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. 

Bob Uhl's Opening Volley

Hello, all. I'm Bob Uhl, an English teacher at Frederick H. Tuttle Middle School in South Burlington, Vermont. This is my second year at FHTMS and my fourth year as a public school educator. I spent the first two years of my career teaching English at a middle school in northern California. Prior to that, I worked as a literacy tutor, substitute teacher, and piano instructor. I'm happy to be taking part in What's the Story as both a mentor and assistant instructor.

I'm a new recruit to What's the Story this year, and I'm loving it so far. The work I did with my colleagues over the summer at the Bread Loaf School of English was crucial in preparing me to take on the challenge. I felt a little nervous at first, having never undertaken a project of this nature, and I ran into some logistical roadblocks leading up to September's kickoff event. In retrospect, overcoming those obstacles set the right tone for the year, and I have been approaching my work both as a teacher and a member of this group with a renewed confidence and desire for growth.

One revelatory moment came when my school district informed me they could not accommodate the transportation request I had submitted for my students to attend the kickoff event at Middlebury College. It was my own fault for not making the request far enough advance. I knew then, though, that I would have to make a greater effort to plan farther ahead. Another such moment came after a couple of my students who had expressed interest in the project and attended the kickoff event decided to drop out. For various reasons I knew that their decisions were likely for the best, but it occurred to me that I probably should have spent more time selling the opportunity to participate in What's the Story to independently motivated students. I'll try this next time. Finally, I was pleasantly surprised by the strong show of parental support.

And a few musings: I wonder how my remaining students will fare throughout the remainder of the year. They're young, and to my knowledge none have much experience with this sort of project. Second, I wonder how much more interest will be generated in What's the Story at the middle school level by next year. I would love to double the number of participants from FHTMS. Finally, I wonder how the community will respond to students' finished products. I'm particularly excited to see about this.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Bill Rich's Opening Volley

   I'm Bill Rich, Director of VT-BLTN. After teaching middle school for two years in Montpelier and high school for sixteen years in Colchester, I founded Red House Learning, committed to helping educators use what we know about the brain to inform what we do in the classroom.
    This year's kickoff attended to many of the lessons we learned last year about how to make an innovative, blended course like this work. Just consider what's in place now that wasn't last year at this time: job descriptions for the adults involved, a calendar forecasting the rhythm of the year, an on-line course platform in place, a website and a facebook page, student blogs, responders to students' blogs, and twice as many students, just to name a few! Tim did an outstanding job using this clarity to engage our adult team in leading different parts of our kickoff at Middlebury College. So great to see so many more people--students and adults--contributing to this exciting effort.
     My top three ah-has so far this year: 1) The success of last year's students made it easy to fill up this year's course; students can spread good news quickly! 2) Great ideas need a system and infrastructure in order to bloom. 3) We have a terrific and deep team this year.
     My wonders: 1) How do we ensure that students experience the right amount of independence and structure? 2) How do we proceed in ways that make sure that what we're designing is replicable in schools? 3) Do we want, and are we ready, to have 100 students next year?

Thursday, October 8, 2015

My name is Ben Krahn, and I'm in my 12th year of teaching. Currently, I'm teaching English at Middlebury High School. I graduated from the Bread Loaf School of English in 2009 and joined the Bread Loaf Teacher Network in the summer of 2015.

The kickoff was great. To be able to work with kids on topics of their own choosing is awesome. I'm realizing, once again, that learning is fun, which is the reason I wanted to become a teacher in the first place. "What's the Story" takes us out of the traditional classroom and allows the space and time to get interesting, practical things done in a collaborative setting. The most telling "aha" moment, or the best "take away" so far from this is that the students are truly the drivers of their education in this course. As a teacher of this course, I am not a sage on the stage; rather, I'm truly a guide on the side who asks questions and offers direction. I love it so far!

