Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Project Zero - An Interview with Larry Scripp

Larry Scripp, Ed.D is a musician, educator, research, program developer, and administrator. He is the Chair of the Music Education department (and its Music-In-Education program) at New England Conservatory. As Founding Director of Center for Music-In-Education, he designs and implements Music Plus Music Integration programs in public schools through a coalition of schools of music and education, arts organizations, and school reform organizations through the arts. I first was introduced to Larry when I had researched Project Zero, which he was kind enough to explain to me.

Larry, first please tell us, what is Project Zero?

Project Zero is an educational research group at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. Its mission is to understand the relationship of human development in the arts, and to find ways to enhance learning, thinking, and creativity in the arts, as well as humanistic and scientific disciplines, at the individual and institutional levels. I believe that the name Project Zero was used because Nelson Goodman, its founder, felt that there was zero literature to start with in the field of normal human development and in the arts, and he set out to create such a literature along with his graduate students at that time, David Perkins and Howard Gardner

I understand there are many different research projects under the Project Zero umbrella. What areas of research were you involved in during your 10 years of work with this group?

I was involved in the Music and Early Symbolization Project, Arts PROPEL arts assessment in Pittsburgh Public Schools, Lincoln Center Institute Study, and a Music Technology and Composition Project. In the early days it was all about research guided by Piagetian frameworks, but in the 80s it began to focus on applied research, working directly with schools. Arts PROPEL is an acronym for essential components of artistic knowing - Perception, Reflection and Production - and it was the framework for organizating assessment practices in creative writing, visual and musical arts. The project was involved with setting standards of teaching, documenting frameworks from developmental stages, and creating devices and instruments in schools. This project developed new standards for the documentation, organization and assessment of student learning in the arts in public schools. We created prototypes for what are now considered common practice portfolio assessment methods. We didn’t just go into schools to test our own ideas, but worked with the teachers and talked about assessments in the arts and how to do it. This was a collaboration with Pittsburgh Public School District to develop authentic assessments that could be implemented in both general music classrooms and ensemble rehearsal studios.

Broadly speaking, what conclusions have you reached in your research about the arts in education?

I have reached the conclusion that although art forms are very different, each contributes an essential medium of learning and provides a model for learning in other disciplines; that multiple intelligence theory (penned by Howard Gardner), though valuable in its day, has now evolved to acknowledge the complexity of factors involved in artistic intelligences and their possible integration across domains. I have come to realize that the younger generation of music educators now acknowledge that authentic arts learning depends on the integration of other forms of intelligences.

In the Music-in-Education National Consortium – a group that I founded to explore learning both in and through music - we now believe in the creative tension between ‘differentiation and synthesis,” that is, the paradoxical notion that learning in the arts depends on knowledge of other domains of knowing, and that the productive integration of artistic knowing with other subject areas requires deep knowledge in each separate domain. Cognitive skills, intelligence in schools and in life develop in the constantly changing stages of dis-equilibrium between differentiation and synthesis of knowing in and across other disciplines. For example, there are certain parts of the brain where auditory abilities and linguistic abilities share neural networks, yet function within “separate” cognitive domains. Schools are still behind in recognizing this, but they are starting to come to that realization when music and music-integrated instruction takes root in both musical and academic studies.

How has this work helped communities and schools improve and enrich education?

By advocating arts learning in separate domains as a necessity for human development that enhances general education and whole school improvement. It has helped advocate for the arts and connect arts to cognitive skills. Those that learn music realize that there is a certain inextricable sense of cognitive interrelatedness and that the complexity of this interrelatedness grows as you learn and master music learning processes. With this interrelatedness and complexity comes a increasingly powerful musical imagination, critical thought and analytic perspectives that result in a greater sense of intentionality in the creative process. Cognitive-rich creativity is learned in the domain in the context of each art form; it is not a thing to itself. What we are now learning now is that integrated learning processes foster an understanding of parallel problem-finding and problem-solving skills that appear to result in a deeper and broader range of cognition embedded in this synthesis of interdisciplinary work.

