Last year, some of my band classes did a month-long composition activity.
I asked students for written feedback: tell me if you liked the activity or not and why.
Two reports read the following:
“I liked it because it was easy.”
“I didn’t like it because it was too easy.”
Isn’t that funny?
First, that two people used the same adjective in opposite ways.
(I think this happens often.)
One of them: up for being challenged; the other: not so much.
But I also know, because I designed and oversaw the project, and because it was my class, that the student who thought it was too easy was also not terribly motivated. She could have done more than the bare minimum and made it more challenging for herself—and potentially ended up with a final project that she had more pride in.
(There were a lot of reasons tied up in why she didn’t challenge herself.)
Would she have done more work if it had been required? At what point would her feedback have said that she liked it (regardless of why)? Or that she didn’t like it because it was too hard?
I will be more explicit about the possibility of exceeding expectations in the introduction the next time we do the project.
For myself, I’m glad when things are easy when they’re things I don’t want to do in the first place. (Neither of those students is with me again this year, so odds are high on that one.)
I can’t think of an example of a creative assignment that I felt competent doing and did more than was expected, but I can’t think of many required creative assignments that I felt competent doing, either. Competence always came in concrete.
Too easy feels like busywork.
Easy feels like a relief unless the hope was to be challenged…but can still feel like busywork.
Challenging is either glorious or tedious, depending on the task, the emotional investment on the outcome, and the expectation going in.
Too challenging is just frustrating.
So many variables. It’s no wonder we have so many different experiences of the exact same thing.