Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Head of the Class

Want to play a game?
Enjoy the following quotes (citations to follow).

1)  "Account for the head of the student who walks into class."

2)  "Think one scale larger than your working at."

3)  "We need to understand better that they don't understand enough to ask the questions   they need to ask in order to understand what we need them to understand."

4)  "Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious and adding the meaningful."

5)  "A designer knows he has reached perfection not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away."

Now,  select two of the quotes and see where it takes you.  I'll use the first and fourth.

How to account for the head of a student I'll call H?  H fails most his classes, but makes the all district orchestra.  He asked if I lead a life of regret and I hit him with a TS Eliot quote* and gave him the 4 Quartets, and he spent the rest of the period reading poetry.  (I wonder if he did any engineering in his language arts class.)  He asked once if I've read Dumbing Down Our Kids by Charles Sykes.  His brother, a psychology major, read it for a class.  H told me it's about how school just teaches you to mark A, B, C, or D.  He asked what music I listen to when I grade papers.  I told him Dave Brubeck and let him listen to some on my Iphone.  After a few minutes I went to get my phone back but he wanted to keep listening.  This is an 8th grader in 2012 grooving on Jazz music that was written over 50 years ago.  (I wonder if he did any engineering in orchestra that day.) An official from Washington representing the National Board of Certified Teachers visited class once and was interviewing H.  He asked her why he was talking to him like he was a little kid.

How do I account for H's head and subtract the obvious while adding the meaningful? Subtracting the obvious is easy.  He's bored.  He's intelligent.  He has great potential but needs to be more responsible.  He needs more challenging work. Subtract all that.  H is neither lazy or spoiled - ok, maybe a little lazy.  But the system and most teachers lack credibility and he sees right through them and says, "Hmmmmmm, no."  I respect H for that.

I just went for a long walk and listened again to the Brubeck music H liked. Here's what I have so far. H gravitates to beautiful music and words.   Pianist Brubeck and saxophonist Paul Desmond have a lot of dialogues in which one plays a solo and the passes off seamlessly to the other.  That's where I'd like to get with a student like H.  A seamless dialogue between teacher and student with content as the instrument and mind as the musician.  But I'm still dancing around the question of what's in his head and how to write the music.  Maybe improvisation is the key.

Tomorrow this will be his assignment:   Express for Mr. Merz in any medium you choose, by any means you like, what he should know about what's in your head.  Subtract all the obvious and include only the meaningful. 

I'll have to play another round sometime.  If you play please comment.

*Here's the quote:
Footfalls echo in the memory,
Down the path we did not take,
Toward the door we never opened,
Into the rose garden.
But to what purpose disturbing the dust on a bowl
of rose leaves?
I do not know.

1)  Literacy expert Catherine Brown at a professional development event, quoted from memory
2)101 Things I Learned in Architecure School by Mathew Frederick
3) A psychiatrist  I met on a plane, quoted from memory.  Our fields have a lot in common
4)  The Laws of Simplicity by John Maeda.  Free downloads are available, and check out The Laws of Simplicity web site.
5) Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath

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