R – My standards based head exploded a little bit when I read a great blog post earlier this morning over my Saturday coffee which really resonated with me: are you a diametrically opposed teacher.
Natalie is referring to Theodor Leschetizky (1830-1915), a piano teacher who devised exercises to help his students overcome technical difficulties when playing the piano. It became known as the “Leschetizky Method,” (though he never referred to it as such) which helps develop agility especially on the weakest fingers. He had many followers (it couldn’t have hurt that in his later years he looked like Santa…) and they preached his method of instruction. The blog post simply draws out that the “method” was to meet the needs of each student in a unique and thoughtful approach. I had two basic takeaways from reading it, one articulated, one inferred: 1) meeting the needs of the individual – by individualizing instruction – is fundamental to what we do, 2) it begins by identifying concrete standards. I came up with an analogy that I already used in a prior blog post, but to paraphrase it here, A person finishes a piano jury. TRADITIONAL GRADING: ”Congratulations, you did pretty well!!!! I’d give that at least a B+!!! Now go practice more…” STANDARDS BASED ASSESSMENT (Leschetizky): “With regard to your right hand, four of your fingers are fine but the pinky needs some serious help. Let’s focus on IT for awhile and get it working as proficiently as the others.”
Leschetizky didn’t have different standards for each student, he had different individualized approaches to each standard so that every student could meet all of them.
Standards based assessment can be perceived as too rigid or impersonal. Well, we are in the business of moving students towards targets, aren’t we? The target may be rigid (“Instead of having “answers” on a math test, they should just call them “impressions,” and if you got a different “impression,” so what, can’t we all be brothers?” – Jack Handy… well, guess what: 16th notes and A flats are not “impressions” people, they are fixed, exact entities) but the delivery of instruction, the delivery of curriculum, the delivery of content that moves students toward those impersonal fixed targets do not have to be. Leschetizky came up with specific exercises to develop the weakest links/greatest needs of his students. The first step in his process however was establishing standards that all his piano students must meet so he could identify their weakest links/greatest needs. Standards! But the point to the blog I read this morning is that development of these needs can (must?) be personalized to the greatest degree possible, and that has to to with teaching technique and pedagogy. The diametrically opposed teacher is as malleable and personalized in their instruction as they are rigid in their goals.
My colleague at York Middle School recently integrated some “non negotiable” understandings/standards into her curriculum in a unique way, basically saying that all her students will be held accountable for some very specific, fundamental knowledge. She messaged me yesterday, saying how excited she is because of the positive changes she has seen in her students, their engagement and their understanding of the articulated concepts. I guarantee you that these changes are being brought about because, as a teacher, Jen’s that good. But what I think she is experiencing is one of the things that can come out of articulating clear targets that every student must meet.
I’m going to follow this up soon, but the blog post above really reflected some good stuff that I know is going on in music classrooms everywhere: clear, non-negotiable targets – standards – being attacked from every possible angle for the expressed purpose of meeting students where they are at individually. Leschetizky had it right.