The biggest question I have is how do we translate this experience into a traditional high school where we serve hundreds of students and not just 21. What strategies can I take from this experience and implement them into my own curriculum?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Dianne Baroz's Opening Volley!

My name is Dianne Baroz, and I’m an Administrative Associate at Middlebury
Bread Loaf School of English. I assist Dixie Goswami and the Bread Loaf
Teacher Network, and I am also the Oxford campus coordinator. I’ve just
completed my first anniversary returning to work at Bread Loaf
(woohoo!)....where did this year go? I’ve worked at BL previously from
1996-2002; BL has been like family ever since my husband Robert studied at
BL (MA 1995; MLitt 2004). He was part of the early VT BLTN group, and I’m
so happy to see the re-emergence of this group in such a dynamic way!

It’s been a wonderful experience to get to know the VT teachers at
Frothingham this summer. My role is administrative support for the group,
which means that I do a lot of the behind the scenes logistical work to
make days like the kick-off go off without a hitch….more or less :).  Even
though the group this year was much larger, this kick-off had a much more
fun, relaxed atmosphere.

I think my first aha moment is seeing how adaptable this group is. I love
that the teachers made videos to show that they too are learners alongside
their students. I heard Dixie echoing in the back of my head…."We’re all
in this together.” I also loved that the students, while not exactly sure
what they got themselves into, were upbeat and willing participants. My
final aha moment was seeing the enthusiastic response from our guests at
the end of the day. They were so pumped up and supportive because they
realize that amazing things are happening. Will groups like this really
change the face of college education?

I wonder how ‘this’ can be replicated or if it will need a BL teacher
connection to have a common thread. Not being a teacher, I wonder if I’ll
be an effective blog responder. I hope that I can give the support and
guidance that the students are looking for. I wonder how the upcoming
overnight will go and if they will look back and see that as one of the
highlights of their educational careers.

Thanks for including me as part of this project; it allows me to stay
connected to the everyday lives of BL teachers. It keeps the big picture
of what BLTN means at the forefront of my work and what we heard all
summer—BL is a place where teachers (and students) change the world. I’m
glad that I’m along for this ride!

Monday, October 5, 2015

Henry Mohn's Opening Volley

Hello Everyone,

My name is Henry Mohn and I am a current senior at Champlain Valley Union High School, in Hinesburg, VT. This is my second year involved in What's the Story. Last year, I was a student in the class. I really loved my experience and this year, I am back as a mentor to the new students.

This year's kickoff was great! As pointed out by others, the class is organized much better than it was last year. It is clear that the experience from last year has allowed for the program to be refined. Also, the academic direction of the class has improved. The students are given a degree of freedom with their topics that wasn't present last year, when I was a student. I really like how from the very beginning, students will be working to find information for their multimedia project, as opposed to last year, where we didn't really start the final project until half way through the year. It seems that the students will be able to make a change in the community, which is an element of the class that we failed to accomplish last year. I am excited to see what the students will achieve!

For ah-ha moments, I was excited to see so many students, of different ages, from all over the state involved in What's the Story The group is much larger than than last year which will allow for more diversity in research topics and opinions. It was also great to see so many so many adults invested in the class as readers, teachers, and mentors. I was very impressed with the first week of blogging as well. The blogs will allow the students to receive personal feedback from multiple people on a weekly basis.

So much has changed from last year when I was a student, so I am curious about many aspects of the class. Initially, I wonder how students will select which social action issue they would like to study. I know I would have trouble choosing if I were a student this year. I also wonder how students will be able to combine or modify their topics into larger topics, that they can work collaboratively on. I wonder what lasting changes to the Vermont community will be made by the end of the year as well.

Colleen Kiley's Opening Volley


My name is Colleen Kiley and this is my 5th year teaching high school English at Mount Abraham Union Middle & High School in Bristol, Vermont. I teach 9th grade English as well as a handful of elective English classes to juniors and seniors. This is my second year participating in WTS and my role is to mentor any and all students in the cohort, while providing our main instructor, Tim, with as much support as he needs.

