Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Student Excerpts from Blog Post #4: Reflecting on the Process so Far

"Succeeding in this course and succeeding in a traditional course have different meanings. Expanding my knowledge not just through my topic but through the many different things we have learned so far and will continue to learn, is succeeding. This is something that WTS has given to me that I would not have in any other course. Succeeding in a typical class is more grade oriented and less about the learning."

- Brennan Bordonaro (12/28/15)

"What’s the Story? gives very few boundaries. We are forced to be creative, even when we don’t want to be; and the teachers are not hovering over our shoulder, but rather guiding us from a distance. We are not told to do a documentary that includes this, this, and this about this specific issue while we look at a list of websites that are “good resources”. Instead, we are are told to create a documentary about a social issue in Vermont. We are leading this project, not the teachers. If we ask for help, we get advice, but that’s it; this is our project."

- Emily Pecsock (12/26/15)

"This course is a bit different than my classes at middle school. In middle school we have to do everything the teachers say and we have to work with what the teachers give us. In this course with What’s the story?...we have a wider space to do more things. In school we have materials given to us to use. But What’s the story?just tells us what’s new and updates us and makes sure we are on the right track, but mostly we have the front wheel in what we are doing in our group. We are mostly independent in this course and we are driven with our own ideas."

-Shoshana Tieyah (12/27/15)

"Jack and I talked a little about making some music for the film, which is something I would also like to do. We just heard back from Bill McKibben and he’s willing to be interviewed which I’m pretty excited about. He’s a really important figure in the world of environmental energy and climate change and having him speak with us will be an honor."
- Alex Kite (12/28/15)

"I really like feeling the freedom to pursue whatever angle of this project that I think will be helpful. We are free to grow this project to be whatever we want it to be, as long as we are achieving the general targets set by the class. Another thing I really like is that I do my work from home, listening to whatever music with nobody looking over my shoulder to check what I’m doing. I enjoy being treated like I can hold myself accountable to do my work (this is ironic since I wrote this late due to a few reasons). This class also provides me with the opportunity to find my own learning material, maybe a video or newspaper article rather than a dense textbook, or interviewing somebody with firsthand experience instead of reading someone else’s interview. "

-Jack Waterman (12/28/15)

"I would say that one of the benefits of this course is that it gets me talking with people and solving problems in a different way that how I would in the traditional classroom. I usually am just talking with students, teachers, and guidance counselors, but I think it is beneficial to be talking with community members because it educates about a lot we can’t learn in an average classroom. I also think a benefit is working towards a goal for a long period of time is a benefit. Instead of doing one assignment for maybe a week and then moving on to the next and forgetting about the last one, I like working towards a goal in this course, seeing how the project evolves, and having the motivation to get the work done so that I will have a good product. "

-Indigo Woods (12/26/15)

"I know what I need to work on and how I want to grow. This course is different because instead of checking off all the marks on my teacher's standards, I am able to create goals for myself and know exactly where I need to go to get there...What makes the course stressful is how important this project is to me. I really want to create a product that is not only educational and insightful but is entertaining and artful. It's amazing how many aspects there are to think about, and they all make me so excited! ...I have confidence in myself that I will succeed in this course because the issue at large is so important to me. I have found a personal responsibility in bringing the aspect of gender roles in education into the light and cultivating conversation around societal development."

-Eva Rocheleau (12/28/15)

"The main advantage of WTS is learning independence; or how to make your own plan. Being able to do that will be very important in the future for college and potential jobs. Self-motivation is a very important skill which can be learned effectively from having to make blog posts regularly as we have been doing."

-Becca Cottrell (12/27/15)

"My experience with What’s the Story has been vastly different from my typical classroom experience. In the classroom, students are passive and have no need for personal drive. With this project, initiative is the key; without personal interest, nothing in one’s project is accomplished...This course is better than traditional learning in some ways. It allows students to pursue their own interests and create their own persuasive pieces in the form of videos. Students can work independently and then come together to combine their work into cohesive, well-rounded pieces, allowing both individual work and group collaboration. Work schedules are entirely up to the individual, which helps to teach self-discipline and focus."

-Adrienne Ledoux (12/29/15)

" I think that some of the benefits of this kind of course are getting to learn how to work with a group that does not see each other very regularly. Also working with the deadlines and working out your own interviews and meeting times can be great practice for the real world. You just don't get that kind of experience in regular school."

- Marianna Barrett (12/27/15)

"I have grown a lot with What's the Story. And I'm not just talking about height (because I haven't grown at all) I'm talking about writing. Ever since I began What's the Story I have seen writing and everything in a different sense. For example, when we get the constructive criticism after writing these posts, I don't only try to apply them to just next week's post, I try to apply it to my school work. And this experience has helped discover who I really am as a learner."

-Lydia Charbonneau (12/27/15)

This class is definitely unlike anything I've ever partaken in; and here are some of the main reasons why:
Teachers: I've been in a "team-taught" course before, but that still usually consists of one teacher dominating one subject or another. This is my first experience with a course that is taught by a true team of educators working together towards a group goal. In order for that to be possible, this class has a large variety of teachers of similar skill and shared knowledge, but who are able to focus on different aspects of the course as we go. I'm sure WtS could be taught by just one or two teachers, but it would definitely lose some of its character.
Material: The only time I've ever covered any sort of social action in school previous to WtS was either researching activism in social studies or writing a persuasive essay in English. WtS is different not only in that it allows us all to study a subject of our choice, but we also get to make a difference in that field.
Syllabus: Unless I missed something, I don't think we have any sort of syllabus beyond our standards. There's no list of facts we have to be able to rattle off once the year is over. This class is less about teaching us knowledge, but about giving us skills.
Students: Since we all had to go through the process of signing up and being approved for WtS, this group is all people who are willing, ready, and capable of taking part in the rigors of the class. Being a part of a class everyone is excited to be in is a breath of fresh air.
Environment: The classroom setting (or lack thereof) is accommodating to a different style of learning than what happens in a typical class. The informal settings that we have worked and met at make starting discussions and working together easier and more comfortable for everyone involved, and also removes any thought of WtS being just another dreaded English class.

