“Science, my lad, is made up of mistakes, but they are mistakes which it is useful to make, because they lead little by little to the truth.”Jules Verne
Science class, or any other class, is made up of mistakes that carry a discounted grade and perhaps a discounted sense of self.
The education we sell, the one we wish for for our kids and the one we seek for ourselves, is best achieved by those that can tune out the bell ringing, point deducting, grade norming, and finger pointing.
In order to thrive in the “fail up” sales pitch of modern school culture, you must first have been imbued with high self-esteem, been born to the parents that get it, and been assigned to the teachers that don’t use grades as weapons.
In other words, you have to have won the lottery.
What if work were assessed using rubrics rather than grades? What if your report card were a digest of the type of work you tend to deliver, rather than a derivative numerical abstraction of the same? What if your final mark, if such a thing were necessary, were a measure of your improvement over time, rather than the mean of your performances over time?
What if your work, both the successes and the mistakes, were seen as the thing that leads you little by little to the truth?
Near the end of every student video project is the bloopers real. It’s, by the look on their faces when the project ends and the bloopers begin, they’re favorite part of the project by far.
How strange that in a video project mistakes are captured and unnecessarily added to the end, while in 99% of school life mistakes are feared, avoided, hidden, covered over, judged, or even punished.
What can we do about that?
A colleague and I had a great conversation at the last CFT meeting about “performance.” PBL goes by many names, but one of them could certainly be “performance-based learning.” The arts and PE are among the best examples of performance-based learning, yet they don’t get nearly as much oxygen as math, science, and languages. Why do we relegate our best examples of “learning by doing” to the back benches of our practice?
Jim and I were speaking specifically about what the term “performance” means in an orchestra class. Although small-group work finds expression in ensembles, most of us, and I think this includes Jim (although he’ll have to speak for himself), consider an orchestra performance as a single event, or multiple events spread out throughout the school year, in which the entire orchestra performs a repertoire.
What if “performance” took on a different meaning for music students? What if, rather than occasional performances in a concert hall, orchestra and band students spent the year selecting pieces to be performed individually or by ensemble? What if students then picked the time and place of their choosing (on campus or off campus) and performed? What if they performed over and over and over again?
I guess I’m asking, what if school music students performed like street musicians?
In my next post I’ll get out of someone else’s back yard and get back into my own. I’ll spend some time thinking and writing about what language “performance” means.
What do you think? How else could musical performances take shape?
Image source: Niels Linneberg via Flickr; nosha via Flickr