Assessment, Differentiated Instruction & American Idol

I watch American Idol.

My favourite thing about American Idol is having the opportunity to sing along with the contestants. I really enjoy that I can sing better than some of them and am bested by a great deal of auditionees. It is especially fun to watch it on the PVR where I can fast forward through the banter or rewind to hear some of the truly amazing singers.

On my way to work this morning, I got to thinking about a conversation I had with a friend. I had asked if anyone at the table watched American Idol and the passionate reply really made me think. “No way,” he proclaimed, ” I find it a joke that these kids get up there and sing and if they make it through suddenly they are stars. What about all the people who worked, slaved and sacrificed? Those guys who played the bar circuit and lived in their crappy vans touring around the country to build up a reputation are suddenly having to face these young punks who haven’t put in their time and paid their dues. Doesn’t seem right, does it?”

I guess not. But those kids have talent. Does the fact that they didn’t have to slave away, honing their craft for years before they found their big break make them any less valid or talented? I guess for some it does.

This morning, it dawned on me that we have a large group of teachers that have this mindset when it comes to education. Many believe that if the kid can’t pass the test, they must not know what they need to know. If they don’t hand in an assignment, they should get a zero. The  conflict of the kid that did all the assigned work and earned their 80% vs the kid who handed nothing in but pulled off an 80% on the final exam and because of division policy, they will both end up with 80%.  Not fair, right?

A big argument I hear over and over is that it is not real-life. In the “real world” no one can say to their boss they just aren’t going to hand in their work on time and expect to still have a job. Well, it isn’t that cut and dry. Talk to any HR person and they will tell you that when someone isn’t working to the expectation, there is a great deal of coaching and mentoring that takes place before a termination takes place. Most work places will try to help their employees rise up to expectations rather than start with a brand new employee. Sure, sometimes in some work forces firing isn’t that strategic or such a process, but try to fire the unionized employee without a lawyer and a boatload of paperwork.

Sometimes I wonder if it ego. How dare you come into my class and not do one assignment and then pull off an 80%! What, you don’t need me? Sounds ridiculous written out, but I think that can be an issue at times.

In the new Math curriculum, we moved away from the “I will show you how to do it and that is how you WILL do it” attitude. Now, we try to have the kids show us how they think they could solve a problem. We talk about differentiated instruction or “creating multiple paths so that students of different abilities, interest or learning needs experience equally appropriate ways to absorb, use, develop and present concepts as a part of the daily learning process.” Really, we are developing the idea that understanding how we get to an answer is just as, if not more important than the answer and that we must accept that each child may have a different way to find answers.

American Idol found a way to realize the dreams of nine individuals that compressed years of touring into nine seasons of  three-month auditions. Differentiated instruction for singers! It is pretty cool when “real-life” aligns with the classroom.


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Barb Holden
    Mar 07, 2011 @ 20:31:10

    What an interesting way to illustrate the point. . . I enjoyed the comparison. Thank you!


  2. Norm Usiskin
    Mar 07, 2011 @ 21:23:47

    Cool connections, Melissa!


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