"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)