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Not Everything that Counts can be Counted by Kevin Jess, Leader of Learning (9-12), in conversation with Deb Hynes, Head of Performing Arts. In researching for this article on topics relating to measuring learning outcomes I found myself reading an article by Dave Mason, Principal of strategic design company Multiple Inc. In this article Mason (2013) spoke of the Yerkes-Dodson Law: optimal anxiety, where the measurement of a business task is designed to attempt to stimulate people (through either positive or negative stress) to achieve the mental and emotional state of peak performance. This law also implies that if a business cannot accurately measure the results of a specific activity, that activity is not likely to survive long (i.e. management is going to cut that program!). Yet Mason went on in this article to challenge this notion, and for me this is where my mind engages as we, in education, evaluate how we are measuring learning and that is, “Not everything that counts can be counted, and not everything that can be counted counts”. This quote is regularly attributed to Albert Einstein, but in fact originates with sociologist William Bruce Cameron (1963), addressing the notion that anything that cannot be readily quantified is valueless. More fully explored by Mason in his article, Cameron’s statement says: “It would be nice if all of the data which sociologists require could be enumerated because then we could run them through IBM machines and draw charts as the economists do. However, not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted.” (as cited in Mason, 2013) He is talking about measuring human behaviour, and that is where things get a little fuzzy. There are preconceived notions of education that our business is to teach, test then measure. Whilst an oversimplified summation of education, this could be true. In fact, we do need to assess the learning of our students and this assessment allows us to gather data; once we have data, then this can be used to measure. However, the question that needs to preface such processes remains, “what is it that we are measuring?” Measuring of performance is a truth in education, we do use tools to gather data and we do compile this data to measure. Yet, we need to challenge the misinterpretation or misrepresentation of learning that a number or a graph may present. We need to read data sets for that moment in time while maintaining an awareness of the holistic value of learning that may include less measurable growth in a student’s development. We need to acknowledge that any standardised testing by its very merit is just that…

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A scene from the Year 12 Production of Sweeney Todd.

standardised; standardised to gain a measurement for that moment in time. Then that data, along with many other tools, can be used to continuously evaluate and develop the learning environment for the student and for society as it too evolves and develops. What such measures of academic achievement may not manage to identify effectively are also significant, if not critical aspects of learning, but are not new. In fact, Jean Piaget, a biologist, psychologist and educational theorist (1896-1980) developed the “constructivism in education” theory some time ago. In the constructivist classroom, “the focus tends to shift from the teacher to the students. The classroom is no longer a place where the teacher (‘expert’) pours knowledge into passive students, who wait like empty vessels to be filled. In the constructivist model, the students are urged to be actively involved in their own process of learning. The teacher functions more as a facilitator who coaches, mediates, prompts, and helps students develop and assess their understanding, and thereby their learning. One of the teacher's biggest jobs becomes ASKING GOOD QUESTIONS. Within the constructivist classroom, both teacher and students think of knowledge not as inert factoids to be memorised, but as a dynamic, ever-changing view of the world we live in and the ability to successfully stretch and explore that view.” (Thirteen Ed, 2004) “The goal of education is not to increase the amount of knowledge but to create the possibilities for a child to invent and discover, to create (people) who are capable of doing new things.” – Jean Piaget


I recently had the privilege of observing the learning of our Year 9 Drama students as they took their performing arts skills and knowledge to our Junior School to perform “fractured fairy tales”. The learning was evident in their performances, “measured” by the audience participation and applause. However, the significant observation for me on this day was the change in the students’ “learner identity” from before the performance as we walked to Campbell House, then after their performance as we walked back to Senior School. This may simply have been the anxiety and nerves before, versus elation, excitement and relief post-performance. Yet I sensed it was greater than this – there was a sense of accomplishment, achievement, pride, empowerment, connection and community. Together they had learnt, practised, prepared and now delivered something that engaged an audience. To achieve this they needed to collaborate, communicate, use their intuition, know when to lead and know when to be led. Through the scrutiny of an audience, they were vulnerable, yet their faith in learning became their safety net to attempt to fly. Then later in Term 1, the Year 12 production of Sweeney Todd was an enthralling insight into the exciting journey ahead for our Year 9s and indeed any students that pursue studies in performing arts. Head of Performing Arts Deb Hynes and her team continually grapple with the question, how do we actually weigh up our effectiveness as teachers? “Results on paper versus results from within. Perhaps they should never be seen as mutually exclusive.” When reflecting on “final results attained” over time by her Year 12 students, Deb described her own range of emotions of “sheer relief, then excitement for the students, then pure delight and joy”. The similar range I am sure many Year 12 teachers go through when all the learning is complete and it is over to the data and measuring of “success” by a score. However, Deb goes further in her reflection, suggesting “relief should not be her first emotion. Or should it? How accountable are we as teachers in this ever-competitive world? Are we responsible for our students’ ranking, results, future and life? I feel an overwhelming sense of responsibility! Is it not more sensible to instil in the student a sense of ownership and achievement that is nurtured by the teacher?” Deb explained that she has “had as much if not more pleasure from less academically capable students ‘surviving’ their performance exam without having a heart attack and vomiting from fear beforehand. These same students coming out of the written exam smiling and claiming they understood everything on the paper, they may not get into the high or very high percentile of the state in their study score, but their excitement on results day is unquestionable and intoxicating. These students hardly spoke in Year 9; some felt misunderstood, perhaps introverted, maybe different within the norm of their cohort and maybe never heard? Although, perhaps with secret dreams of being famous, they had not developed their natural talents, they had withdrawn, gone silent, whether

