Book Report: Mo’ Meta Blues

In a lot of ways, the more you learn about something, the muddier that idea gets.  My twitter feed is full of educators that regularly contradict each other and present opposing views of similar ideas. My board (and the ministry under which it works) also regularly changes its mind on “best practices”.  As new teaching methods and trends come up, people challenge and oppose and embrace them… new ideas are born. Lather.  Rinse.  Repeat.  

This process is not unique to education.  It’s one of the ways that progress occurs in our world.  New ideas spring up in reaction to old ideas.

I think the process is healthiest when we blend what we have learned with what we’re learning.  So, I guess it’s not surprising that my favourite form of progress comes in the form of the remix.  When someone is able to look at the history of an idea, and pull in all of the things that that might inform that idea’s progress… and somehow stick those ideas together… well, that’s when magic happens.

Maybe that’s why I loved reading Mo’ Meta Blues so much.

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On the surface Questlove’s book is a loosely organized set of memoirs.  In a way it’s  a history lesson in hip hop.  On a deeper level, Quest provides his readers with a perspective by which to view their lives… So when I read it, my thoughts drifted to education.  

One of my favourite parts of the book was when he described some of the first music he made with Tariq Trotter (long time collaborator/co-founder of The Roots).  Basically he took sounds and hooks and remixed them with his SK-1 while Tariq spun his rhymes.  I loved how he described the process of remixing: 

“You, as the listener pick a piece of sound, a snippet of speech, or a drumbeat, and you separate that from everything around it.  That’s now a brick that you have in your hand, and you use it to build a new wall.  It also lets you take things that were transparent, that were previously thought of as words and sounds that you look through to see other words, and make them opaque.  You can take the invisible and make them visible.”

In fact he links remixing to some of Roland Barthes’ philosophy on language: “text is not a unified thing, and the reader is the one that divides it up, arbitrarily.  Reading is the act that creates the pieces.”  More accurately, Barthes would probably say that the act of reading is the audience making sense of the thoughts that have been presented.

As the book moves on Quest regales his readers with anecdotes and stories about how he got to his current place in music and life.  He chooses parts to share with his audience, then remixes those bricks into an narrative.  Much like he did with his early music production.

… and I think that’s how we should be looking at the learning in our classrooms.

Currently in Ontario (to the chagrin of many an educator), our education system is measured in part by a series of standardized tests: The Primary Division Test (grades 1-3), The Junior Division Test (grades 4-6), The Grade 9 Assessment of Mathematics, and The Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test.

Here are a few different sample questions from the Education Quality and Accountability office’s standardized tests from 2013-2013:

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(reading question from The Junior Division Test)

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(math question from The Primary Division Test)

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(writing question from the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test)

If you click on the links to view the full sample tests you’ll see that in all open response answers, students are asked to defend their choices.  They’re asked to synthesize and remix information to inform an answer.  As Questlove so eloquently puts it, they’re being asked to make invisible visible.  

As much as I dislike the EQAO tests, I will agree that synthesis to show deep understanding is a very important skill that we need to teach our children.  

Much of our current growth in education is around the theme of inquiry.  I really think that our next step as educators should be to focus in on how we use the findings of our inquiry.  How do we put the pieces together?  How do we transform concepts into knowledge?  How do we make the invisible into something visible?

Something to think about.

 

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