At YPT one of the best things we have to offer is this magic moment. It’s the moment when a student’s idea is translated into performance through the work of an actor. We’re kind of obsessed with it. Students frequently make this transition from don’t-look-at-me-I’m-hiding-behind-my-hood to wow-I-created-something-so-amazing-I-rock. Performing student work is our way of showing our students that they are smart, creative, and important, instead of just telling them.
I should know. I’ve had my own magic moment with YPT. When I was in the tenth grade at Wilson High School I wrote The Fear and the Pope, a play about two girl criminals. It was the memory of that amazing performance of my first play that got me hooked. I thought, “This is incredible. I LOVE this.” And later that became, “Everyone deserves this.”
Over the past couple weeks it has been my great pleasure to attend the first YPT workshops at many of our partner schools. It’s a treat for me to see our teaching artists in action. Being in the classroom reminds me why we put so much work into our curriculum (something I’ve written about before).
At Elsie Whitlow Stokes Community Freedom Public Charter School, I sat in on a class led by YPT teaching artist Rachel Stevens. Rachel is a talented actress as well as a talented teacher, and it was wonderful to see her bring her presence as a performer to this room of fifth graders. She hammed it up, they ate it up. And then she asked them, “What makes a good audience member?” Bam. Magic moment. I went from isn’t-it-nice-being-a-passive-observer to I-recognize-that-question! Because, of course, she’s teaching the YPT curriculum. That question had a journey from paper to classroom, and this was its conclusion.
All of a sudden I could see the journey the whole curriculum had taken: years being tested in the classroom; years being revised, reworked and tweaked; finally being questioned and amended and dreamed about this summer; and now, here it was on its feet. Working! Really well! The students identified “listening”, “clapping at the right time”, and “being quiet” as traits of a good audience member. They set the standards, and Rachel held them to those standards during the lesson.
Curriculum writing is like playwriting. It starts on paper, in theory. It has no life until it’s taken up by someone who can skillfully bring it forward to others. The exchange between that teacher/facilitator/performer and her student audience is its purpose.
I am so proud of my role in creating and shaping YPT’s curriculum. I believe in what we are giving to students. It’s just icing on the cake that it’s also personally rewarding (read: magic).