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from a lisp or a limp or by whatever, they had lost their courage. These students warm my heart and make me realise why I teach and why I love it. I will always celebrate the high level of success that many of our naturally talented, academic go-getter students will achieve; however, I will equally nurture and savour my students who do Drama because it makes them feel special and accepted, and I cannot put a number to that.” Deb’s intuitive view on the balance of education is well supported in the humanist theory in education explored by Andrew P Johnson, Professor at the College of Education, Minnesota State University, and author of Education Psychology: Theories of Learning and Human Development. Where Johnson (2014) suggests “the goal of education should be human development and personal growth (as opposed to higher test scores): “Focus on these will naturally increase intellectual achievement and prepare students to contribute to global as well as local societies.” Measuring growth rather than achievement. He goes on to explain that the academic and personal development of a student cannot be separated. That “human learning theory and human education enhance rather than detract from academic learning, intellectual growth, and the development of basic skills. Human learning theory is concerned with personal growth and includes attention to students’ affective dimensions such self-concept, values, and emotions. However, human education is not an either/or situation in regards to academic learning and personal growth. One doesn’t take away from the other; rather, they both serve to enhance the other. Human education enhances learning by making personal connections to students’ lives, emotions, and experiences. Thus, students learn more and learn more deeply. For human educators, academic learning provides a context for personal growth and the development of knowledge and skills necessary to thrive in the world. Students can learn in the traditional sense of acquiring a designated body of knowledge and a set of skills, and at the same time, they can begin to understand themselves and others and learn what it means to be a human being living on the good planet earth as they engage in the process of making personal connections to subject matter and other human beings. Indeed, the latter enhances the former to a great degree. That is, students learn more and learn more deeply when there is a meaningful connection to what is to be learned. Good education is good human education.” (Johnson, 2014) Deb Hynes describes such “human learning” experiences evident through the performing arts. “Traditionally we learn to read, write and count in differing levels of sophistication. In the performing arts it could be suggested we learn to act, dance, design and direct, and indeed we do. However, the key skills and knowledge the students really explore are much more to do with collaboration, negotiation, safe risk taking, observing, reflecting on what is around them, recreating, and interpreting how we all fit into this world.”


Year 9 Drama students performed “fractured fairy tales” for Junior School students at Campbell House.

Through the exploration of traditional, historical and contemporary texts, our preforming arts students invest in a wealth of experiences that challenge and expand their learning opportunities and develop their identity as both a learner and a person, which as Deb suggests, must not be counted separately. At any moment in time, at all levels of school life, you will see the human theory of education unfolding within the performing arts: the Junior School students, as they immerse themselves in teamwork and concentration while exploring the environment and creating work reflecting their surroundings; or the Year 8 students as they collaborate, time-manage, encourage and support each other while preparing to share their dynamic interpretation of “Under the Sea”; then our senior students as they devise work within an ensemble framework based on the concept of Dreams and Aspirations. Immersed in research and discussion around the world we live in and beyond, they create scenes depicting their interpretations and ideas relating to the topic. They think about the roles they and others have played and make brave choices in how they share this through performance. Dance students hone their skills as they grow in confidence and selfdiscipline, working together and negotiating the different skill levels and input of creative ideas. The senior Drama and Dance students weave through a plethora of styles, characters, stimulus and design influences, exploring here and there, soaking up things that touch them, challenged by things that alarm them, and persist with things that shock them to create works that reflect this extraordinary creative journey. Deb explains how the performing arts staff have been observing the notion of self-investment and the benefits in the arts. She identifies how this is “paramount and evident across the spectrum of student classes as well as the school’s major productions, as opt-in co-curricular

