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.

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Submitted by Doug Walker, Landmark School Faculty member and Adviser to the Landmark Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam of 2012



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  • Hi Mr Walker…My son Thom is a freshman this year, if you get a chance could you please chat with him regarding your robotics program or the inven=team? He was a member of the 2012 FFL National Champion Lincoln Blue Gear Ticks….check out their web site He would like to join the FRC program at Landmark!

  • Doug, your analogy reflects your special insight, which is representative of the finest instructors in our field. Although I can read music, listening to foreign language being spoken, is my downfall. Don, my 77 yr.-old husband has been studying Spanish for 2 years and is struggling with it because the spoken language, which is at a normal rate of speed for the speaker, is too rapid for Don. However, he is improving through dogged practice!
    Which leads me to discuss an ideal speaking rate (in English) for instructors at Landmark. When I taught there, I read literature aloud to middle-school students at about 135 words per minute, seemingly slow, however the students’ reactions signaled to me that I was reading at their preferred listening rate of speech. Through recording and calibrating teachers’ various speaking rates, I concluded that teachers who spoke above 200 wpm were speaking too rapidly for the average Landmark student listener in the classroom.
    Thank you, Doug

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