drew the outline very fast (1 or 2 minutes maximum). I didn’t use the eraser, just drew more lines. I tried to notice proportions, so that few pencil strokes could suggest the species, without the help of colour or surrounding habitat.

I am quite happy with the result, given that it’s the first time I draw most of these species in a realistic way (I have drew some in cartoon style before). My next step is to work on the outline, adding details (fur texture, eyes, precise shapes of legs/head/body/tail, 3D suggestion through line width). Stay tuned for next posts!

“I’m sorry…” – what’s next?

Today I found these three examples of the uselessness of a simple (and/or insincere) apology, the last one also suggesting a way that requires actual reflection on what happened, and how to avoid it happening again. I share all three versions here.

Short version: only saying sorry is useless (not only to objects!).

Medium version: you can say sorry and remove the cause of anger, but you can’t avoid leaving a scar.

Long version: you can apologise in a way that you recognise what happened, you promise you will improve, and you ask for forgiveness. Read the full article at A better way to say sorry – by Cuppacoa.