The kickoff this year doesn't even compare to last year's. That's because I was not able to arrive on Middlebury campus until 3 pm last year (the tail end of things). Being in Oxford last summer and missing most of the kickoff last fall left me in a confused state from day numero uno! It was hard to ever feel fully immersed in the project. This year, I was excited and inspired by the kickoff. I got to meet the kids (although I wish there had been more getting to know you activities) and was a contributor rather than a bystander (good call on that one, Tim). So yes, the kickoff was a success.

My 3 ah-ha's? The first was seeing how many adults were in the room on September 18th. It spoke to the support and excitement of this project. I feel apart of something larger in the world of education, and that is exciting. My second ah-ha was a negative one, turned positive. I'm not very good at doing things I do not want to do. Creating an introductory video was one of them. Originally, I was really excited but then I got overwhelmed, and didn't feel like I had anything important to say in my video. Seeing everyone else's video made me frustrated with myself for not trying harder...for giving up. But then something else happened. A friend of mine starting making a video about his passion for rock climbing. I started thinking about my own passion for running. I got really excited about making a video that would include footage of me running through the woods and highlight the importance of being part of a running community. So I realized something once again: I need to have passion in order to pursue a topic. Much like our students must have a passion for whatever social issue they will pursue here. We can guide and support, make suggestions and help them revise their ideas, but ultimately, they must have the passion and the drive.

My 3 I Wonder's. In reference to my first ah-ha, despite all these wonderful adults, I wonder how we can ensure that STUDENTS are at the helm of this project, rather than the adults? I'll admit, last year at a few of our meetings, I got frustrated when it felt like the adults did most of the talking and decision making. I feel like when we leave our kids alone and let them work through the awkward silence, they eventually begin to generate some really fabulous ideas. So, I wonder, if as adults who are accustomed to being in charge, can we let go of some of the control? Can we allow things to be a bit messy? Can we allow our students to create projects that are not what we had planned, but are instead more than we could have dreamed? Finally, I wonder how we can provide the space in the second half of our course for students to work together and experience the true benefits of collaboration. We all know 2 (or 20) heads are better than can we help our students realize the truth in this statement?

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Emily Rinkema's Opening Volley

Hi All,

I am in my 19th year teaching at Champlain Valley Union HS in Hinesburg, VT. While I am still an English teacher half time, the other half of my job is to be one of 3 Instructional Coaches at CVU. This is a fantastic position that is an honor and a gift to have, as it allows me the time, resources, and flexibility to dive into the world of education reform, the brain and learning, and pedagogical innovation in a way that full time teachers are not able. In that capacity, we spend time blogging and Tweeting and managing a teacher learning website (follow us at @cvulearns if you're on Twitter, or go to or

As a member of this BLTN team, I am a mentor, and so far I am loving it. One of the biggest improvements over last year is the organization (thanks to Tim and Bill) that can occur in year two of a project. Everything is so much more defined and clear--something that was impossible last year--and already I think the project is better for it. The kick-off day was great--nice to meet everyone and start to get to know our learners, and important systems and structures were established that will allow everyone to engage more regularly and actively. It was a bit hot, but I don't think that will be a problem moving on!

I agree with Tim's I allowed to do that? First, the connection between the student bloggers and their readers is going to keep students engaged and will hopefully allow us to control the rigor by directing students in their inquiries. Also, this adds a level of authenticity to the project, as having real readers responding to their ideas will make them think a little more about the role of audience in change. Second, I am also really excited about the opportunity for teacher professional development (see how I am seamlessly stealing Tim's ideas and pretending they are my own?). Finally, and this one is all mine...I am already seeing how I am bringing in some of the design elements of What's the Story? to my teaching. We have an innovation project that we do with our 10th grade humanities students, and WTS has made me think about how to provide real audiences for them. Very cool.

