Recently I attended a presentation by Technical Theater Director Nate Bell’s Advanced Technical Theater class. Students were presenting their lighting design projects, controlling the intensity, fade, direction, and color of the lights in conjunction with a piece of music they had chosen. The “Sound and Light” show that resulted was the outcome of hours of creative experimentation, trial and error, collaboration, manual labor, setting and focusing the lights, and programming the many cues so that the lights performed as intended in choreographed harmony with the chosen music.
The audience was treated to the product of learning, but the significant skills and hard work that went into each piece were obvious, especially as you became aware of the different choices each student made. One student’s work stood out in particular because this student was actually not in the class. He is interested in theater and stage lighting and was spurred on to take up the challenge of designing a light show set to music because he loves this work. His passion and expertise at manipulating both the lights and the lighting board was immediately evident, and the result of his efforts was truly spectacular.
Why do I focus on a student who was not in the class? Because in some ways he represents the apotheosis of what we seek to achieve in a learning environment. There was no external reward. There was no penalty for poor performance. There was no grade. There was learning and curiosity. There was a pursuit of passion for the love of the subject. This is what we seek every day to create, and while the goal may be elusive, when we achieve it, we want to acknowledge it; we want to celebrate it.
Because we are a school, students take classes, and we give them grades as part of the feedback they receive so that they can understand how well they have done. Many of our students enjoy this process and the rewards they get from a job well done, a paper in which they demonstrate their mastery of a subject, a lab report capturing just how an experiment went awry and suggesting ways that the experiment might be refined in future trials. We also have many students who engage in their classes because they are truly interested in the subject. More than one teacher has been able to direct a student to more novels by a particular author, or to more information about a particular mathematical theory, because a student has sought to go beyond what is required and to do so because of the passion they feel for the subject rather than because they will receive a grade or a gold star for their efforts.
This does not happen every day nor with every student, but for many of our students, this spark of curiosity grabs them, and their passions are unleashed, at least every once in a while. These are the moments they as learners should cherish, and it is one that we, as educators, seek to evoke and nourish because there is not a more devoted learner than one who is learning for his or her own sake, to quench his or her own curiosity. Learning in this way gives students a powerful boost because it reinforces for them the importance of their own ideas, their own passions, their own voices, and their own choices. This quality of engagement is what we strive to achieve for every student in our school.