-Jacob Parker (12/27/15)

Students- One of my favorite things about this course is the fact that it has connected me with students from all over Vermont. Each student in the course is smart, and cares about not only their learning, but pressing issues in Vermont. I often struggle to have a good, deep conversation about issues that I care about with my students at my school, but I have been able to during this course. All of the students in the course, and especially Alexa and Jacob (my group mates) have challenged my thinking immensely. The fact that we are all from different schools and grade levels is also something I like. We can all offer a new and different perspective, whether we are a junior from a large school or a sophomore from a town of 800. Being able to interact with other students from different schools is a necessary skill and has proven to be very eye-opening and engaging.
Teachers- The teaching staff of this course is extensive in both numbers and skill. Each adult is a wonderful resource, and truly is an inspiring, smart person. I have never had more than one teacher for a certain course, and I love the depth that it provides for learning. Though this is a student-driven course, having adults to structure the conversation and provide helpful insight is crucial. I love being able to direct the path of my learning with help from teachers, which is different from the normal classroom setting where a teacher lectures or teaches a lesson. I also appreciate the constant feedback I am receiving from my readers and mentors. It really helps me stay on top of my work and grow as a student. Having such great leadership has been wonderful throughout the whole process.
Setting- One thing that is drastically different from the normal classroom setting is that we get to get out and experience. My group got to attend an Education Symposium at Saint Michael's College, and that was one of the best learning experiences I have ever had. Hearing Carol Tomlinson speak and then getting to interview her was truly an eye-opening experience that could not have happened in school.
Challenging- This class has extended my comfort zone immensely. I've had to present in front of the group about my topic, which is something I do not get the practice doing a lot. Also, I have had to interview many adults, including my superintendent, which is also something that I am not used to. Simply meeting the other students and teachers in the course and sharing my ideas for the first time was out of my comfort zone.

-Ella Nagy-Benson (12/27/15)

Students- I do not regularly have the opportunity to work with students that belong to other school districts. This course has students from schools all over Vermont, some are even home schooled, and this diversity in population opens up the possibility to see so many different points of views, experiences, and knowledge.
My group--- Jacob, Ella and I-- is made up of three different grade levels. I am a Senior, Jacob is a Junior, and Ella is a sophomore. I think having this age difference is so critical and will be very beneficial in the development of our film, especially the content. If we all interview people who we are friends with we might find that there is a very diverse range of opinions from the various grade levels. It is also important to keep in mind that Ella and Jacob may want to continue this project even after I go to college. It could be a very unique project to continue developing as ACT 77 is implemented across Vermont.
Classroom setting- The environment of this classroom is constantly shifting. I'm used to having my classes all within the same building and never venturing beyond. This course has taken place in various locations-- at Middlebury College, in Starksboro at the retreat, at St. Michael's College at the conference, in my high school, and at my home. The shifting classroom has opened up my eyes to the idea that knowledge is everywhere and the best ideas arise based not on where you are, but rather on who you are with.
Teachers- I have never before had so many teachers for one course! All the adults, whether leading the activities, giving directions or just being supportive, have really been great resources throughout this course. The course has been so organized and the couple times we have all been together I have noticed how many adults are part of the team. I am so used to having one teacher per class at my school that having a whole team of teachers is very unique. I have noticed the importance of having a lot of support in this course and having teachers from all different schools is very beneficial.
Grading System- As part of ACT 77 and proficiency based learning I am aware of the new grading system that will be implemented. This course is already using it so it's interesting to see how it works. My classes are all graded with percentages out of 100 and then a letter grade based on that. I like how this course has adopted a system of grading that enables me to see where I need to improve in order to show I'm more proficient, or rather, above average. My teachers at my school give me a letter grade but have never really explained how to get beyond that grade and improve my work for the next quarter.
Coursework- Finally I would like to highlight how the coursework is different from my work at my school. This work is all based around a topic of my interest that I am eager and interested in exploring, while at my school I am required to take various classes that don't really appeal to me. The work for this course is all very hands-on. I have never worked with video camera equipment and doing interviews at my school was very new to me. I also have never had to do weekly/bi-weekly blog posts. This is a great way to reflect on my work and expand my knowledge on new topics. It is great that we all have people who respond to our blogs and provide feedback. I love hearing what they think of my thoughts and their constructive feedback.

-Alexa Widschwenter (12/27/15)

The benefits of this system...are clear cut from the start. We have the independence to pursue our interests in the fashion of our choice and to do so on a timeline that we ourselves create. It also teaches life skills that one would not other learn otherwise. In our school, every English class is the same: you memorize vocab, you read books and have tests on what you learned, you write the same essays over and over again. While the words change, in the end the sentiment and the learning is nothing different year after year. This is not the fault of the teachers; it is just how the system works, but here we are completing interviews, doing research, making videos, and making a difference. This class is something different and it is breaking the mold.
- Alex Bickart (1/4/16)

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Notable Quotes from 11/29/15 Blog Posts

"My thinking about this topic still intrigues me and I want to know more. The complexity of my ideas has changed because I am continuing to learn more and realizing the depth of my misunderstanding as well. What I would really like to continue with is going down as many different paths and keep the project from snowballing into something that becomes difficult to handle." - Brennan Bordonaro (11/29/15)

