It is probably true that:
“Once a student sees that he or she is capable of excellence, that student is never quite the same. There is a new self-image, a new notion of possibility. There is an appetite for excellence.” (Ron Berger)
Which begs the question, “how often do students produce excellence?”
It might be that although students are capable of excellence we rarely support students to produce their very best work and that much of the work produced falls in the bottom quartile of what is possible for that individual. It might be true then that the opportunity to enable students to see what is possible rarely happens as students simply tread water in the mediocre.
So what if?
- What if students skewed their work right toward excellence (and teaching prioritised and supported this) and not left where it probably sits at present.
- What if the Curriculum and teaching shifted to focus on depth? Avoiding the skimming of content?
- What if every child kept their very best piece of work as the benchmark for subsequent work, published and accessible?
- What if feedback was within and not after tasks? So that students were supported throughout tasks to move to excellence. What if this supported the production of excellence more than summative feedback that comes at the end and does little to inform the outcome.
- What if we forget green pen and dialogue and replace with on-going embedded feedback that expects much through the work and supports redrafting and re-doing on the journey to excellence.
- What if the essence of deliberate practice informed teaching more so that:
“practice (is) intentional, aimed at improving performance, designed for (a student’s) current skill level, (aimed at excellence), combined with immediate feedback and repetitious.” (Malcolm Gladwell)
- What if students were not allowed to finish work until it was excellent?
- What if we borrowed much from Dan Coyle’s insights and took seriously the role of:
- Deliberate Practice,
- Establish the conditions for ignition, (ideally from within themselves and what they achieve)
- Provide the feedback of an expert coach from within tasks to tease out and expect excellence.
“we are often taught that talent begins with genetic gifts – that the talented are effortlessly able to perform feats that the rest of us just dream of. This is false. Talent begins with brief powerful encounters that spark motivation (ignition) by linking your identity to a high performing person or group (or self image). This is called ignition, and it consists of a tiny, world shifting thought lighting up your unconscious mind: I could be them (or do that, or achieve that – in fact look at my best work… my near wins).” (Dan Coyle)
- What if students were more inspired and surprised by themselves and the production of their excellent work; what if it is this that ignites the intrinsic motivation within each child to be more and achieve more.
- What if all of this is allied with a growth mindset that set the conditions and ethos for a class, cohort or Academy to stretch for excellence. (Dweck)
“People with Growth Mindsets and who show GRIT achieve more when they engage in deliberative practice … it is this practice that achieve marginal gains (Steve Peters), inching toward excellence.”
- What if we focused more on the journey; on the “near win” (Sarah Evans)
“The pursuit of mastery is an ever onward almost.” … “Grit is not just simple elbow-grease term for rugged persistence. It is an often invisible display of endurance that lets you stay in an uncomfortable place, work hard to improve upon a given interest, and do it again and again.”(Sarah Evans)
Maybe then…individuals would see that they are capable of excellence, that this would change them forever and raise their personal benchmark. They would have a new self-image, a new notion of possibility and an appetite for excellence. Maybe observation and education would value the outcome, the quality, the closeness to excellence and be less fixated on observed practice…
“If you’re going to do something, I believe, you should do it well. You should sweat over it and make sure it’s strong and accurate and beautiful and you should be proud of it” (Ron Berger)
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An interesting post.Is excellence in a school time bound?
Excellence is by definition rare. I think we should substitute the word competent for what most of us unthinkingly call great or excellent. And I worry about the ex post facto analysis of excellence, calling everything that is excellent a product of ‘grit and mindset’. Excellence is complex and mindset folks seem to think they can manage or lead complexity where they can only create the most favorable ecology for it to occur. You cannot make it happen any more than a parent can make their children into Baby Einsteins. If you ask any artist about his or her masterwork, I suspect that they will tell you that it was unfinished.
Having said the above, I have to agree with you that our education systems are set up to produce crappy stuff, but crappy stuff is not necessarily worthless. Sometimes it is the necessary million words or million paint strokes or chords that must be pushed through to get to the inner soul that that is the idiosyncratic core of one’s art.