Proof, and meta-proof

One of the really big issues in assessment seems to me to be ‘doing’ assessment, then proving you’ve done assessment, then proving you’ve proved that you’ve done assessment!

All of which seems to be to satisfy the system needs of assessment, rather than any useful factors of teaching and learning.

What else would lead to the ridiculous “verbal feedback given” stamps that some music teachers have been issued with. What do you ‘stamp’ in a singing lesson? The sound-waves? The kids foreheads?

Proof, and meta-proof. Evidence for its own sake. The data-Leviathan has been fed. Super!

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2 Responses to Proof, and meta-proof

  1. terryloane says:

    I really like your idea of the ‘Data-Leviathan’, Martin, a hideous monster that must be appeased by music educators. “When he rises up,” as we read in Chapter 41 of the Book of Job, “the mighty are terrified; they retreat before his thrashing.” The important question for music educators is how to behave in the face of the Data-Leviathan. Do we simply “retreat before his thrashing” and give him what he wants, are more positive approaches possible? Below are two suggested New Year resolutions for dealing with the monster.

    Recommendation 1: Use the language of musicians and music-making rather than the language of the data-Leviathan.

    Anna Freud (daughter of Sigmund) was the first to describe the defence mechanism known as “identification with the aggressor”: victims seek to reduce the anxiety caused by an abuser by behaving like the abuser. For example, we see such behaviour demonstrated by some senior managers in schools, we see “all the suits strutting around brandishing their targets and statistics,” as one teacher put it a few years back in an online forum discussion. Managers seek to reduce their anxiety about OFSTED inspectors by behaving like OFSTED inspectors.

    Of course a very common way to identify with the aggressor is to start using the same language as the aggressor. I suggest that this is what is happening when music educators use terms like ‘tracking’, ‘inter-cohort monitoring’, ‘measurement’ etc. etc. Such words are never used when people want to reach a better understanding of real music making, so they result in an inauthentic discourse if used by music educators. Over the years musicians and music critics have developed a rich and authentic vocabulary of their own. To prove the point here are just a few examples, taken from recent Guardian music reviews: ‘compelling way of bending melody to words’, ‘a finely spun exploration of… expressive harmonies’, ‘gentle, subtle grace’, ‘sharp-eared… rhythm section’. So let’s use this rich vocabulary rather than the lifeless desiccated language of the data-Leviathan to describe and understand young people’s music making during 2015.

    Recommendation 2: Boast about the unequivocal success of music education in this country during the last sixty years.

    There are plenty of powerful philistines out there who treat music as being on the periphery of schooling, so it’s not surprising that music educators should sometimes feel a bit cowed. But we need both to remind ourselves and to point out to others that music education has been the most unequivocally successful area of learning since the end of World War 2. Politicians, educators and the public worry away about whether educational ‘standards’ are going up or down. Are the ever increasing number of high grades in GCSEs and A-levels evidence of ‘improvement’ or ‘dumbing down’? But music making by young people has seen indisputable improvement and success in terms of quality, commitment and engagement during my lifetime. Here are just two examples of this from my own experience. A few years ago I heard the London Schools Symphony Orchestra give an exciting and technically accomplished performance of some movements of Messiaen’s Turangalîla-Symphonie, an amazing achievement. Yet I am sure that when this work was composed (in 1948, I think) many professional British orchestras would have struggled to make any sense of it, let alone play it, convincingly. My second personal recollection comes from the 1990s, when I was head of a Saturday morning music centre in a London borough. One of the things I found quite remarkable was that every single Saturday 450 kids turned up – to play, sing and learn about music. They came because they wanted to be there, and this enthusiasm was to be found throughout the country. So we music educators have been providing a model unmatched by any other curriculum area in how to get young people engaged in and committed to high-quality learning. And none of the success of the orchestras, bands, choirs and other ensembles was down to staff ‘mapping progression’ or producing ‘radar charts’. Such things have nothing to do with real quality in music education and only serve to take energy and time away from what really matters – musical engagement. So let’s blow our own trumpet during 2015 and tell our colleagues outside of music just how much they have to learn from us.

    (Or we could just to keep quiet, do as we are told and buy ourselves a collection of the “verbal feedback given” stamps you mention, Martin. The Data-Leviathan would like that.)

    • drfautley says:

      Thanks Terry, another really interesting comment and analysis. I am oft-times struck by the ubiquity of, and dangers inflicted by, the Data-Leviathan in many music departments in schools that I visit and hear about.

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