Sunday, October 17, 2010

Week 6: Peer Mentoring Begins at an Early Age

Ongo, one of Mr. Xia's "teaching assistants," helps MacKenzie with her bow hold
One of El Sistema's principles is "Place trust in our youth." In the nucleos throughout Venezuela, children are encouraged to become peer mentors at an early age.  Students take their responsibilities as class leaders and teachers quite seriously, and it's incredible to watch the respectful interaction that occurs when they are given the opportunity to help a fellow classmate.

As an El Sistema-inspired initiative, JAMM also supports peer mentoring at an early age.  We had our first opportunity this week continuing our work with the bow hold.  Mr. Xia explained that the bow hold is probably the most difficult skill to master - some will pick it up more quickly than others, but it's important that everyone learn it correctly.  The "perched pinkie" and bent thumb were usually the two culprits as Mr. Xia and I quickly traveled around the room checking each student's bow hold.  We are still using dowel rods as bows, but have added the BowMaster bow grip to help with finger placement.  Xia found them at a discounted price and plans to use them for the kindergartners' bows when they move to their real violins in early November.

As students "passed off" on their bow hold, they were promoted to teaching assistants who could travel throughout the room to help their classmates.  There was an excitement in the room as more students worked diligently at their bow hold to become an assistant while others enjoyed the undivided attention of one of their teaching classmates. 

This week also marked the last addition of parts to the paper violin:  strings and tailpiece!  Now we can begin rehearsing for our Paper Violin concert scheduled for the second week in November by putting bow to strings.  The song we practiced this week:  The Wheels on the Bus.  I watched the staff of La Rinconada use this song to build bow handling skills in the documentary, El Sistema.  I've also since learned that this song is used by many Suzuki teachers.  Here are the verses we plan to include and practiced this week:
  1. Wheels on the bus go 'round and 'round (bow circles the face)
  2. Windows on the bus go up and down (move frog above head and then back down to stomach)
  3. People on the bus go in and out (move bow toward and then away from body)
  4. Wipers on the bus go swish, swish, swish (rock bow back and forth like wipers using index and pinkie to push)
  5. Doors on the bus open and close (place bow on strings, bow away from body using only elbow and then bow towards ear)
  6. Horn on the bus goes beep, beep, beep (tap bow on strings for each "beep")
The kindergartners' favorite is the last verse, although you'd never guess with such intense concentration on their faces:

(left to right) Deep in concentration, kindergartners rehearse Wheels on the Bus for their upcoming concert


  1. I love this picture showing the earnestness of these young musicians!

    Best Wishes,

    Ruth Brons
    Things 4 Strings[tm] Instant Bow Hold Accessories

  2. This is fantastic! The photo's show exactly the meaning behind the purpose. They take on such a confidence.

    Very beautiful.


  3. Ongo was very happy to see his work documented. Congratulations on winning Teacher of the Year, our state, city, and school are honored to have you!!!