Since I’ve started the podcast and blog I’ve looked at many things through new eyes and looked for opportunities to learn everywhere.
I’ve talked about using stories as an opportunity to improve learning through observing the hero’s journey (Episode 13) and I’ve talked about enhancing the learning experience through the use of music (Episode 15). I was sure if I was willing to blur the lines between education and entertainment I would find something that mixed both. I found The School of Rock.
Really, I found it again as it had been a while since I’d seen it and, granted, Jack Black can be very, well, Jack Black, sometimes I kind of like that.
In almost any story the hero learns something, or else we have a rather tragic ending on our hands. The School of Rock is no different. After taking a few notes and looking it over, I found five major lessons to take away from The School of Rock.
1. Play to the Learners Strengths: Early on in the misadventure, Jacks’ character, Dewey, assigns various roles in the band to different students. Dewey assigns the role of security to Tomika, a bigger girl in the class and he does this with out getting to know the students strengths. A couple scenes later Tomika tells him that she wants to sing, and, of course, she has a power-house voice (As a side note, he assigns her ‘homework’ of listening to Pink Floyds Great Gig in the Sky, which is one of the best songs ever recorded.) Tomika now has something that she can pour herself into and can be proud of. Another student, Billy, is very fashion focused and Dewey let’s him take the reigns on the costumes for the band members. I wouldn’t say that it works out perfectly but it’s a valuable experience.
2. Do not make feedback a negative event: There are several instances in the story where Dewey give feedback to the students on the music they play or the ideas they come up with. Often the responses he gives them are playful and devoid of judgement. It’s to the point, intended to offer direction, and then he moves on. I’ve heard that good feedback is subtle and frequent, or something like that.
3. Use an interesting point of view to explore traditional subjects: At one point, almost as a throw-away in a montage (you got to have a montage!), we see a chalk board covered with historical information…about musicians! This may not be the same as memorizing the Presidents of the USA but by peering through the looking glass of music students can see what social and cultural aspects influenced music and by definition society in general. We also see an image of a mind map of the interconnectivity of all genres of music. Looking at exploring relationships and comparisons to between different types of music. I don’t know if this qualifies as tricking kids into learning, but either way, it’s great.
4. Exercise different skill sets to be well rounded: When Dewey met up with this group of kids they were all very focused on academia, good grades, and the vanilla side of the street. Through rock music Dewey introduces them to self expression, creativity, and showmanship. I know, it’s a movie…but I still think that we don’t go out of our comfort zone because we fear failure but we’ll never know what we can accomplish until we attempt it, fail at it (a lot) and then attempt it again. Dewey pushes them out of their comfort zone to a more fulfilled them.
5. Use a project to achieve learning: The project in School of Rock starts out as a complete lie and attempt by Dewey to take advantage of several opportunities (a paying job and a chance to seek revenge). He inadvertently allows these kids to explore new ideas and teach themselves new skills. Summer, the class factotem (I had to look it up, don’t feel bad), finds herself reading The Business of Music. Zack writes a song and learns to stand up for himself while a few others create a computer surveillance system complete with remote video cameras. By putting on an event Dewey challenges these young people to take on roles and complete tasks that require a new set of skills that they need to find as they go along….almost a…Trial by Fire.
I think this is really the goal of any learning event that we create. When we’re done the people that leave the session are not the same people that arrived. They’ve changed and hopefully we’ve changed too.