August 22, 2015

Grading versus Guiding

School is starting already in some areas, although for Tomoko teaching is a year-round occupation. And part of teaching and learning is assessment. Tomoko also knows about assessment in terms of competitive performance. Tomoko has strong opinions about such activities. Judging is often done at the end, when little can be done, but guidance helps a person improve.

Too often performance is judged, indicated by a grade. “Grading is not good. It is confusing for parents, and students complain if they get a B.” Furthermore, grading can become political. Tomoko asserts: “Art should not be a pass or fail system.”

Tomoko likens judgment to gardening. “Think about wheat and chaff.” She thinks that making decisions about a beginner’s ability, such as telling them to discontinue, is a bad practice. “You may pull out a good plant.” This kind of early selection – or discouragement – is especially inappropriate for youngsters. Learning how to play the piano is a developmental process. “After 15, the piano student becomes serious.” Tomoko continues, “Everyone should look far away to the horizon. It’s better to think long term than to get stuck over a short-term grade.”

On the other hand, reflection and feedback are important. Tomoko asks students to think about their own performance. “If the music sounds shallow, then the person is playing at a surface level.” She asks them, “What do you think you are doing?” She notes, “You cannot hide when you play.” Tomoko will sometimes play a troubling section for the student, and ask them, “How is the sound different? What am I doing differently?”

Tomoko says that the teachers’ job has a unique niche. “I am sorry, but I am not your friend. I need to critique to help students improve.“ Tomoko tells her students, “Don’t take it personally. It is a difficult job.”  Tomoko also says, “My suggestions come from my judgment, but my judgment may change over time.” Likewise, she tells her students, “Your job is to study.”

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