Teens who create, produce, and perform often learn the most

by Jim Lang

Two lessons I have learned as a journalism teacher and media adviser over the years:

  • Some of the most valuable student learning often occurs after the school day ends.
  • Some of the most valuable learning occurs when students produce a product or perform.

I considered these thoughts again this week as I dodged various groups of marching band students after school in the hallways. Preparing for their state competition that occurred yesterday in Indianapolis, these students avoided  the gathering storm clouds outside and moved their practice inside.

Passersby who observed these talented musicians would observe every attribute needed to excel in the “real world”:

  • Creative problem solving
  • Complete mastery of skills
  • Communication
  • Teamwork
  • Leadership (every group was student led)
  • Pride in their work
  • Pride in each other

I see this same kind of dedication and learning in our school’s theatre, orchestra, and choral programs. I see it in our radio/TV, NJROTC, and business management classes. And I see it in my own classroom with our newspaper, yearbook, and web media students.

Classes that provide students the chance to learn skills and practice them in a high-stakes environment provide some of the most essential learning and leadership opportunities. And in a time when our educational system overemphasizes the need for standardized testing, these courses provide the necessary creative outlet for real learning.

Just as significantly, they also provide teenagers a “home” within the school, a place where they will create memories and take a special kind of ownership for their learning.

It’s no coincidence that social media is filled with Floyd Central marching band students proud of their sixth-place finish at state this weekend. These students have spend countless hours dedicating themselves to something larger than themselves, all while learning at the highest level possible.

This is the same special kind of learning that occurs when our theatre students work tirelessly to perform Les Miserables. This learning occurs during every orchestra or choral concert, or radio/TV broadcast. It occurs when my own journalism students write a story, design a spread, or publish a newspaper. And for that matter, it occurs anytime students accept the fact that their learning is primarily their responsibility.

When teens in any class or extracurricular activity gather to practice, create, manage, or perform, they do more than just learn at the highest possible level.

They also create an experience that they and others value and appreciate.

And that experience is much more essential, meaningful, and special than any standardized test they’ll ever take.

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