Behavior is communication. That's it. All you need to know. If you can remember to wonder "What is their behavior telling me?" instead of, "What's wrong with this child's behavior," you'll be well on your way to becoming a compassionate, insightful teacher.
In an earlier post, I mentioned my student Lizzie, and her difficulty maintaining eye contact. When I had first noticed it, I'd tried to "work" on it - like any other problem I might encounter. When I chatted with her mother, Helene, about it, she thought something else was going on She would investigate. (Helene may be the best mom I've ever known. Seriously. When I was hospitalized with bilateral pulmonary emboli a few years ago, my daughter wanted to stay at Helene's house. She knew that Helene could handle anything.) Lizzie's older brother has autism. Though his parents each speak six or seven languages, Max doesn't. He has trouble with basic language. Helene has been his fiercest advocate. His most brilliant spokesperson. His teacher.
Because Helene has been through so much with Max, she didn't jump to judgment when she realized that Lizzie wasn't making typical eye contact. She didn't call it "disrespectful" or "obnoxious." She wasn't embarrassed by her daughter's behavior. She knew it was communication; her job was to decipher it.
In a particularly insightful parenting moment, Helene took her to see a Developmental Optometrist. (Helene has taught me about all kinds of specialists.) What she found out was fascinating and extremely helpful. Lizzie also plays the violin, and her vision issues had also manifested themselves during her violin lessons.
After her first evaluation last week, Helene sent me this email:
Lizzie had the first stage of her developmental optometry evaluation yesterday, which covered the mechanics of the eyes (eye movement and tracking).
Conclusion: at relatively short distances, Lizzie over-crosses her eyes and things get blurry and even double. "Oh yeah" she said during the appointment "sometimes when I read I see words double". Good to know, wish she'd told her mother earlier. No wonder reading chapter books with small lettering isn't exactly fun for her. And, it explains why looking at her fingers/bow/bridge while playing violin is so uncomfortable for her - it's the same distance as or even closer than a book, so she's probably seeing double!
The solution for this: specialty reading glasses. She put on a trial pair yesterday and casually commented "oh yeah that's a lot better". Her actual prescription will be ready in 2 weeks. She got purple Ray Ban frames, I'm so jealous!
The next stage will be a broader assessment of how her eyes integrate with her other senses (proprioceptive/spacial and vestibular/balance in particular) to help her process and physically respond to visual information.
I suspect there are issues there too, particularly at the piano where she:
- needs to accomplish big shifts in focus from score to keyboard, and
- needs her eyes to help maintain an accurate body schema so she can position and shift her hands into the exact right position at all times.
I suspect that that integration is at times off, which might explain the occasional "completely wrong note" bloopers that appear to come out of nowhere.
That next level assessment is soon with a report due in about a month. I will keep you posted!
This evaluation underscored for me how important it is to understand, not judge our student's behavior. They do everything for a reason. It could be that they're bored. Or tired. Or confused.
Or, just maybe, they're seeing double.
Need some new repertoire ideas? Here are some wonderful Early Sonatinas.