Saturday, November 5, 2011

Week 2 Reading Reflection

 Reading  "The Art of Possibility" by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander was enlightening, yet a repeat of ideas that teachers should base their classes on. Maybe I've been spoiled by 10 months of interaction with teachers and students in the EMDT program, but the ideas presented so far in this book seem like no-brainers to me.

Image from Microsoft Clip Art Gallery
In the section about Giving an A, the authors discuss the need to remove measurement from the equation, and thus take the fear out of failure in the students. While this type of idea is not well supported by our current education system, due to everything being based on graded outcome, this idea should be at the heart of all educators: Allow your students to flourish, teach them that mistakes are part of the process, and allow them to concentrate on the person that they become through the knowledge that is gained, not the grade on the test.

Edit: Sorry, apparently in my "copy/paste" I somehow only grabbed only the first two paragraphs, so here is the rest:

I love the idea of "line up with her students in their efforts to produce the outcome, rather than lining up with the standards against these students." In my lighting course, my final project allows the students to choose a song, and create a lighting design for that song using the technical programming skills that they have learned in my course up to that point. For years I struggled with this project, as it could very easily become a grade based on my expectations, rather than the students' efforts and growth in their abilities. About 4 years ago, I introduced the idea of "concept" into this project, where the students must submit their overall vision for the project, as well as what they hope to accomplish through this, prior to them beginning work on the actual show. I use this concept, much like the authors used the "Why did I get an A" assignment, to establish the expected outcomes from my project, and see which students push themselves to reach and possibly exceed their own expectations. This really has taken me out of the picture, removing any preconceived notions that I may have as to what the final design should look like, and allows me to grade students based on their progress and accomplishment of their goals.

"House Lights...Go"


  1. Shawn, While I agree with you on some of your comments regarding “The Art of Possibility” by Rosamund and Benjamin Zander, I feel that sometimes it is the obvious that needs to be stated. The way in which we put students and people in general into categories based on the grade or the job they do is wrong.

    People do things for two reasons, one is to avoid pain and the other is to gain pleasure. I look at my two children; one is currently working on her second Bachelors degree and has spent her life in study. In high school she would spend an average of 3 hours a night on homework. My son on the other hand does what he needs to get by. His grades are low 90’s without much extra effort.

    I myself always lived in the shadow of my older brother. He was a year ahead of me in school and the fact that I did not get the same grades he did haunted me.

    I think the removal of grades and having them be replaced with “can the student demonstrate the material” is the way to go. The way students learn, just to mindlessly repeat the material is not working.

  2. Great thoughts, Shawn. I actually wrote about the same topic. I just wanted to say that I am impressed that you have already implemented this in your program. It has given me things to think about and I am trying to see how I can do it. While we simply cannot take grades out of the equation, and I am still not convinced that we ever should, we can make the grades work for us much better than they have. The way you have mentioned is one very effective method of doing that.

  3. You have such good insight Shawn, thank you for sharing. I find it great that you are already taking what you have read and found comparisons to your current teaching method. The fact you remove yourself from the learning process is great as I feel the learning becomes more connected and it will be something they will remember longer and further down the line of their lives. Its good you have found the balance of being there and knowing when to step away from your students. Taking the fear out of the learning helps so much and is one less thing they have to think about. If only we could bring education out into the 21st century, it would make things so much easier. Great job!

  4. I have a similar assignment in one of my classes, with similar intentions but a very different result. I provide the students with an open-ended group project: build any website with the following concepts and features. The students enjoy that they can build anything, but invariably bite off more than they can chew.

    The first thing they have to do is prepare a series of documents that show a step-by-step plan from getting from zero to complete, much like the assignment you describe. This also gives me the opportunity to get them to scale back their scope to something realistic for the time given. Before they can start to code we will go through their documentation and compare it to the rubric to ensure that they can get a perfect grade given what they are trying to do. This leads to tweaks, but only minor ones.

    And yet, even having planned out their own roadmap, no group has ever gotten an A+, and most don't even get an A. They will lose sight of the rubric or their roadmap, and chafe at me pointing this out.

    I feel like I have Given The A through the roadmap and the ability to chart an independent course, but month after month am surprised at how many groups choose not to take it.

    I am mystified at this, and continue to see it as a personal goal for improvement. There must be something I can do, some way of delivering it better.

  5. Great interaction with the reading and how the ideas work in your day to day work. I've known many educators who've made the mistake of assuming that grades are required or else there would be no standard and everyone's effort is an "A" when there's clearly a difference in effort, expertise and talent. But as a coach one works with one's students to get the best from them, not judging them, but not saying that anything will "do." It's a tough balance to achieve.