Working with kids isn’t simply about walking into a space and teaching. It also requires navigating the invisible baggage brought in by each kid – from friendships going sour, to bullying, and other issues that you may not be aware of such as homelessness, food insecurity and abuse. You can’t look at kids and tell what their lives are like. Which is why I believe that it’s critical to be kind, and to try and make things less stressful, whenever possible. Adults are in a position of power over kids, and that’s an important thing to remember. As an adult, you have to be cognizant about how your words and decisions might make kids feel.
Maya Angelou said it best:
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.-Maya Angelou
Several years ago I started teaching kids how to put together loops in GarageBand to create a unique conglomeration. I was pretty excited about this. It seemed like a great way to teach some solid skills and have fun in the process. Once we had a couple of sessions, the students were required to share 30 seconds of their piece with the class. Naturally, some of them were a little nervous. It’s scary to share your work with a group of peers.
However, one of my students was several steps beyond nervous. He was petrified. He was so worried about how the other kids would receive his piece that it was spilling into the rest of his life. He was having trouble sleeping. He was practicing with GarageBand during all of his free time. He wanted to come in to spend extra time outside of his regular class. Normally, kids wanting to come in for some extra time, to learn something, is a good thing. This wasn’t that. This kid was practically in tears when we talked about sharing his piece. When I checked in with the class, he wasn’t the only one who was worried. Clearly, I needed to do something to help.
When I talked with him about the way that he was feeling, what I garnered was that he was trying to make a perfect piece of music, which he perceived to be an impossible task. I think that a lot of our kids feel pressure to be perfect at everything. I recently attended a professional development workshop given by the author of At What Cost , a book that addresses this overall perfectionism trend (and is very a worthwhile read). The objective of the GarageBand lesson was not to create perfect music. It was simply to learn how to use the software, and hopefully have some fun in the process. I came up with a solution to try and alleviate some of the stress – what if I gave the kids permission to make their music bad on purpose?
When I presented this as an option to the class, the relief was visible on their faces. Some of them were even delighted. Making things bad on purpose feels subversive, which is appealing to some kids. From that point forward I’ve always presented this as an option – the students can experiment, make their music bad on purpose or try and make something beautiful. When they play their piece for the class they can opt to share which way they went with this, or they can simply leave it up for speculation.
Once the students were given permission to make their music bad on purpose, not only did they seem to be having more fun with the project, they also started trying out everything. Giving them permission to make a bad piece of music made them explore GarageBand more thoroughly, and learn more about the software, than ever before. Obviously, not every assignment should have a – bad on purpose – option. But it worked very well for us, with this.
In fact, I think this has wider applications in the realm of makerspace, and teaching in general. For some kids, especially those prone to perfectionism, giving them permission to make things bad on purpose gives them a reason to explore things more deeply than they otherwise would. It allows students to not worry so much about making mistakes, which in turn leads to taking more risks. Risks are really important in school and in life. Taking some calculated risks allows innovation to flourish. If you are teaching, or running a makerspace, it’s critical to get students to a point where they are comfortable taking some risks and making some mistakes (assuming it’s not compromising safety). I would encourage you to find ways to give kids the option of making things bad on purpose. You never know what happy accidents will result.