I see that I haven’t written in a while, but I am inspired to write today after learning about National Novel Writing Month or NANOWRIMO (pronounced nano-rhyme-o) during which participants are challenged to write a 50,000 word novel during the month of November. The interesting part is that the primary challenge is not the quality of the work being completed, but simply to meet the word count goal. Participants even post their word counts daily to track and compare their progress.
Quality vs. Quantity is one of the debates that continues to haunt the education community. Most educators I talk to tend to come down on the side of quality, stating that if the quality is poor then it doesn’t matter how much work is done. Which seems very true. But lately I’ve begun to disagree with the idea that we need to settle for one or the other.
This story from the book Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by David Bayles, and Ted Orland illustrates the idea that I am currently in agreement with:
“The ceramics teacher announced on opening day that he was dividing the class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio, he said, would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the right solely on its quality. His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would bring in his bathroom scales and weigh the work of the “quantity” group: fifty pound of pots rated an “A”, forty pounds a “B”, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot -albeit a perfect one – to get an “A”. Well, came grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity. It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.”
More and more I am agreeing with the correlation of quantity and quality. Howard Garner’s book on creativity illustrates that historically individual’s creative breakthroughs come on roughly a ten year cycle. Malcom Gladwell talks about 10,000 hours of practice required for the mastery of any skill. We all know that we learn from our mistakes, so maybe as educators we need to focus more on providing an environment for students to practice and make mistakes, and therefore learn from them in the process.
Even if you do believe in SturgeonsLaw which states that “90% of everything is junk,” it doesn’t take much more than basic math skills to realize that the more work you do, writing, pottery, or other, the bigger your valuable output will become. So while I have always been an advocate of outlining, brainstorming, and planning, it’s good to remember that at the end of the day the goal is to get something done, or as Andy Ihnatko says, the exercise of “generally trying to move the cursor to the right.”