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activities.” The more we invest, the more we ponder; the more we ponder, the more we analyse; the more we analyse, the more we create and thus reflect on the world we live in. The key is to be motivated and brave enough to invest and when this happens, the students’ learning and their creative journey combines intelligence, wonder, empathy, passion and importantly, ownership. Learning through the performing arts is about relationships, respect, belief and taking chances. The quality of the end product is often what we reflect on and is only what the audience sees, but the most important aspect of the learning is in the process; the collaboration, the sharing and the creative ideas. It sounds clichéd but the creative journey is a much more fulfilling learning path than the ability to deliver on stage. To be or not to be a performing arts student, that is the question. With such research and observations in mind, it is fair to suggest that the educational setting that provides a broad, holistic approach to education should therefore provide the greater opportunity for personal and academic growth in the learner. A space where learners can explore opportunities through diverse programs that suit their interests. Develop their creative, critical and analytical thinking capabilities to imagine new possibilities. Thus, our tools for measuring learning should accommodate and reflect this. Therefore, it is interesting that recent media around our most senior secondary “measuring tool” is coming under some scrutiny. In a recent article published on The Conversation titled “Your ATAR isn’t the only thing Universities are looking at” by Sarah Pilcher and Kate Torii (2018) from the Mitchell Institute, Victoria University, some interesting discussions developed around the questions of balance and subject selection.


They identified that “in education policy there is broad consensus on a number of high level goals – that education should: • develop the foundation skills and broader capabilities required to succeed in a changing world, • support effective transitions from school to post-school life, and • enable more school leavers to participate in tertiary study or training. Yet our means of measuring success and facilitating access often seem at odds with these. This includes the ATAR.” (Pilcher, 2018) Today, many schools still strongly focus on ATAR, “an emphasis that can result in unintended consequences”. (Pilcher, 2018) The research by Pilcher and Torii found “a significant number of final year students report alarmingly high levels of stress and anxiety as a result of study pressures. Students may choose subjects they think will maximise their ATAR over pursuing talents and interests. It also distorts student choice about which pathway to pursue. Some students see high cut-off scores as an indication of higher course quality, and similarly, that to enrol in courses with cut-offs lower than their ATAR would be a ‘waste’ of their scores”. (Pilcher, 2018) Therefore, for our students in today’s educational climate it is important to see and use the ATAR for what it is… a tool, not a goal. The Geelong College is unequivocally committed to understanding the needs, dreams and desires of each student. For us, the student choice of program and the ability to explore and develop a broad program that balances pathway, passion and potential is at our core of student learning and student wellbeing. The seemingly never-ending stories of success and achievement within our alumni are a dramatic demonstration of the benefits of a well-balanced education; an education gained within an organisation focussed on much more than just the measuring tools used for just one moment in time.

It is humbling to sit within an educational community such as this and contemplate that in some way (big or small) College teachers over time have assisted to shape and empower such powerful, creative and compassionate contributors to our society and our world. Once students, no different from those we teach today, inquisitive for new knowledge and yearning to understand how things work and why things have come to be. Now here they stand, on another stage, in another performance, drawing on skills instilled, nurtured and developed from their earlier learning experiences. Their own performance, titled “Life”. Vulnerable and with scrutiny, this performance, like that from their earlier protected environment, will require risk, organisation, collaboration and cooperation. It will not only be the applause at the closing of the final act that measures the success of their performance; but more so the process from which the greater judgement shall come will be the impact each “scene” has to connect to the audience and the impact that part of the story can have. This is a metaphor of any person’s journey through life, and for The Geelong College, our alumni continue to have such a broad and powerful impact. As teachers we say… “bravo”.

References: Mason, D. (2013). Everything that counts, can be counted. Retrieved 25 April 2018 from https://multipleinc.com/2013/11/ everything-counts-can-counted/. Thirteen ED. (2004). Constructivism as a paradigm for teaching and learning? In Concept to Classroom. Retrieved 25 April 2018 from https://www.thirteen.org/edonline/concept2class/ constructivism/index_sub1.html. Johnson, A. P. (2014) Humanistic learning theory in Education Psychology: Theories of Learning and Human Development. Retrieved 25 April 2018 from www.nsspress.com. Pilcher, S. and Torii, K. (2018, March 21) Your ATAR isn’t the only thing Universities are looking at. The Conversation. Retrieved 25 April 2018 from https://theconversation.com/your-atar-isnt-the-onlything-universities-are-looking-at-93353.

The 2018 Year 8 Production cast and crew collaborated on a dynamic interpretation of Disney’s The Little Mermaid.

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Profile for Geelong College

Not Everything that Counts can be Counted  

By Kevin Jess, Leader of Learning (9-12), in conversation with Deb Hynes, Head of Performing Arts. An extract of this article is published...

Not Everything that Counts can be Counted  

By Kevin Jess, Leader of Learning (9-12), in conversation with Deb Hynes, Head of Performing Arts. An extract of this article is published...

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