"[Brandon Stanton] said that interviewers need to"be the vehicle through which people can tell their story how they want". That will be very important to remember, particularly for a topic like the one that our group is working with. Everyone has a story relating to gender/LGBTQ+ equality, they just might need a bit of prompting to share it." - Becca Cottrell (11/29/15)

"Additionally, multiple people have mentioned that it will be hard to be unbiased when doing our interview, but we really must. We all have a very strong opinion, but we must keep those opinions to ourselves while we are doing our interview because even though we are only in eighth and tenth grade, we are still going in as professionals." - Emily Pecsock (11/29/15)

"After reviewing all of the resources, a lot of what I have learned about storytelling was reinforced, yet my new thinking will definitely help improve this project. I have already learned about what makes a story worth telling and reading in memoirs class, but these resources helped me think about how I can apply that learning to this class...We are going to have to hold each other accountable and make sure we check-in with each other often; communications will be key in other words. Through the interviewing process, my goals are to find unique and thought-provoking questions and to persevere to find the best connections and stories. Like most of the people in the resources provided this week said, you have to keep trying and work to find the best stories, and at the same time it is important to enjoy the process of doing the work. " - Indigo Woods (11/29/15)

"Ira [Glass] also goes on to talk about how his interviews and radio stories; how his writing and use of language evolve into something that is worth listening to and that he is proud of.  This is helping me realize that even if our project and our goals change, that could be for the better." - Jack Waterman (11/29/15)

"Another important thing to remember that my group hasn't focused on so much yet is the stakes. The stakes in a story is just a slightly broader term for the conflict, or the problem that needs to be resolved. The development of most good stories goes along with a conflict, and a documentary like we are going to make is no different." - Jacob Parker (11/29/15)

"I also learned that it is important to focus on the past, present, and the future. To not just dwell in the past, whether it was a good past or not." - Lydia Charbonneau (11/29/15)

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Notable Student Quotes from Blog #1 of Phase Two

"I have realized that I am constantly trying to engage myself in situations where I can gain a better understanding of other people's view on the subject. Whenever I get the chance to talk to students about education, I always flood them with questions; even though I don’t have all the recording equipment to do official interviews" - Alexa Widschwenter (11/15/15)

" My thinking has evolved in ways that I might not be able see.  I already knew about this topic, but I know now what a big issue that this is.  I did not know about all of the different sides that should be examined, and talked about.  Even with just having the overnight to work on it with my group, I can look at it with a much broader understanding of what needs be thought about and brought into the light. " - Marianna Barrett (11/15/15, regarding her DCF/Foster Care work)

"Instead my thinking is changing in the logistical sense, when I went into the overnight I was a lone wolf, going at this alone. By the end of the day however I was joined by four other people who are passionate for the issue and now everything is changing." - Alex Bickart (11/15/15)

"Over the past week and a half, Becca, Fiona and I have been able to cultivate our ideas and focus our thinking towards what message we want to deliver to our audiences. "We not They" "Dissolving binary boundaries" and "establishing that there are more than one gender" are just a few of the ideas that we've been circulating. Among this progress, we've been starting to talk about the structure of our film and particular aspects we want to include. In our most recent meeting we discussed our hook and different b-roll film we want to get and how we might go about filming that." - Eva Rocheleau (11/15/15)

"During the meeting we discovered that the answers we are looking for are not simply on the internet. No one has done what we want to do. In order to accomplish much of anything we need to do more than look on the easy-access internet. The information we need is not there. The information we need is in the people who made this decision and the people who are affected by this decision. In order to go anywhere with this topic we must contact people, or else we will have little to no information...Overall, the topic our group has chosen is new, so we are the ones who are going to figure out the story, not the internet. Because of that, I really like our topic, it affects all people and it’s not an easy one to do because it’s never been done before, which is good, because why bother to do it if it’s already been done? " - Emily Pecsock (11/15/15)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Tim O'Leary's (post) Halloween Reflection

Reflecting on the Last Two Weeks

I've hesitate to take a pause for the cause" because there was too much to iron out between our retreat and today. I really wanted to right the ship in at least three ways: (1) figure out how to best connect with our Learning Scales and use them intentionally, (2) figure out what Phase Two of our blogging will look like, and (3) offer additional technical, hands-on training for use of the digital equipment.

I think I've succeeded in working with the Learning Scales after a really great phone conversation brainstorm with Emily Rinkema this past Sunday. Part of that solution bleeds into what skill(s) each blog post will intentionally ask of the students and then be assessed by the instructors. I still need to talk with Bob and Colleen about the structure of making those assessments, but at the risk of being too suffocating with too many emails, I'm shelving that conversation for a week or so.

On Monday morning I launched an email to students to define our Phase Two of blogging. See this document for the details. Behind the scenes, I've been back and forth with our readers to make sure they are still on board and paired them with students if they were linked with any of the three that dropped since mid-September. I've added two new readers to the mix (Shel Sax of Middlebury College and Walter Gustavson from VPIRG). This diagram/chart of readers/blogs is on the document linked above. I will email the entire group today or tomorrow to bring the reading audience clearly into the picture and prepare them to respond to a student blog beginning Monday morning.

Agendas from our Two In-Person Work Sessions

I wanted to archive the agenda and links from the kickoff day and our retreat. Please see those links directly below:

The Long Range View

I think this year is going well. Things can always go better. That's inevitable. But, we've done yeoman's work to take the roughed out version of last year's WTS and really refine it into a more effective effort. I wonder and worry that there is not enough time or energy for anyone that is really at the core of our work to promote the bigger picture beyond this year in a way with sustained effort to make this work live beyond some fairly random but VERY generous donor.

