During the weekend, I happened to hear two radio interviews with different orchestra conductors that reminded me of the reasons I started to offer Genius Hour in my classroom.
NPR’s Scott Simon spoke with the conductor of the Boston Pops, Keith Lockhart, about a feature called By Popular by Demand, which allows the audience to use mobile technology to program the second half of the concert they attend. Here is one excerpt from the interview, spoken by Keith Lockhart:
“People are clapping along, people are singing every word to some of the things that have lyrics to them, and there was just a celebratory spirit. And it really got me – it succeeded beyond my wildest dreams and really got me thinking about maybe one of the elements we’re missing in the live performing arts is this feeling of investment on the part of the audience. Certainly, you know, “Dancing With The Stars,” “The Voice,” “American Idol” – all those have already thought that the way to keep people interested is to give them a voice.”
The way to keep people interested is to give them a voice. Exactly. This is what Genius Hour is all about. Even if the teacher does not feel comfortable in surrendering a fifth of the curriculum to the students, that feeling of “investment” Lockhart mentions can still be achieved by offering more choices.
In a separate interview on TED Radio Hour, Guy Raz spoke with Charles Hazelwood, a conductor who has worked with orchestras around the world. The theme of the show was “Trust and Consequences.” Hazelwood has done a TED talk on “Trusting the Ensemble.” During his TED talk, Hazelwood quoted a fellow conductor, Sir Colin Davis, who once advised him, “Conducting, Charles, is like holding a small bird in your hand. If you hold it too tightly, you crush it. If you hold it too loosely, it flies away.”
I feel that Genius Hour works this way as well. By giving our students the opportunity to pursue their own interests, we loosen our hold on the small bird. But we must continue to guide them because allowing them complete freedom before they are ready can have disastrous consequences.
Hazelwood ended his interview with Guy Raz with a piece of advice that truly resonated with me as a teacher.
Here is a link to some Genius Hour resources in case you are interested.