Part of Project Zero’s mission is to foster critical and creative thinking through the arts. How does Project Zero and/or education through the arts accomplish this goal?

Mainly to demonstrate assessment of arts learning in relation to cognitive skills, and see that creativity is intrinsic to authentic, comprehensive arts learning. If we look at creative aspects of the arts and the cognitive skills involved in critical and creative thinking, we see something intrinsic to arts learning at every juncture of its developmental progression. Paying attention to the discipline of the art form is really important. Learning takes place both through and within the arts. It is important to learn the arts for its own sake but also to pay attention to the impact of arts learning across domains. Those who study music are more apt to understand proportion and balance differently than in other art forms. The arts can teach a different way of looking at things and a deeper understanding shared between disciplines. It is a particularly engaging way of learning. Arts learning and teaching is not a uniform phenomenon in formal education. How it is taught and supported makes a big difference. We need to get away from anachronistic views of talent (choosing only the very best and grooming them) to a policy that allows access and equal opportunity for arts learning to occur in unexpected ways across a wide set of problems and disciplines.

As Piaget says, to invent is to understand, and creativity informed by critical thinking is the hallmark of music cognitive development. I take that to heart in all my work in education. Creativity is not an ideal moment or special occasion; rather it is a staple of all kinds of problem solving situations. Ken Robinson talks about creativity as applied imagination, which is creativity to solve problems through imaginative thinking. We need to keep these concepts in play and we need to find ways to assess the potency of these skills in all learners.. With good arts-rich educational policy our schools will contribute a much healthier source of creativity to our society.

How do you foster collaborative relationships with schools, universities, museums and other institutions to improve education?

With Project Zero it was at first through assessment in individual art forms. I left Project Zero in order to pursue research in music learning in school networks. I started the Conservatory Lab Charter School as a major experiment in music and music integrated learning in 1998. Although this small school failed to achieve the promise of its charter on its own, the research findings that began with this project have since resulted in twelve years of federal funding for the creation of the Music-in-Education National Consortium and its Learning Laboratory School Network. If have tried to apply the Project Zero concepts of meaningful, authentic research, assessment, documentation, and assessments in my work to advance education today.

In your estimation what does an ideal learning setting look like in a K-12th grade setting?

It is an arts-rich, project and portfolio based, and a longitudinally assessed program within a school learning community. It is a setting where active, research-based professional learning and leadership modeled on music and music integration program development are valued. This productivity is constructive for both teachers and students. Engagement is a two way street with peer learning, group learning, visual learning, and the full diversity of process that includes music and arts integrated practices.. There should be plenty of expressivity, media, and materials as well as objects worthy of study. Education should be project and portfolio based. Students’ work should be about generating new knowledge based on a deep understanding of fundamental concepts that can be learned in the context of interdisciplinary cognition. The recitation of isolated facts is not necessarily indicative of a good learning environment; facts take on new significance when a curriculum of worthy objects of study is investigated on a deeply personal, yet rich informed basis. Even arts learning works best when it fosters an ethos of a school as a learning organization that constantly focuses on the optimal balance of creativity and imagination, inquiry and reflection, and performance and understanding.

I see that you are currently involved with the Music-in-Education National Consortium that furthers your work of integrating music in public schools. Can you tell me about this organization and your efforts there?

I have a personal focus on music as a medium and model for learning in other arts, academics, and social-emotional development. MIENC was created to use arts partnerships to bring programs and research into schools and the MIENC Learning Laboratory School Network, guided by 10 principles of school improvement, was created to investigate music based program development and its impact on schools. The organization publishes journals to make practices and research visible, and actionable in school networks (see and develops longitudinal assessments of music literacy learning in schools among other programs.

For more information on Project Zero, go to
For more information on Music-In-Education National Consortium, go to

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