Here are a few ways I see to establish a financial foundation to move WTS forward:
(1) Link with a public post-secondary institution in Vermont to leverage Act 77 funding. What this could mean is that junior and senior high school students could enroll in a future WTS class with their sending school district and the state paying equal shares of the student's tuition. Maybe a CCV or a Castelton would accept a 'handling fee' and the vast majority of the tuition funds could be funneled into the program.

(2) Prove our worth and forge a partnership with some of Middlebury College's undergraduate work. If we could do that, my hopes would be high that MC could see this work as a necessary part of their operating budget. There is great work being done at the Center for Social Entrepreneurship and that is the clearest potential connection that I see: a way for those undergraduates to work alongside us at WTS and benefit from one another.

(3) This is probably the hardest way forward: Convince a Supervisory Union / School District in Vermont to underwrite what we are doing. This is hard, because these districts are their own silos and the money they invest they want to "their kids." In addition, public school funding is so fickle that a lot of work could go into setting this up and then it could vanish in a year or two.

Nonetheless, there are sure to be other ideas, but the general concern about how does WTS make a difference post-private funding is a big one for me.

Communication with the Middlebury College Advancement Team

Ann Jones-Weinstock and Phil Oldham from Middlebury College's Advancement Office had been in touch to get an update on some specific elements of WTS. I met with Phil last Friday and followed it up with the email below:

Ann and Phil,

Last Friday I had a chance to meet with Phil as he and Ann wished for an update on "What's the Story?" (WTS). Ann had specifically asked about its "Bread-Loafness" and also about it's portfolio-based, student-initiated learning. After meeting, I promised to write this follow-up email to capture some of my thinking and our work. Please share with whomever you wish. I have included a few people CCed on this email that have been important to WTS. Also, please feel free to follow up about anything; our work is very much a work in progress. 

At our meeting Phil asked me some questions about the larger BLTN funding model. I'd follow up with Dana, Dianne, and or Dixie on this one as I'm not aware of those details.

Here's some of my thinking on the topics posed:

On the Topic of WTS's Bread-Loafness:

The rigor and authenticity of student-to-student and student-to-teacher collaboration unfolding is remarkably like the unchained academic curiosity that spills out of the Bread Loaf classes and onto the lawns, outdoor seating, and dinners on campus. It permeates the ethos, which sounds a bit hyperbolic, but I assure you is alive and well as deep respect for personal ideas and values and a heightened sense of listening to each other pervade our interactions and forge personal bonds. This galvanizing of ideas and relationships was particularly evident at our first overnight retreat. To see many of those young people enter into the Common Ground Center (Starksboro, VT) on Friday afternoon and witness deep relationships built on shared social interests in just over 24 hours was remarkable. It might be a soft shadow to the 6 weeks of living on the mountain and the BLSE melting pot, but it pushes in that direction. 

Particularly important to the Bread Loaf Teacher Network and some of the courses offered each summer, WTS students' desire to understand what it means to take "social action," be "change agents," and work towards a social justice that is meaningful to their lives and others by strengthening student voice through choice of how they become agents of change and what they are working toward is at the very core of WTS and much of what BLTN holds dear.

The adult WTS participants are "taking back home" many of the ideas, lines of questioning, activities, and handouts that are being created and used in our WTS arena. This powerful form of professional development is important to BLSE and particularly BLTN. Rather than discussing theory in isolation, here we have real work, assignments, etc that are directly transferable to many other classrooms across the state. If VT-BLTN can grow and we can replicate WTS, there is no reason that VT-BLTN/WTS can be a fundamental source of professional development for every school in the state and perhaps beyond as BLTN is interested to have Bill Rich and me show the WTS model to other geographic areas connected through BLTN to see if it is something they are interested in pursuing, especially given that the core model was roughed out last year and is being significantly refined during this year. We have such a tremendous template to offer others.

I realize I've shifted a bit away from the "Bread-Loafness," but on a similar note, I don't think it's too self-important to see WTS/VT-BLTN as a resource for Middlebury College's undergraduate study and faculty/staff. Particularly the growing like-minded focus through work at the college like the Center for Social Entrepreneurship and others that are quickly transitioning the power in the classroom toward students and seeing faculty as mentors rather than professors. Maybe I'm getting ahead of myself, but I think there could be great growth in a collaboration with the undergraduates of MC.

Portfolio-Based, Student-Initiated Learning:

The growing portfolios that are being curated this year are being done so through student blogs that are a visible record of their learning and writing. These blogs are at the heart of this conversation about "portfolio-based, student-initiated learning." Touted programs across the globe such as the International Baccalaureate (IB) program see the importance of portfolios for students to demonstrate learning. However, IB does not use them as a dynamic landscape to demonstrate and influence learning along the way. We began this year with 50 writers: 21 students and 29 members of a curated blog audience. Roles were defined, spaces were created to not only archive ideas but to also expand thinking by conversing with students in a way that created a record of that growth. Students are now working on shared-blogs as they have forged groups around social issues and these same attributes apply to what is sure to continue evolving over the next several months.

The strength of student voice and choice is also at the heart of WTS, but these topics, ideas, issues, and solutions are not only based in the "real world" they aim to shape that world. Continuing this riff, WTS aims to not just create informed citizens (that's too one-dimensional). It expects to create citizens who can grapple with difficult and complex issues that impact a community and develop their skills to leverage ways to make meaning and make change where they see injustice. This is like a superhero compared to an informed citizen. This is a a citizen that is prepared and trained to shape their own communities.

Ultimately, these portfolios will include work in other mediums: photography, audio/video interviews, edited video documentaries, and polished writing aimed at particular audiences asking for particular responses and change. The portfolios will also be a source for assessment and to pull student-exemplars based on our identified Learning Targets; work is being developed now to focus the next several months to assess learning and tailor specific instruction where needed to move everyone forward in these identified areas.

