Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Week Two Reading - The Art of Possibilities

The Gulf Shore.  Photo by Curt Isakson

One of the most compelling points bought across in this book, and what has stuck with me the longest, was the concept of giving an ‘A’ for a particular project to free one-self of the grade, and to let a person fully experiment, fail, or succeed without the worry of getting a bad grade.  I believe this can be a wonderful way of letting loose the chains that bind us creatively.

I find myself in this course having to make decisions about whether I do what I really want to do (which usually is more involved), or just make sure I fit the criteria for the grade.  Many times I have made the conclusion that I want the grade and have not taken it as far as I wanted to.  The projects I am most proud of though are the ones that I really didn’t care about the grade and did what I felt was right in my mind.

This course has used this concept many times, and I use this same idea in the classes I teach.  A ‘no-fail’ approach to some of my learning environments really brings out the best in my students. 


  1. Curt,

    I love that you mentioned something I keep hearing as I read blog posts: that EMDT has used the "give an A" concept throughout the program. I can honestly say that I tend to go above and beyond for everything that we have ever been asked to do, but I do still worry about the grade. And because I worry about the grade, it is something that my students do also. It's funny to think about what they would be able to do and produce if both their parents and myself could jump on the "give an A" bandwagon. I'm really seeing the importance of loosening the reigns in that arena and giving my students a real opportunity to explore without worrying about what grade they will receive.

  2. I agree, Curt! When we allow ourselves to fully immerse ourselves into a project and forget about how others may judge or critique it, that is where our creativity is set free. You’re right about Full Sail giving us the opportunity to try new things on a pass/fail basis. I hadn’t really thought about the EMDT program as starting us off with A’s, but I believe you are right! Now all we have to do is pass this belief forward to our students and see how far they can go with it.

  3. As a teacher, I provide many opportunities for students to do creative projects that have an automatic "A" as long as they put in the work. This works especially well with choreography projects and film projects. I like for them to experiment and I find that the creativity and effort levels on these projects are excellent. In other teaching situations, though, I find that I need the motivation of the grade to push them to complete the work and to do a thorough job.

  4. As I mentioned in my post on this month's readings, the EMDT program has created this train of thought within each of us over the past ten-plus months. My immediate response was like yours, Curt. This concept has been used many times in the assignments and projects we have created. When we forget about the grade and just work from our heart and soul, we get the greatest satisfaction for our accomplishments, and in fact, earn an A in our mind. The grade on paper becomes insignificant. And while we try to duplicate this idea in our own classrooms, we unfortunately have the restrictions that state standards and test scores place on us. I do know that the most rewarding assignments my kids work on are those with low threat levels and where the students can just enjoy what they are doing.

  5. @Curt,

    I too, thought the giving an A was an effective way of allowing students to learn and express creativity without the constraints of the grade. I think this makes perfect sense in your learning environment. Without the pressure of the grade your students probably create some really amazing pieces of music. I wonder if in some cases that leads to doing the bare minimum? However, with your constant inspiration I am sure many take this opportunity to really shine.

  6. In the end, the major benefit of all this "education" has nothing to do with grades or grading and everything to do with experimentation, failure and stretching to success that you mentioned. I believe that learning is basically failing forward.

  7. Curt,

    I found your comments about the projects that you’re most proud of are the ones that you didn’t care about the grade and did what you felt was right in your mind to have a familiar ring. I ran into this dilemma during Digital Media Applications. I have real difficulty with Flash and in that class I felt I could have done more or better but anxiety over my previous experiences with Flash was a bit of a roadblock. I’m glad I avoided setting myself up for failure but measuring myself against past performance or the skills of accomplished Flash artists was always somewhere in the back of my mind. I truly believe that this kind of thinking is deeply ingrained in us by design.

  8. Curt,

    I couldn't agree more with this approach of a 'no-fail' policy for some projects. In my music classes, I really want the kids to explore the parameters of music and let their creativity flow. Of course, it's not always the best sounding music, but music none the less. This policy cannot work on every assignment (they must know the difference between a whole and half note) but even trying new things that they aren't used to is an added pressure on top of the grade, so using this policy can really let the kids cut loose like you said and enjoy learning in the process.