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  • Writer's pictureWilliam Manchester

How Playing Will Parker in Oklahoma! taught me how to start my school year

Updated: Aug 16, 2021

It's the beginning of the year and time to think about how class expectations (or rules) are established. There is always a bit of back and forth in education circles about whether to jump straight in with engaging curricular activities or spend significant amounts of time "setting up the class" so that the rest of the year will run smoothly. Like so many things, this choice is not binary.

The posted picture is me in 8th grade playing the part of Will Parker in our 7-12 production of Oklahoma! Will Parker is a rough and tumble cowboy who is also quite a ladies man, but not particularly bright. As a skinny eighth grade boy who never rode a horse and who's voice was in the middle of transitioning from alto to tenor, I was clearly typecast.

Being in Oklahoma! and other musicals and extra-curricular activities at my school taught me a lesson about how to start my classes each year. While there might have been a short meeting and a handout about the schedule, I don't remember learning "rules of rehearsals" explicitly. Instead, we found out what would be required by the very nature of the learning opportunity. It got old real fast when other students were not focused and we had to keep going over directions, lines, and music. If we didn't do our homework- working on our lines outside of rehearsal- the closer we got to the performance date, the more we felt the pressure from our peers and directors to meet those expectations.

As a matter of time and practicality, the best way for us to learn the expectations of the "class" was to experience what was required and be gently (and maybe sometimes not so gently) led by our directors towards what was required to have a successful class.

We didn't do worksheets on cooperation, we just figured out how to cooperate. We didn't complete online modules about respecting each other, but we figured out that rehearsing got really hard if you are constantly beating each other up.

Most classes won't start the year putting on a musical. (Although I think a musical about the Periodic Table of the Elements would be a fabulous start to chemistry class- The Wizard of Osmium.) And even for those planning the choreography to "Somewhere Over the Lanthanoid Series," there can be more explicit ways to ingrain class expectations and dive into course curriculum by embedding learning class expectations into beginning class learning opportunities.

Here are a few common class expectations and how they could be embedded into a few different subject areas:

Expectation: Everyone (students and teachers) will bring their best effort each day to class.

Elementary Visual Arts Embedding: Students are given watercolors (or any media) and asked to produce paintings that show life and interest and vitality contrasted with paintings that show inactivity and boredom. While some students may want to show that they "prefer" an inactive or boring style to their painting, an astute art teacher can show them that an active painting style will always result in an active looking painting and vise versa.

Expectation: By working together, we will all learn more, accomplish more, and enjoy this experience more.

HS Language Arts Embedding: Students are given the words "synergy: the interaction of two or more agents that produces a result greater than the sum of the separate parts" and "schism: a split or division between strongly opposed groups." Working in groups, students create sentences using the words to convey the definition and act out the sentences as a group. Conveying both words require synergy, working together, and help students realize how this characteristic is important to the class they want to be in.

Expectation: The more I take responsibility for myself, the less others have to take responsibility for me.

Math Expectation Embedding: Students participate in a simulation showing how compound interest works. Every 15 seconds, students have a five second window to hit a button to have their beginning 5 dollar investment compounded at a high interest rate. If students miss the window, they have to wait for the next 15 second interval to compound the interest. Students work in groups, but the timers are not coordinated, so each students' timing is a little different than everyone else's. The group with the most money at the end wins. Students learn that managing their own buttons will be the most successful strategy and they will learn about compound interest.

Expectation: While we will always be completing specific learning objectives, we will do it in a way that is fun and allows for some craziness.

Elementary Music Embedding: Students sing the song "Boom, Boom, Ain't It Great to Be Crazy?" During an instrumental section, students have an opportunity to come in front of the class and "do something crazy"- maybe a dance or a gymnastics move or whatever they feel. This lets students know that there will be opportunities for them to be fun, funny, and "crazy," and they don't have to create those opportunities themselves during in-opportune times.

I would love to hear other ideas about how class expectations could be embedded into curricular activities. Or if you have a subject area you think could not be embedded with any of these expectations, bring on the challenge!

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