"What's the Story?" is project-based work in its soul and offers participatory-professional education for students and teachers that combines Action and Research. 

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

The Triangular Vein: Courtney Krahn's Halloween Reflection

Bread Loaf is a part of who I am -- as a thinker, reader, writer, learner, teacher and community member.  It's hard to separate these roles, as they intertwine so thoroughly.   My work with WtS?  is the same: all at once I'm doing my best do be all of these things. Like Bread Loaf, WtS? pushes me to engage in reading, writing, learning, teaching and engaging in my community in a way that I might not otherwise.  With a full teaching schedule, it would be easy to say I'm doing enough of this stuff already.  However, WtS? provides a different avenue, a different venue, a different view: I'm reading blogs and I-Search research papers (as opposed to lit analyses, literature itself or memos from administration). I'm writing my own blog (which I haven't done since my first Bread Loaf summer, when I was too inspired not to create a blog). I'm thinking about all kinds of things I don't normally think about (including, suddenly, a lack of emergency dispatch funding in VT -- who knew?!). I'm learning about I-search papers, about blogging, about digital media (and that's the tip of the iceberg). I'm teaching (I hope I'm teaching) in a way that is fairly new to me.  This feels like teaching from behind as opposed to teaching from the front. And I'm not even a "teaching from the front" kind of gal, but this still feel different.  I feel like more of a cheerleader and collaborator than a teacher.  And that feels great. 

I think that WtS? has the potential for fulfilling expectations of Act 77.  In fact, I think that the requirements of Wts? exceed the expectations of Act 77 in some ways. At Middlebury Union Middle School, Personalized Learning Plans are set up digitally and are intentionally formatted in a way that gives students a great amount of ownership.  Because this is our first year developing them here, there is still much room for these digital documents to grow and expand.  That said, I could envision students' WtS? blogs and documentaries being literally inserted right into the PLPs they are required to maintain at school, as evidence of personal growth, learning and reflection. 

In a nutshell: WtS? is a triangular vein through which Bread Loaf blood flows from teacher to student to teacher to student, etc. 

Monday, November 2, 2015

Emily Rinkema's Halloween Reflection

There were so many highlights from my time at Common Ground this weekend. One was watching the students present about their topics and ask each other questions the first evening. They seemed genuinely interested in each other's ideas, which we saw play out later as well. Another highlight was during the team conversations day 2--to watch the two high school girls work with their middle school teammate, and to see all of them pushing each other to think more critically was incredible. I can't wait to see this relationship develop (though I can anticipate some challenges for sure!).

I must say that I was surprised and impressed by students' willingness to compromise about their topics. I was worried that the fact that they didn't know each other would lead to a bunch of "silo" ideas--but Tim and Colleen did a great job finessing the group-making. Another a-ha is the importance of this overnight; I had been skeptical about the need for an overnight, but watching the difference in the way the students interacted on day 1 vs day 2 showed that the bonding that happens when you're tired and not pressed for time is so valuable--I imagine that the relationships begun this weekend will help when challenges arise along the way.

I wonder about a few things. First, because we are a standards-based class, I think students need to know throughout the year where they are on the targets and what they need to work on. We have the scales, and I wonder if the instructors will be looking at individual student work and assessing using those...and then as a whole group determining if there are skills that need to be instructed. I also wonder how we keep the excitement/momentum from the weekend going--I have seen two of my students this morning and they are both so excited...and I want that to continue!

  • One of the Middlebury fund raisers is working up a proposal to get us more resources. She's wondering about your sense of "Bread-Loafness" of WtS? and "how Vermont BLTN is exploring new ground in portfolio-based, student-initiated learning." Any thoughts for her?
WtS is SOOOOOO Bread Loaf, from the collaboration (student and teacher), to the social action element, to the rigor involved in the tasks the students (and teachers) will continue to be doing. I think that the bonding that happened this weekend is also very Bread Loaf--I wasn't able to spend the night, but I have heard from adults and students that talking and playing cards in the lodge was a highlight--much like the many late nights spent in the Barn at Ripton campus.

Thanks to everyone who made this weekend such a success. 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Kate Carroll's Halloween Weekend Reflection


  • Highlights included witnessing students making the, often emotionally, challenging decision to leave behind a social issue they were deeply invested in in order to create this weekend’s action teams.
  • As a participant with the Educational Reform groups, we reviewed the blog posts of each action team member. I was struck by how much overlap existed across their seemingly disparate studies of Act 77, Act 46, and Career Education/Declining of young people in VT population.

  • Bill’s structural organization, especially in regards to food, was a definite highlight; not only were we well fed, but the hosting sight of Common Ground provided a setting that made feeding and sleeping 26 people not only easy, but relaxing and productive.
  • Another basic but essential highlight: Tim’s orchestration of the room itself to serve our movement from a larger group (tables were set up in long communal rows for initial large group and dinner) into our smaller action teams (tables were spread out around the room, and when acoustics were challenging, Bill brought one group into a smaller space so they hear each other better).  Although these movements might echo what teachers do in terms of setting up activities for their classroom, they differed because students were involved in the actual re-arrangement (best illustrated when setting up the ‘triangle’ to practice up the ideal light setting for interviews) and leaving the ‘actual’ room itself (e.g. going outside).

Not sure if this is an Ah-Ha or more a confirmation, but this weekend highlighted the importance of any retreat/conference’s function, namely that we move forward  in our work together.  For example, in trying to seek common ground across the various topics on Friday night, a teacher initiated the exploratory process of ‘digital maps' via two ways.  
During this process, a student, Eva, suggested that students participate in  a form of ‘human mapping’ through actual one on one conversation.  I thought the exercise was valuable, but even more importantly, indicated a student’s own understanding of her role, namely as a co-participant.

