Reading is so easy.. right ? One can quickly forget the challenges a language-based learning disabled (LBLD) student deals with on a daily basis. As a reader it is easy to assign reading for homework, or just ask a student to read directions. Landmark School teachers understand student frustrations – this connection between these teachers and their students is what makes Landmark an extraordinary place. My personal connection to this frustration is music.
I have a secret. I can’t read music. I can’t read music with fluency – and this is my connection, my walking a mile in another person’s shoes. To me, music is a series of marks on a page. I understand their significance. I know there are individual notes – A’s B’s, G’s – just as students know that letters on a page have meaning. I can painstakingly identify a note by its position on the staff, yet I can neither do this with speed, nor accuracy. Chords. These are whole “words” of sounds. Beyond that are major and minor chords – like symbolism or implied main ideas to a student reader.
Clearly my brain does not translate the symbols of music to any “mental sound”. I am told that many people can just look at sheet music and “ hear” sounds. I have been told “it’s easy” by some, but those comments come from people who CAN read music. It is frustrating to hear a person tell me how easy it is to read music.( “You only need to try harder.”) When we master a skill it becomes common place and assume it is easy for all to master.
I am confronted by the fact that my family is comprised of many accomplished musicians. I am the one who is different. Yet as I admit my musical failings, I know I have some musical strengths. Just as LBLD students have hidden learning strengths.
My wife inherited her grandmother’s piano. She often sits and plays all sorts of tunes. It is a beautiful piano, a Steinway. It is a reminder of my inability to read music. Sometimes, when nobody is around, I’ll sit down and I’ll try to laboriously peck out a tune. In an hour I may be able to peck out the chorus part of some popular tune. I really rely on musical “sound memory” having heard the music before. These furtive exercises remind me what efforts a student must make in order to read a paragraph. It also highlights the need for perseverance.
I am reminded of when my brother in law gave my nephew a guitar for Christmas. Upon opening the gift, he offered my nephew one observation: “When you pick up an instrument to learn it, it takes work- hours and hours of work to master it. Only through that hard work will you gain ability- and in gaining ability you will have increased fun. That is when you begin to play the instrument.” My secret regarding music is how I understand my students’ experience each day– and why I ask them to work hard… for through work there is mastery and through mastery: play.
Submitted by Doug Walker, Landmark School Faculty member and Adviser to the Landmark Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam of 2012