Sunday, April 10, 2011

Disco Bomb, the Penokee Players, and Creativity

Last night I had the distinct pleasure of watching an original adaptation of the era I grew up in. Stevie Nicks, Jimmy Hendricks, Charlie’s Angels and the Love Boat all rolled into one. What is truly amazing about the production was it was written, produced and performed by young people ages 5-19 that attend the Penokee Mountain Cooperative School.

The Penokee Mountain School is a little gem tuck away in the rolling farmlands of Northern Wisconsin. Formed in the 80’s as a cooperative, parents and youth gather on Fridays in the fall and conduct classes for home school enrichment. One of the classes is the Play Writing. The older youth meet the first ten weeks and write an original work to be performed in the winter session. During the winter, the written word transforms into weekly play practice, set design, costume creation and healthy doses of fun.

Sitting through the production I was amazed at how the youth leading this effort hit upon many higher order thinking skills, that many innovative educators would drool to see happen in their classrooms. Yet I would cite with caution that trying to recreate this special night in a classroom may be its undoing. The youth that produced this show had some things that are very hard to recreate in a classroom. Daniel Pink talks about drive and motivation (See his RSA Video). In a nutshell, Pink talks about Autonomy, Purpose and Self-Mastery as the elements for motivation. It only took five minutes into the play to reveal that these performers had all three.

Too often the factory model of schooling tries to artificially create the magic that happens when kids are given the freedom to explore, resources from adults, and access to spaces without an overabundance of conditions, control or the dreaded rules. Often I have seen that this kind of learning is used as a reward for compliance, which at the start kills the magic.

In terms of assessment, the play was a prime example of authentic assessment. The audience was filled with community members, and their responses i.e. laughter, clapping came at the appropriate moments of a relevant 70’s flashback. It struck me with awe how kids born 20 years later were able to re-create the flavor of the 70’s sitcom era. They must have done a tremendous amount of research to nail their parts. Much better than a standardized test.

I was also struck by the cooperative nature of the performance. This was a multi-generational production. Every kid who wanted a part was written into the play. I saw validation and pride in the faces of them before, during and after the production. This multi-age project capitalized on the strengths of the members of the community. Adults were seen as facilitators and supporters of the journey not the leaders.

I want to thank visionaries of Penokee for keeping this organization alive and thriving for my own children to participate as members. This truly was a special night.