My sense of "Bread-Loafness" of WtS? and "new ground in portfolio-based, student-initiated learning."
As MA graduate and current M.Litt student, my BL course and conversations have always directly influenced my teacher practice.
Here is one specific, recent example: despite VT-BLTN What’s the Story’s kinship with Act 77’ mandate for students to personalize their own learning, I have one administrator who is doubtful whether or not this course will provide a model for all students. This week, I told him about how last year’s traditional i-search essay had been morphed; this year, students’ posted pieces of the essay into weekly blog posts whereby multiple interested mentors provided feedback and guidance. When I told him that I thought this course design could support a variety of students in our school who are conducting research, he, for the first time, indicated a recognition of the initiative’s merits. . .
The i-search essay coupled with the digital blog record, and the weekend’s development of a collaborative blog for each action team, provides an essential visible record of learning itself and the portfolio’s creation.

Finally: anything else you'd like to convey about this, our first of three overnights, that might help us make things work even better next time?
Build in more frequent breaks for physical movement
Have students put phones on airplane mode at beginning of each work session.

Laurie Hickey's Halloween Weekend Reflection

  • HIghlight 1.  What a difference 24 hours make.  When I first arrived just 23 hours ago, students were locked into their range of devices breaking focus to talk to only those they knew.    Now, the groups have morphed and morphed again, welcoming new members both shy and confident. Students tackled an assortment of tasks set for them by Tim.  They also began to form the personality of their groups; I watched in my group as three particularly strong high school students both encouraged and kept tabs on the middle school students who are working in their group as well.  
  • Highlight 2.  Last night's slide presentations from students touched my heart.  The unifying theme of improving our communities and the intensity these students brought to their topics shone bright.  This project gives students the mechanism to put their voices forward.  Through learning how to create documentaries now, I can only imagine with maturity what kind of change these kids can create. I was talking with Brennan during dinner (I had been reading his blog before this gathering.) While I gushed about the overall maturity of this group, he rightfully pointed out  that the kids here are not necessarily typical.  This is true; I think the gift of this experience will then have an even greater impact down the road.
    • Top three "Ah-Has" 
      • Tim has amazing resources about filming videos which I can steal for my work at Hunt.
      •  The mixture of high school/middle school provides a natural mentoring opportunity.
      • The blog preliminary work prepared the students for a rich conversation when they formed their groups.  I was impressed also by the grace the students displayed when they let go of "their" projects to search for a common project.
    •  Three "I Wonders"?
      • How would this exact project work with more disengaged/disadvantaged/lesser proficient students?
      •  How will the group dynamics "sugar out" in our group about DCF as deadlines and the real world seeps in?
      • How do I take this weekend back to my own Hunt students (in addition to stealing Tim's work.)?
  • This work is so Bread Loaf.  This is evident by the strength of student voice and choice, the reliance on writing to reflect and learn and the presence of Bread Loaf teacher/students who epitomize a sense of craft, diligence and questioning about their teaching practices. I do believe this portfolio-based, student-initiated learning could be replicated in a typical school; I do wonder how it could happen without quality professional development and teacher buy-in.
  •  This was a physically perfect place for our work.  Lots of attention to detail to make all feel welcomed and comfortable.  Even though we did not have time to work together as teacher groups, we had lots of informal time to talk about our work. I feel really fortunate to hang out with both the students and the teachers who are here. Thanks too to Bill, Tim and the magical funders who let this weekend happen so gracefully.

Bob Uhl's Halloween Weekend Reflection

More than anything else this weekend, I enjoyed getting to know the students involved with What's the Story. Aside from the three students from my school, I had met them all only once before, at our September kickoff event. Between then and now, I read most of their blogs and acquainted myself with their interests and preliminary research. It felt good this weekend not only to match names with faces, but to spend time working and socializing with the bright young people who make up our group. I particularly enjoyed tossing a disc with some of them outside on the lawn.

I realized this week that, because this is only project's second year and the first year that middle school students are involved, some of what we do necessarily results from a continuously evolving process of monitoring and adjusting in response to our circumstances. I'm also becoming more comfortable with improvisation and its importance to effective teaching. For instance, though I knew in advance that I would be facilitating a couple of our activities together, I wasn't sure about precisely what that would look like until I had arrived and tuned in to the dynamic. I'm also getting to know my colleagues better, and drawing no small amount of inspiration from their dedication and resourcefulness. I'm glad to be a part of the team.

As we move forward, I'm curious to see how the various groups will continue to refine their focus. I'm interested to see how my own students grow through this opportunity, and how they will present their experience to family, friends, and classmates. I wonder, also, how what I learn through What's the Story will change me as an educator.

So far, What's the Story strikes me as embodying the spirit of Bread Loaf. At multiple times throughout the evening and morning I found myself looking around the room, magnetized by the tight clusters of students engaged in deep, meaningful conversation about issues that matter. This project is harnessing the energy of what someone, I think, referred to as the most underused resource in the nation: our youth. Students unanimously commented on the relief they felt in breaking out of the confines of the classroom and moving into the arena of their communities and state, "the real world," where they're free to pursue ideas that motivate them. It would probably not be a bad thing if the future of education in our country looks something like What's the Story.

Colleen's Halloween Weekend Reflection

Woah! What a wonderful 24-hours it has been. I am truly amazed and more invested in this project than ever before. Our 18 students came in yesterday at 4 pm. At first they sat silently on their phones, not speaking. By 9 pm I felt a true sense of bonding. They were having fun! Three girls (representing 2 schools and 3 grades) sat on the floor still discussing their group topic; at least eight students sat around one of the large wooden tables playing cards. A few others were huddled on a couch watching Netflix, while some were slipping off to bed. Despite the various activities going on, I truly felt a sense of community forming...that maybe they'd stay in touch beyond the parameters of our year-long class. But it is too soon for that. And there is still more to think and reflect upon. 

