Music lessons are offered in our music studios in Coquitlam and Port Moody, and online.
Ideology and goal of education
I believe education should aim beyond a mere transfer of knowledge. Here, I am not talking about research in new areas, which is obviously invaluable in itself, rather I am referring to the already existing knowledge. Even though the ability of communicating what we already know has been key to human’s development, education should try to introduce fresh perspectives and encourage thinking deeply to gain a fuller multifaceted understanding of what has been taken for granted about ourselves and our surroundings. Education should persuade inquiry and guide students towards discovering different dimensions of a subject to gain a deep understanding of it. Education should bring about wisdom.
I am a composer, sonic artist, computer performer and pianist. My teaching practice comes from my own learning experiences and research in these disciplines. In my opinion, teaching should facilitate learning and encourage creativity. The learning experience in my classes is entertaining and exciting, to keep students engaged and interested throughout my lessons.
I am convinced that success is a result of hard work, and hard work is driven by passion. I have taught students from music schools and studios through to undergraduate students, and have provided mentorship for students at Master’s and PhD levels. In all of these levels, I feel talent comes after passion and hard work. So perhaps in choosing one’s path in life nothing is more important than finding and nurturing what we love. Education should facilitate this process.
Key strategies in my teaching
Making a friendly environment
Studying psychology has given me some insight to our inner world. It is nearly a fact that one’s learning abilities and creativity can substantially decrease under anxiety and stress. Creating a healthy educational environment is perhaps the first step in educating students.
A teacher should be aware that blaming usually does not have long-term benefits and should be avoided if not necessary. On the other hand, appropriate encouragement can boost the confidence of a student to the utmost level. It is mainly the onus of the teacher to have an open eye to tell how a student feels and be compassionate about it.
I try to be a gardener to my students and help them grow to discover their inner values. I also remind them that jealousy and unhealthy competition lead to nowhere. One should be true to oneself, and focus on what one does rather than comparing to others. It is under such conditions that students can feel safe, flourish and have mutual respect towards each other. In my composition classes for example, students practice both giving constructive feedback to each other’s compositions, and receiving comments about their own work, without feeling hurt or hurting others’ feelings. Hatred, sorrow, anxiety, and stress are abundant in the world and we certainly do not need more of that. As a musician, I see the role of arts as the deliverer of love, wisdom, and joy.
Teaching music to students with different ages and backgrounds has taught me that students have different learning styles and paces. Every individual student is unique. Even though it might seem impossible to treat every student in an individual way, it is yet inevitable that the individuality of the students will play the most important role in their future lives and should be addressed as much as possible by the teacher. I try to integrate a variety of methods in teaching and assessment to accommodate the diversity in students’ learning styles, including lectures, in-class discussions, individual and group activities, visual illustrations, creative projects, handouts and one-on-one lessons. Through my teaching experience, I have found it essential to communicate high but reasonable expectations to students and encourage the successful ones to achieve even further.
Preparing the context and teaching the fundamentals
To start learning a subject, it is very helpful to a student to see the big picture and put the knowledge into perspective. The teacher’s task is to smoothen the learning curve by explaining the usefulness of the knowledge and its relevance to other areas. I make the students think about the subject of the lesson and ask questions that make the picture clearer to them. This way, I try to draw the lesson material out of the students.
Building a strong foundation is the next step of my teaching process. If one knows the fundamentals of a subject, given the time, one can then potentially construct creative solutions to any complicated problem in that field. For example when teaching piano to my students, in the very first stages, I talk about the general main ingredients of a correct arm-hand-finger motion. Knowing this, the students usually surprise me by working out appropriate motions for various complicated passages on their own. Having a profound understanding of the fundamentals, certainly facilitates clarifying difficult topics for the students later on in the course of the work. Furthermore, fundamentals are what we remember best in the long term.
Emphasizing on practice and highlighting the importance of thinking before practice
Using the learned material is a key factor in remembering them, but more essential than the practice itself, is thinking before practice. I believe ‘mindful practice’ is something that needs to be taught to students; otherwise it may take them a long time to discover its benefits. To help students with their practice, I set up in-class challenges and group activities for them, and encourage the students to think deeply when practicing on their own. This includes focusing on, planning for, and doing research about what they intend to practice.
Fostering clear communication and stressing the importance of self-evaluation
Communication in both written and oral form should be clear and explanatory. This again, as easy as it may sound, is difficult to implement for most students and needs to be emphasized by the teacher.
To assess my own effectiveness as a teacher, I observe students’ enthusiasm in the class and their performance on the various assignments and challenges. At the end, I remind my students that they are the most influential evaluators of themselves. Each student knows best about their own weaknesses and strengths and is the only person who is always present to assess themselves. What I recommend to my students is to take the time to think about and write down their strong and weak points, and then to manage their practice time to achieve a more balanced set of skills.
Teaching systematic approaches to research and studying
As a composer, I have learned to think about and develop an idea from different angles. On a broader scale, dealing with basically any subject, similarly requires an open mind that takes care of different variables in a holistic approach. I explain to my students the importance of looking at a subject from different angles and in a systematic way. As a researcher, I try to focus on the core elements of my topic, while finding a balance between close examinations of fundamentals and understanding how those underlying elements function together as a whole.
The final word
Creativity and teaching are closely linked in my professional life, and together they form my identity as a musician. My teaching experience has enabled me to put the above strategies and ideas into practice. Having said that, teaching skills are not static: they develop over time. I have learned a lot and am still learning from other teachers’ styles as well as feedback and insights from students. I am passionate about transferring what I know to others and I trust that the teacher’s enthusiasm is contagious.
Ali Nader Esfahani, PhD
Teaching Philosophy and Approach
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