Wonders...I have a few for sure. I wonder if we are going to be able to help students choose projects that are feasible. So many of their ideas as of now are vague or so large in scope that change seems impossible. I look forward to seeing if this changes as their blogs continue--if questions from readers are enough to narrow and hone and focus in on an element of an issue that resonates, yet is actionable at this level and in this amount of time. Another wonder I have is about the overall sustainability of a program like this--there is a lot of time, money, and other resources going in to making WTS successful, and is that replicable? I guess the idea is getting schools to offer sections that then come together around the state, or some such thing--which could work. Finally, I wonder if Common Ground Conference Center allows dogs, as we don't have a dog-sitter for the night and I think my lovely girls would have fun getting to know everyone!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Tim O'Leary's Opening Volley

My name is Tim O'Leary, and I'm in my 15th year of teaching at Middlebury Union High School (VT). I graduated from the Middlebury Bread Loaf School of English in 2007 and fatefully reconnected with the program by way of helping to found the current Vermont Bread Loaf Teachers' Network. I am the Lead Instructor for this year's "What's the Story? The Vermont Young People Social Action Team" course and indebted to all the wonderful adults and young people who are at the very center of our work together. It's all about collaboration.

The kickoff has felt really wonderful. No hangovers here. I like the movement we seem to have of finding our way together, even with all the moving and evolving pieces. A couple weeks out from the kickoff, I resolved around the importance to find ways for every contributing adult to have a specific responsibility, big or small, to build ownership and to help keep my sanity. Last year, I remember showing up in total-bystander-audience-mode for our kickoff day. I was trying to prevent others from falling into this trance. I wanted to utilize some members' strengths and build capacities with others. Asking Emily Rinkema to take the KUD/Learning Scales and run with them after her, Bill Rich, and I batted them around a bit, was important and allowed her to exercise her expertise in this field, which will be invaluable to us during the rest of our year and beyond. Additionally, I wanted Bob Uhl and Colleen Kiley to take larger roles, inline with the generous VT-BLTN fellowship covering their education this past summer and to also encourage them to potentially take Lead Instructor roles in the coming year.

The I-Search Blog and the web of 21 students and 29 readers (50 people) I was able to scaffold together has provided the tight feedback loops we desired and has to be one of the best parts of the kickoff among the work I imagined and organized. After the first round of blog posts. 20 of 21 students responded on-time and 26 of 29 readers responded on-time. No one had ever participated in something like this, and the follow through was amazing. It says something about how much value and belief people have put into the project and this I-Serach Blog. Now that writers and readers have interacted in one cycle with the blog, I only expect that our timeliness increases and moves to and hits 100% on-time in the coming weeks.

The synergy of the blog writers and readers is a big AH-HA for me. I loved the I-Search paper idea from last year, but I wanted students to have feedback along the way and a "real-time" audience that helped them evolve their thinking. On a secondary level, but not insignificant, this symbiosis also energizes a network of supporting adults actively engaged with our students, which is invaluable for our own public relations as we build support and understanding for what we are doing and what might come in the future.

The second most important take-away for me is coming to terms with just how wide-spread and wide-ranging the "professional development" has been for our involved adults. From figuring out how to respond to blogs, to how to upload photo files to a Google Drive folder, to how to manipulate Canvas learning platform, to how to teach about Blogger, to understand the pedagogy behind KUDs and Learning Scales and its connection to student-centered learning... there are adults learning, using, and explaining capacities to one another in ways that are impressive.

My "I-wonder" statement is about organization and momentum into the future. What does it look like when we get 21 orbits of student ideas crash into each other and come out with 5 or 6 group projects? This, I predict, will be the messiest work of the year. But, I believe it's a necessary part as we pry students toward one another to work collaboratively, something that is not happening now. Questions swimming around in no particular order: What contitutes change? How do we measure that? How do we build and target audiences for the collaborative student work? How do we keep every student in a group productive and engaged? I have some inclinations, and we'll work to answer these together...