Does Suzuki Approach Impact Student Learning?

The Suzuki Charter School of Edmonton, one of the 13 Alberta, Canada charter schools, is taking full advantage of the Alberta policy mandate that charter schools engage in research to share with all public schools. They are researching how the Suzuki pedagogical approach might affect student academic and personal learning outcomes.

I was intrigued by the suggestion from Superintendent Dr. Lynne Paradis that the Suzuki approach might increase student empathy. Think about that. Musical instruction requires listening. Empathy requires generous listening. Imagine learning this at an early age and making it part of your natural personal development. There may be something to this!

At Suzuki Charter School (SCS), the Suzuki approach is integrated into all student learning, including the academic, music, and personal excellence programs. It is not just a supplemental music program. The school is based on the research of Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, who believed that if children can learn a complex language at a young age, they can also develop musical skills and appreciation if they are exposed to music making and music listening at a young age.

The Suzuki method values awakening potential of all children through growth and desire to learn, high expectations, encouragement and praise. Perhaps key is their mastery approach to learning with three phases of task-specific skill development:

  • Emphasis on the learner’s understanding of what is to be learned;
  • Meaningful practice with appropriate feedback specific to the relationship between current performance levels, and goals that are within the student’s immediate reach; and
  • Review that develops and reinforces the automatic execution of a skill.

Instruction is personalized to the child, and social interaction in the form of group lessons encourages motivation and commitment.

At SCS, all students participate in the music program. They implement the mastery approach with access to three half-hour instrument group lessons and two half-hour choral/theory lessons each week. Their trained Suzuki music staff provides group instruction for violin, viola, cello, double bass, piano, guitar, flute, and recorder. For students with greater proficiency, quartets or other chamber groups are offered as well as an intensive Music Inquiry class. Children are given multiple opportunities to perform at monthly assemblies, concerts, and community events. All students are required to take individual music lessons not provided by the charter school as foundation for the SCS group lessons.

Teachers contribute as role models and as facilitators of learning. Parent involvement is crucial. Sounds like 21st century learning to me!