January 5, 2013

Dyslexic Tutoring

When I was in Grad school, I worked as a teacher’s assistant for a couple of music theory classes. This mostly involved answering questions about homework, grading homework and occasionally pointing out that a homework assignment was too confusing for the class to handle. One semester, there was a student with several learning disabilities in the class. After talking with the teacher, she asked about the possibility of getting a tutor for the class through a program the school had in place for students with learning issues. We agreed since we didn’t want her to be downgraded for having trouble writing notes on the correct lines and spaces when she knew the answer. The school's program didn’t have a music theory tutor at the time so I told her that I was willing. She was very nervous about this until I told her that while I don’t have the same issues she did, I am dyslexic and do understand about learning difficulties in general. Then she was delighted.

I was fascinated to see the areas of music reading that tripped her up, even more because they were so different from the ones I had trouble with. She was thrilled to have a tutor who had personal experience with learning issues. Most of the tutoring involved looking over her homework and making sure what she wrote was what she meant, not very taxing for me but a huge help for her. But she had some interesting times learning some of the music theory concepts as well. I shared one or two of our discussions about intervals and chords with the teacher and he incorporated some of our thoughts in his lectures for the class. He was quite interested in all the different ways we were looking at the material and commented on how it opened up his view of learning music theory. Of course, he was a good teacher to start with and was always looking for new ways of presenting material but it was very rewarding for both of us to hear that.

Her biggest difficulty with the homework was writing the music down. She knew where all the notes went but she just couldn’t get the notes onto the right lines and spaces

Three different versions of the same chord.
 Lines and spaces make all the difference.

My problems were always more connected to reading what was actually written (words rather than music) so we both were very interested in talking with someone who had basically the opposite issue. It worked out quite well since she could tell me where to write the notes and get credit for the material she knew. We also discussed what she would have to do if she continued on to write music in the future. Computer programs that print music, different colored lines on the music staff and so on but at the time, that wasn't necessary.

Teaching is, in many ways, the ultimate learning method. Everyone I know who teachers comments on how many things they understand more fully after they have taught them. This is not to say you can't learn without teaching but the act of passing knowledge on to someone else turns that information around inside your head in truly remarkable ways. Even understanding your own learning issues works that way. Talking and teaching others with twists in their brains made me look at how I handled my own quirks and come up with new ways to make sense of the material. For myself and others.

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