Movie Directing and Teaching

In my last post I described the result of giving my students more freedom. The more freedom I gave them, the harder it became to grade them. So I stopped grading them — giving them even more freedom. Here is what the director Steven Soderbergh said in a recent interview about giving actors freedom:

INTERVIEWER You’ve talked at length about giving actors as much freedom as possible. That’s resulted in a number of performances that have launched, revived, and revitalized careers. In the case of Jennifer Lopez in Out of Sight, you’re responsible for her only good film performance.

SODERBERGH It’s not that I never say no; I’m just not trying to control them. I’m looking to amplify and showcase whatever it is about them that I find compelling.

I assume that each of my students wants to learn something (related to the class).  I try to make use of that desire rather than push them to learn something else.  Whatever my students are good at, I want to make them better at. Here is an old post of mine about how this way of teaching resembles the way good managers manage.

3 Replies to “Movie Directing and Teaching”

  1. Have you never had students who were unmotivated and didn’t perform well on the unstructured projects that you assigned? I’m not proud of it, but I have to say that the threat of bad grades kept me from slacking in many of the classes I took. There were so many potential distractions in my life, all competing for my attention. I’m not sure that I would have done well in high school and college if all my classes were free-form.

    Seth: I’ve only tried not grading once. In this particular case, nobody performed poorly. What I conclude is there are other powerful motivators besides grades. One is an innate desire to learn. Another is a desire to look good to your peers (in class presentations). Maybe your teachers never made good use of these two motivations.

  2. Thinking out loud:

    I can’t help but wonder how that would work in a more technical class. At the end of the class can you execute proofs or write programs in C or multiply numbers?

    I suppose there’s a case to be made for that fact that the current system of education in STEM subjects seems to favor a tiny minority of white males.

    I’m working in software engineering. A huge part of our jobs is combining a bunch of people’s backgrounds, having a lot of conversations, and finally executing on something, whatever best idea we could come up with. The execution is sometimes a surprisingly small part of the job. Yet that background in technical knowledge has to come from somewhere and you either have it or don’t. What you also sometimes have or don’t is the ability to use that background effectively with others.

    That said, I can see the value in a class where you “go make something, like with a computer or whatever.” And I wonder how much background students would have needed to “cover” before we all could be confident that they’d succeed at something.

    Seth: see my next post for an answer to this question.

  3. As an undergraduate I found most chemistry lectures dull but chem lab satisfying. I found many physics lectures interesting but most physics lab dull. I enjoyed maths lectures and also enjoyed doing computer programming.

    I don’t offhand see any particular pattern there. But I did feel sorry for my friends who were on courses that seemed to involve only learning by listening, reading and writing, and no learning by doing.

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