  • I loved watching students make connections (via affinity maps) between their various topics. They see and understand how all these aspects of our lives are connected! 
  • Realizing it's okay to push students beyond their comfort zone. I guess I've always known this was the job of the teacher, but I'm not sure I exercise it too often. I'm so often worried about losing my students' interest or pushing them too far, that I back off and make sure they are happy and comfortable. While I deflected the role of asking students to change their topic, I see the benefit in doing so. 
  • You don't have to be old[er] or have had lots of life experiences to be passionate about extremely important issues. 
I Wonder...
  • I wonder how my group of 5 will manage to work together and complete task on time?
  • I wonder if I should let them sink a little, before throwing the life vest or if I should intervene before they need the life vest? 
  • I wonder how we can make sure students continue to write and reflect as much as possible? 
  • I wonder if the students enjoyed this time together? I wonder if they look forward to or dread the next overnight? Maybe we can gather feedback (a survey?)                                    

In my experience, the Bread Loaf School of English has always stressed the importance of bringing what we learn back to the classroom. If they truly believe in this, I can't imagine a more "Bread Loafy" project. Not only have we taken our passions from the summer and carried them through the school year, but we (the adults) continue to make connections and improve our teaching craft by seeing and talking to each other on a regular basis. What wonderful conversations I've had with Kate, Ben, Bob, Bill or Tim in just the 15 minute breaks we gave the students.  

Finally, I am a bit concerned about throwing them right into interviewing. While there is some benefit to this approach, I am wondering if the groups need more time to develop a focus, research questions, and do background research? Just a thought, that may make initiating and conducting interviews easier. 

What a weekend! 

Ben Krahn's Halloween Weekend Reflection

Our first weekend get-together was a great opportunity to have the space, time and freedom to work together and get to know each other a bit better. One particularly memorable experience from the weekend was having Walt Gustafson from VPIRG talk to us about activism and the ways in which our students' experiences in What's the Story is akin to the work being done professionally at the local, state and national level.

Top three "Ah-Has":
1) When you give kids the freedom to explore a topic of their own choosing, they'll have enough energy to take them through a friday night and a long Saturday of work;
2) Identifying issues and problems is easy; attempting to locate a potential solution, however, is much more difficult;
3) Kids ARE empathetic; kids ARE energized by real-world issues; kids DO want to have a say in how their lives are governed.

Top three "I wonders":
1) I wonder if we can give the students even more freedom?
2) I wonder how we can make this experience more accessible to more students?
3) I wonder what would happen if we asked the students to have more of a say in the agenda? I wonder what they want more of and less of?

The mix between classwork and out-of-class interactions was absolutely instrumental to my amazing Bread Loaf experience. What I mean by this is that I wouldn't have had the same Bread Loaf experience if I hadn't spent so much time talking, listening, improvising, interacting; my experience would not have been as rich, so to say, if I had not have the time, space and freedom just to be surrounded by smart people, not knowing exactly where the conversation was going to head. The experience we are granting the WTS students is very similar to the experience I had at BLSE. In other words, it's all about student-initiated learning with an audience and support system to guide, prod and encourage.

For next time, it might be useful for students to get sorted into their groups for several periods of time just to "be." No direction, no planning, no organizing, no prompts -- just tell them that they need to be together to chat, to improvise, to interact. See where the time and space take them. All in all, however, it was a great weekend. 

Reflecting about Our First Overnight Experience

Hi Everyone,

Here are directions for posting a reflection about out overnight experience at Common Ground with our WtS? learners and team.

1.  To Make a Post
  • To make a post, look at the upper right hand corner of the blogscreen (way up there in small print)  and you'll see: "New Post." Click on that there thing. 
2.  Title Your Post 
  • Let's all go with the same format / title: "My Name's Halloween Weekend Reflection" (example: Bill Rich's Halloween Weekend Reflection).
3. Write and Publish a Response to These Three Questions
  • What are a couple highlights from this extended time together? (Looking for specific moments here.)
  • What are your current top three "Ah-Has" & top three "I Wonders"?
  • One of the Middlebury fund raisers is working up a proposal to get us more resources. She's wondering about your sense of "Bread-Loafness" of WtS? and "how Vermont BLTN is exploring new ground in portfolio-based, student-initiated learning." Any thoughts for her?
  • Finally: anything else you'd like to convey about this, our first of three overnights, that might help us make things work even better next time? 


Your Blogmaster

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Katie Ivory's Opening Volley

Hello everyone. My name is Katie Ivory and I teach at Mount Abraham Union High School. I teach a team-taught humanities course called American Studies and a handful of English electives to upperclassmen. This is my second year participating in WTS. Last year I was a co-instructor and this year I'm taking more of a back-seat, "as needed" role. I am currently on maternity leave after having my first child in August and Bill and Tim have been gracious enough to create a small role for me this year!

Already, this year seems to be more purposeful and organized. I think we have really learned from the successes and struggles of last year and seem to be really on-point from the get-go! I love that Tim has created both purposeful individual work and a meaningful audience for this work right from the beginning. I'm very excited to see where this goes (and again, grateful that I am still able to participate in a small way!)

Since I was not present at the actual kick-off gathering, my perspective is a bit limited. I will keep my "ah-hahs" and "I wonders" to a few...As I said before, it seems like the students have had an authentic audience for their individual work and this will hopefully lead to a greater sense of the larger community and their role as part of a social action team. I wonder how this will continue - how will students continue to receive feedback on their work and engage in meaningful conversation with others? How will this lead to authentic and purposeful collaboration, with adults, community members, and peers in the course?

