“I know! I know!” A room full of wiggling students all have their hands up. I hold a large wooden musical staff on my lap. We’re working on note names. I call on one of the ones who is not too noisy, and he says, “F! G! A!” None of those are correct. In the early 2000s my colleagues at the school and I were noticing a disturbing trend. Students seemed propelled by some invisible force to raise their hands and quickly give back inaccurate answers. They weren’t taking the time to think the question through, to test hypotheses in their own minds before deciding to answer.
No one could say for sure what was causing this, but we suspected that it might be all the educational video games parents were purchasing in those days. Players were rewarded for answering quickly and encouraged to beat their own times in subsequent games. It reminded me of Pavlov’s dog. They were conditioned by these games to react as quickly as possible.
As an Alexander Technique teacher, I was interested in exploring if I could break this habit in my own elementary school music classroom.
The next time we did note identification, I told the children that I would give them the question, but before they could raise their hands, I would slowly count to five by raising one finger at a time on my hand. If they absolutely knew the correct answer at the end of the 5 counts, they could raise their hand.
Introducing this pause worked wonders. Suddenly, the accuracy level of the entire class increased dramatically. I started doing this in my classroom for every question I asked. I wanted to teach my students to pause, to think, to respond instead of react. After a couple of weeks, we talked about it in the fourth-grade classes where my older students were. I asked them how they felt when they tried it. “I felt calmer, because I had time to think of the answer.” “It was weird not to just be able to shout out something.” “I liked it because I’m quiet and it gave me a chance to answer, too.”
These students are now in their early 20s. Just last week I learned that a child I taught in kindergarten that year shot 2 people in Baltimore. Every time I hear about a mass shooting executed by a young person of that age, I think of my experiment and the impetus behind it. What did we do to that generation by teaching them to just react? What examples are we setting for the ones that follow? Where is the time to pause, to inhibit our reactions, to respond differently? Who is teaching children to slow down?
As I think back, I believe this is the first time the concept of Slow Forward began to take shape for me. Rooted in Alexander Technique, nurtured by years of teacher training and classroom wisdom, all while feeling the discontent of hurrying in my own life.
Just for today, I encourage you to try it. When someone asks you a question, pause and silently count to five. Then, see what comes up for your answer.
For more information on Alexandrian inhibition, read my blog post here.