There are exactly twelve notes within any octave on the piano, if you only count the base note once, and on the whole piano, there are 88 keys, encompassing seven octaves of sound. Somehow, though, from these 88 notes within seven octaves, the world has tens, if not hundreds, of millions of songs. How? It’s all about context.
I sat down at the piano yesterday to play, and I started with just one note: an E. When I played the E all by itself, it had little meaning. I proceeded to add a note. I played the F that sat silently right next to it. When those notes rang together, a harsh and clashy dissonance rang in my ears, equally as beautiful as it was jarring. I changed the F to a G#, resounding a harmonious E major third. The layers of sound blended together nicely, creating a happy and pleasant tone. With the move of a finger, I moved the G# down to a G natural, changing the mood of the happy major third to the somber one of a minor third. Despite all of these changes, note that my base note never changed.
Instead, it was the context within which my base note lied that gave it meaning.
Learning is similar in this sense. In the mastery learning world, it is common to think that we can segment learning, that we can parse it out into measurable chunks, move through each chunk in list format, and call it “learning.” But that’s not the case. Learning is a symphony. It’s a 90-piece orchestra each with intricately crafted parts that serve different functions. Certain sections are placed in the spotlight at various times, even with specific parts of the orchestra silenced at moments. Still, though, even when those other parts are silenced, the maestro does so purposefully, and even in silence, those parts of the orchestra are felt, even if they’re not heard.
Likewise, the context in which we place our students is equally as critical and supportive of growth and progress. Finding the context for a lesson or outcome is equally as important as the content itself. So how do we do this? How do we give our lessons context? Tune in Wednesday for, “Finding Your Entry Point.”