I'm excited to see where this leads!

Friday, October 23, 2015

Laurie Hickey's Opening Volley

We start our school day together!
     Hi!  I'm Laurie Hickey and I teach at Hunt Middle School in Burlington.  My role on the WTS is to work with the two other (wonderful) middle school teachers as we get through this first year. 
     My experience of this project thus far has been wonderful, creative and occasionally qualm filled.  I love knowing that other Vermont teachers are "out there" spreading the  Bread Loaf vision for learning. For myself this fall I have wrestled with bringing BL's concepts back to Hunt; my students' work with poetry echoes the work I did this summer with Ruth Forman.  The qualms come from having made a distinct choice to put the WTS project together differently for my students than other members of the Network.  We will be doing all aspects of this project at school during the school day; I believe this will help us to reach a different  range of students who might not be available for all the independent work required. At the end of the school year we will have movies featuring student written poems about socially worthwhile projects, essays about socially worthwhile projects and a handful of WTS style videos about local issues written and produced by kids in a supportive literacy classroom (and perhaps from two students who are on our highly supported alternative team.)

Top Ah- Hahs!
  • When you ask middle schoolers to consider difficult issues that are worth social action, they are very serious about the task.
  • Poetry unlocks kids' writing.
  • It's important to be brave and to ask for help.  I have received a lot of support from people here at Hunt to put this project into place..
 I wonder. . .
  • How the filming of the poetry movies will go using the new iPads that our school is getting next week.
  • if I'll have enough time to work with the literacy teacher in coordinating the WTS style videos.  (We are thinking of devoting two weeks of class time to this.)
  • about the interface of writing and filmmaking and how it will boost students' communication skills.
See you soon!

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Kate Carroll's Opening Volley

My name is Kate Carroll and I am in my 19th year of teaching English at Middlebury Union High School. I received my MA from the Bread Loaf School of English in 1999 and am currently earning a M. Litt with a focus in epic literature at BL.  I’m not sure about my official role this year as a VT BLTN--What’s the Story? participant, maybe cheering squad?!

This year, I love that 
  • students may select and pursue topics that they are intrigued by/passionate about; 
  • our number of participants, comprising middle school, high school, and college students as well as teachers and community members, has doubled; and 
  • we have students returning as mentors!
One Ah-ha moment I have had: witnessing Tim’s morphing of  the I-Search Paper into weekly blog posts. Genius!  As a long time fan of students conversing about their learning informally and yet with and for a real audience (a common practice of BLTN teachers and students, originally via “Breadnet”), I think this course design encourages participants to delve more quickly and deeply into our core question, what’s the story?, for their various topics.
On the first day, I did wonder if 20+ students investigate and fall hard for individual topics, how will individuals segue into teams? I wonder what interesting challenges we will face as we wrestle with the tension of two essential qualities to this learning process, namely pursuing a self-selected topic of social worth and collaborating as a team of learners. . . .

Monday, October 19, 2015

Courtney Krahn's Opening Volley

My name is Courtney Krahn and I am happy to be serving as a mentor on our WTS 2.0 team. When I first graduated from college, I worked for the U.S. Senate.  Being young and inexperienced, I was shocked to learn that, in government, change didn't come as quickly as I imagined it would or in the way I thought it should.  I decided to move into the classroom, where I was delighted to find unending amounts of change and excitement -- every day! Teaching inspired me to attend The Bread Loaf School of English, from which I earned my M.A. in 2009.  In the last decade (or so), I have taught every grade level 7-12, at both private and public institutions in, chronologically, Randolph, VT; Milwaukee, WI; Townshend, VT; and now, in Middlebury, VT at Middlebury Union Middle School, where I currently teach 8th grade. 

I'm new to WTS this year, and so far I've found the project to be nothing but enjoyable and impressive.  I was impressed at our kickoff by the students, who took each moment in stride.  They were flexible, polite and HAPPY!  On kickoff day I felt and saw boundaries break down: teachers went by first names; students became teachers, and teachers became students again; there was no "front of the room," chalkboard, intercom or bell system.  We were all just there.  

And then there was this other really cool thing that happened, which might also be one of my Ah-Ha moments:  I realized that I was sitting in a room with Emily, who started teaching at CVU in Hinesburg, VT the year I was a freshman there.  Also in the room were two other CVU alum, Colleen and Sean, both of whom grew up down the road from me, yet both of whom I'd never met or at least didn't recognize (OK, well, I had met Colleen the month before at a BLTN meeting).   Also in the room was Bill Rich, who ran professional development at Randolph High School the year I first began teaching, and who ran it again at MUMS, when I started there. Also in the room were two of my former students, Brynna and Brennan,  and two of my current students, Shoshana and Emily. Suddenly, I was realizing that this network of teachers and students, with its organically deep and local connections, held a startling poignancy for me, both personally and professionally.  

Two more Ah-Has:
1) Many of the issues that consume my frequent thinking also worry the students of Vermont.
2) The occasional escape from the physical and emotional barriers of The Institution is liberating on many levels. 

Some wonders:
1) If this project were to continue for 20 more years, what would WTS 20 look like in the year 2035?  Who would be there?  What faces would be familiar?

2) What are students getting from this project?  I know what I think they they are getting, but I'd love to hear them articulate what it is they've learned -- either in terms of content or skills -- in the last month or so. 

3) How can I help Shoshana and Emily apply the skills we're working on at school to their WTS projects?  Should I be helping them more than I am?

One comment:
I felt a legitimate pang of emptiness this week when I realized that I had nothing new to read from my bloggers, who are digging up fascinating information about school consolidation and biker safety in Vermont.