Measuring Instruments as Media for the Expression of Creative Passions in Education

Measurement is often viewed as a reduction of complex phenomena to numbers. It is accordingly also often conceived as mechanical, and disconnected from the world of life. Educational examinations are seen by many as an especially egregious form of inappropriate reduction. This perspective is contradicted, however, by a perspective that sees an analogy between educational assessment and music. Calibrated instruments, mathematical scales, and high technology play key roles in the production of music, which, ironically, is widely considered the most alive, captivating and emotionally powerful of the arts. Though behavioral psychology has indeed learned how to use music to manipulate consumer purchasing decisions, music is unabashedly accepted nonetheless as the highest expression of passion in art.

The question then arises as to if and how measurement in other areas, such as in education, might be conceived, designed, and practiced as a medium for the expression and fulfillment of creative passions. Key issues involved in substantively realizing a musical metaphor in human and social measurement include capacities to tune instruments, to define common scales, to score performances, to orchestrate harmonious relationships, to enhance choral grace note effects, and to combine elements in unique but pleasing and recognizable rhythmic arrangements.

Practical methods for making educational measurement the medium for the expression of creative passions for learning are in place in thousands of schools nationally and internationally. With such tools in hand, formative applications of integrated instruction and assessment could be conceived as intuitive media for composing and conducting expressions of creative passions. Student outcomes in reading, mathematics, and other domains may then come to be seen in terms of portfolios of works akin to those produced by musicians, sculptors, film makers, or painters.

Hundreds of thousands of books and millions of articles tuned to the same text complexity scale, for instance, provide readers an extensive palette of colorful tones and timbres for expressing their desires and capacities for learning. Graphical presentations of individual students’ outcomes, as well as outcomes aggregated by classroom, school, district, etc., could be presented, interpreted and experienced as public performances of artful developmental narratives enabling dramatic performances of personal uniqueness and social generality.

Measurement instrumentation in education is able to capture, aggregate, and organize literacy, numeracy, socio-emotional intelligence, and other performances into special portfolios documenting the play and dance of emerging new understandings. As in any creative process, accidents, errors, and idiosyncratic patterns of strengths and weaknesses may evoke powerful and dramatic expressions of beauty, and human and social value. And just as members of musical ensembles may complement one another’s skills, using rhythm and harmony to improve each others’ playing abilities in practice, so, too, instruments of formative assessment tuned to the same scale can be used to coordinate and enhance individual student and teacher skill levels.

Possibilities for orchestrating such performances across educational, health care, social service, environmental management, and other fields could similarly take advantage of existing instrument calibration and measurement technologies.

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2 Responses to “Measuring Instruments as Media for the Expression of Creative Passions in Education”

  1. Says:

    During my first reading I began to worry about how some might use your insightful analogy in much narrower inquiries related to how well, for example, a given musician may have rendered a piece “successfully” as compared to the composer’s intention as previously documented in a score or otherwise recorded or otherwise enshrined in some convention. However, during my second reading, clues of your broader, more sophisticated, and more respectful strategic trajectory began to sink in. For example, you refer to “formative applications of integrated instruction and assessment;” “instruments of formative assessment;” the “creative PROCESS (my emphasis); and my favorite, “the play and dance of emerging new understandings.” Your proposal is music to my ears because it, a.) accounts for improvisation and stylized interpretation, not only in a given musical expression but also throughout the lifelong development of the musician (individual), and b.) presupposes in practice an improvisational inquiry strategy that rigorously combines a heterodoxy of theories and methodologies aimed at more deeply understanding growth, development, and change over time. As usual I take away something along these lines: we’re currently using a limited array of measures, perhaps unnecessarily limited, to examine in a limited fashion only those dimensions of the phenomenal world that conform to and support our current worldview, which is limited because of the scarcity of measures and their applications. So, yea, it’s time to jazz it up!

    • livingcapitalmetrics Says:

      Wonderful, Paul! Yes, I get the hesitation. Many musicians do in fact justifiably feel that the well-tempered scale is overly limiting in its harmonic possibilities. You don’t have to go off any kind of a modal deep end to understand what they mean, given the widespread use of alternative tunings in popular music, from Jimi Hendrix to Joni Mitchell to Neil Young. So I’m increasingly trying to foreground sensitivity to individual differences, which tap directly the issues of the heart, kindness, and marginalized members of communities, even as we understand and perceive those issues only in relation to normative expectations and standards. The previous post here on feminist diffractions, inchoate or potential universals, and stochastic resonance takes up that same theme.

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