Deeper insights 1: Teaching


One topic I have only rarely touched on here in Horn Matters is something that has impacted my life and teaching in rather deep ways over the past 23 years. Out of that experience there are some deeper insights that Horn Matters readers might find applicable; at the least you will know better what makes John Ericson tick.

My son is handicapped. He was born when I was still playing full time in Nashville, James has Down syndrome and also autism. Considering the dual diagnosis, he was doing pretty well up to age 19. However, these past few years I have had to limit my travel and performing to assist at home.

Some of the problems we are helping him with are problems but also a window into the normal. For example, he has a lot of anxiety, but don’t we all have some? His is just more on the surface.

One of the first places I could see raising him was impacting me professionally was in my teaching. A key thing you do to try to help a child with Down syndrome is early intervention. You do various things to try to stimulate learning but, in the process, you also really break things down into little steps.

Little steps, breaking things down

Learning any skill is actually the result of many steps of learning. In a simple sense, we know you have to crawl before you walk before you run. But there is more to it than that.

In short if you were to compare my teaching say 25 years ago and today I am a lot more aware of breaking down the steps along the way to learning skills. I have said elsewhere in this site that one key thing that good teachers have is problem solving skills. Adding on that thought, it is not just solving problems but figuring out logical steps that can help you out of playing problems, scoping out the mechanical things that are not being done correctly, recognizing how conventional wisdom has failed the student, etc.

High ability, low ability

I recently saw (on Facebook) some references to the Dunning-Kruger effect. It was described relatively recently, 1999, but relates to the above. From the Wikipedia, “the Dunning–Kruger effect is a cognitive bias, wherein persons of low ability suffer from illusory superiority when they mistakenly assess their cognitive ability as greater than it is.” However, I think more related to us in the horn world is the following: “…the corollary to the Dunning–Kruger effect indicates that persons of high-ability tend to underestimate their relative competence, and erroneously presume that tasks that are easy for them to perform also are easy for other people to perform.”

Where this ties into James is as horn teachers we are high-ability people that generally teach people of lower ability. The potential is there that we can’t see how it is not as easy for the student as it was for us. In my case, I have spent many hours working with someone of much lower ability, breaking things down into tiny baby steps to work toward developmental goals, something I continue to do on a daily basis. This is what any good teacher has to do.

When the series returns the topic is anxiety.

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