Monday, February 12, 2007

This Is Only A Test

The first test of a semester is always an eye-opener - for the students and me! Today was the day. The test covered basic form in music - phrase, binary, ternary , and incipient ternary. We have spent nearly a month looking at examples. The test was open note and, well, I thought relatively easy. My perception was rocked when a student said, "Do you actually take the test before you give it to us?" I think that translates to "Do you even know the answers to these questions? My response to that is, "Sometimes."

Society has done a great disservice to the process of education. I believe we have lost sight of what going to school is really for. If asked the question, "Why do we go to school?", most would reply, "To learn, of course." To learn, of course. But the next question is, "to learn what?" Standardized testing has demanded that the answer to the latter question be basic facts, basic facts, and more basic facts. The real respone should be that we, as educators, should be teaching students how to learn and how to think. Useful skills - what a concept!

Back to today's test . . .I do always have AN answer to the questions I pose on tests; but I do not always have THE answer. When I tell students that I am not looking for one particular answer to a question, they have no idea how to respond.
"Tell me what YOU think."
"But what if that is not right!"
"Tell me why you think what you think."
"But what if that is not right?"

Learning is about process. It is about looking at the world and making observations and connections. We do not all see the same things. That is how we learn. All those math teachers that said to me over the years, "Show your work.", thank you! I realize that what I am asking my students to do is show me your work; make me see what you see. Give me evidence from the music. I may disagree with your conclusions but at least you went through a process - a learning process. So, all of you who took the test today, RELAX.

Another hindrance to the learning process is grades. Students are more concerned with the numbers on the page than the information in their heads. Yes, grades are necessary but I don't think they deserve as much importance as they are given. What would the classroom be like if the ultimate goal was not a grade?

Unfortunately, this is not the case at most schools. As my students looked over their test today, someone remarked that there was no bonus question. That was true.

"Can we have a bonus question?"
"Sure." I turned to the board and wrote.

BONUS (5 points) Who won the most Grammy's last night?

This was met with, "I couldn't watch TV last night. I was studying for this test! Can you give a question that doesn't require watching TV?"
"Okay", I said. I turned to the board and wrote,

Who announced a candidacy for president this weekend?

Another student remarked, "Wow. I don't know anything about pop culture or current events!" Maybe that was the best lesson learned today.

"Can't you ask us something we will know? Maybe something about Anna Nicole Smith?"
"Hmm." I thought for a moment.

Who is the father of her baby?"

With this one, the class decided that the test questions that required delving into the gray areas of music theory were not so bad after all!