Students Prove They “Rock”

I saw something memorable on a Friday afternoon in between sessions at the National Association of Black School Educators (NABSE) Annual Conference. There I was lucky to be in the right place at the right time, and spent 15 minutes watching a student marching band that thrilled me with their excellence, organization, and leadership. I was taken by the sight of a group of elementary and middle school students performing with such poise, I think especially as it was a group of students from one of the countless schools across the nation where excellence in subject areas like math, reading and science has been fleeting.

I think sometimes we give students like the ones in this band a free pass because we understand what they are up against. By that I mean, we may be satisfied with minor gains “towards” rather than “above” proficiency or intermediate levels of learning for students who attend schools that are moderately to heavily antiquated, lacking resources, and have undergone countless reorganization. Not to discount those gains, but here, when the drums started beating, the horns started playing, and the students started marching into the hall, these students were inspired to do so much more than “approach proficiency” with their performance. I was emotionally moved by their overwhelming excellence. These students in this band were showing me and the other educators in attendance a high-flying performance of the most advanced levels.

How do we capture this level of achievement in the classroom on a consistent basis? How do we match assessment to the ways that these students can best show what they know? I guess it’s just another lens to keep us all looking to develop as professionals, to find a way to capture the magic that we know these students can feel. I know after watching a young student whose clarinet stretched all the way to his knees play with mastery (not just proficiency, or above basic levels) in front of an audience of a thousand educators that I am spurred to keep looking.


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  1. Lisa said:

    This is so true. I feel the same way about all students who put so much into sports or any other activity. How can we compel get parents and students to have the same devotion and passion about learning as they demonstrate for other activities every day?

  2. Patricia Fowler said:

    This goes far beyond the school and educators. I think the larger question to ask is how do we as a society pass along to students the importance of an education and obtaining degrees (high school being the absolute minimum). As a whole, we put a lot of emphasis on other activities like sports and performing arts. I have a friend whose company volunteered in Los Angeles Unified to talk to students about careers in technology and job interview techniques. OUR kids (even those of us who don’t have children need to take some responsibility for children and our collective future) need to know that we expect more out of them and that they are capable.

  3. Max said:

    Great post, Jason! I think this is the most important question in education. How DO we best align assessment tools to demonstrations of mastery? The key difference with music, athletics, and other forms of art and entertainment is the fact that they all allow for some sort of physical performance and individual creativity.
    I truly believe that when we make space for such demonstrations of learning, we will capture that enthusiasm for learning that we know is so vital to going beyond mere proficiency.

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