In the last two weeks of school, I’m used to working extra hard to keep students engaged, on-task, and most importantly, learning. This month has thrown me a pleasantly unexpected curve ball. Two students who are NOT in my Theater class asked if they could “sit in” during my Musical Theater unit. For some reason, despite the fact that I have 29 students, despite the fact that we meet in whatever room happens to be free, and despite the fact that this sometimes makes me crazy, I felt compelled to say, “sure, we’d love to have you.”
Here’s the rub: not only were these young ladies present in class most days, (one had study hall, the other had another academic class, but is an A student and the teacher allowed her to leave early to come to my class if her work was completed) but they actively participated, contributed to instruction, and “asked permission” to complete assignments related to our study of Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables. Their culminating activity occurred today, on the last day for classes before exams, and it was a beautiful experience. (It was also an activity that they asked to be “allowed” to do.)
These talented, inspired young ladies wanted to “compete” in a classroom courtroom debate of sorts by writing and delivering well-crafted, researched closing arguments in the case of Erik, the “Phantom of the Opera.” Both used information from Gaston Leroux’s original novel, the Broadway production, research on the Paris Opera House, and even quotes from The Bible.
The 29 registered members of my class were stunned. First, by the fact that these students willingly (and eagerly) chose to spend time and considerable effort completing “work” for which they would not receive a grade, in a class in which they were not enrolled. And second, by the remarkable closing arguments themselves. These were not quickly thrown-together assignments. These closing arguments were labors of love. And it showed. And it was remarkable.
To be fair, both girls have deep-rooted passions for musical theater, and they have spent countless hours of their own time researching and experiencing musicals, especially Phantom in all of its inceptions. But I was moved by the realization of what is possible when students are ENGAGED in the subject. When projects are undertaken out of passion and love, without either the threat of or the abstract reward of a grade. What I experienced with these two remarkable young ladies during the last few weeks of this year is what I want my students to experience every day, in every learning situation for the rest of their lives. My mission is to work hard to makes these experiences happen more regularly.