Reflecting on the Last Two WeeksI'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.