Sunday, September 14, 2014

What's your Freebird?

This past weekend my daughter played lead guitar on Lynryd Skynyrd's "Freebird" at Downingtown School of Rock's Southern Rock show. She assures me that along with "Stairway to Heaven" (which she has also played in a show), this song is one of the givens for aspiring guitarists. She learned she had the solo in late May. Along with preparing pieces for a touring show with the School of Rock All Stars, "Freebird" has been her particular focus all summer. After the concert she shared with me that she knew she had given it her all and that her two performances were true reflections of her effort, technical ability, talent and pleasure. Last week when she created her Facebook list of the ten albums that had most influenced her as a musician, "Lynryd Skynyrd" (and its song Freebird") was not on the list. For her the song was a right of passage more than an influence. (If you were wondering, her number one influential album was Tedeschi Trucks Band's "Revelator.")

We all have a "Freebird."

I asked my Independent Seminar students to imagine it is January 10, 2015 and they are reflecting back on their first semester work including their demonstration of learning. In essence I asked them to imagine the day after their "Freebird" performance. I wanted them to project forward and then backwards, to engage their imaginations in self-reflection. I wanted them to imagine what a successful learning process would feel like; how they would know they had achieved all that they could even if the final product was missing elements they had planned for in their Independent Seminar proposals. While some students struggled with the idea of looking backwards, they all understood that for each of them the process was more important that the product. Three examples of their thinking follow: Lili (creating podcasts) wrote "I have had practice doing what I hope to do with my life and I have seen if it is really the right fit for me. I have also found strength in myself to interact with my community and present this to them. I feel proud of myself for this and have learned much from those around me. I only accomplished this with the help and support of the people around me. I now know more about my priorities and goals and hope to continue to experience life through the lives of others." Joe (studying Game Theory) asserted "I tried my best throughout the semester. Although the phrase “try my best” is platitudinous and has different meaning to different people, I interpreted it as exploring my potential and having no regret for myself even when I failed to comprehend part of the material." For Margot (studying Beatnik Culture)  the tangibles were easier to project forward than backwards. "I find it intimidating to be so heavily reliant on self-direction, because I know that the effort and attention I put into this course will truly be reflected in the work I produce. I am fully accountable for every aspect of my own success, which is exactly why I am so determined to take up this challenge."

For each of our students there are both foundational influences and rights of passage. Independent Seminar attempts to create space for students to bring these two strands in their education together. Whether its a self-created recital for the student body, a portfolio of visual work, a forty page research paper on the Syrian Conflict, or an application of mathematical modeling, or a podcast of student life, the final product is more than the sum of its individual elements and the learning is as much about the process as the product.

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