I always laugh about my course in Galicia, Spain many years back. I showed up expecting the usual 30 to 40 participants typical for an Orff workshop and was greeted by—four! Learning names with a rhythmic game around the circle took—one minute! The folk dance where everyone made up a motion? Two minutes. Solos on the xylophones? A whopping three minutes. I had to dig deep into my bag of tricks to fill the four days! “Okay, play your solo with the right hand only. Left hand. Eyes closed. Standing up. Backwards.”
12 to 16 is the optimum size for a kid’s class and it’s fine for an adult workshop as well, though always the question of jet fuel consumed to reach 12 teachers instead of 60 is one worth asking. Courses (3 days to two weeks) tend to be within the 15 to 40 people range, one-day workshops between the 40 and 80 range. The largest course I ever gave was in Taiwan to 150 teachers, the largest workshop at a Texas (of course!) conference with 750. That name game took three days! (Ha!)
Here in Singapore I’m doing a lot of work with the five music teachers and surprisingly, it’s great! I think doing similar work with the 5-6 Interns in our new School program has helped me to understand what works well with this size. And yesterday, went off to another International School and again, worked with a group of 6. I’m getting used to it and really enjoying it.
Of course, ridiculous to do folk dances or try sweeping choral/movement-type events. And from the participant’s point of view, a lot more vulnerable exposure—nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. But for body percussion and Orff ensemble and recorder, it’s great! Like chamber music or jazz quartet instead of the symphony or big band. And group discussion can be more inclusive and lively, real conversation possible and people less shy about asking something in front of the group.
And like the Intern program, the switch between teachers observing me teach a kid’s class, participating with me in a kid’s class, doing the same activities themselves in our adult time, having a reflective discussion/lecture time to connect the philosophical details of the pedagogy, is the perfect model for deep learning. And today I will watch one of them teach and give some feedback. That’s vital too.
If indeed my main mission in this incarnation is to bring joyful experience to whoever is standing before me and then train teachers to learn how to do the same, then I’ve finally found the perfect balance of effective strategies. And doesn’t that feel fine?