Friday, January 8, 2016

Emily Rinkema's Mid-year Pause for the Cause

The most exciting part of this course so far has been watching the students who have completely engaged with their topics. It seems clear from blog posts and conversations and other anecdotal evidence that there are a handful of students who have grabbed a hold of this and really taken off, and to know that this course has really changed their lives and their view of their own role in their educations is incredible. 

I also think a bright spot was reading the last posts from all students--the ones where they talked about the course and what it has meant to them and for them. We all worked so hard over the past year and a half to design a learning experience with certain ideals, and to see that these ideals are being realized makes me proud and hopeful. I get nervous when schools talk about PLPs and putting kids in charge of their learning--but here is a model that provides the scaffolding for that autonomy and engagement while still ensuring a level of rigor that is often missing in independent student projects.

The agenda for the overnight looks good. I wonder if there is a need for any writing instruction based on what the instructors have seen on the blogs. From what I have seen of the feedback, it looks like most students are meeting the expectations currently, but not many exceeding (I only saw rubrics for some, so this may be inaccurate?). If that's the case, do we have a plan to instruct and show benchmarks of what it looks like to exceed on each target? Also, are there any students who need work on specific writing targets in order to meet the expectations? So many of the course standards have to do with writing, which means that the majority of a student's grade will be based on these standards--so I want to ensure that students are getting necessary instruction. I like how much time is built in for working in the groups.

Being a part of the WtS team over the past year and a half has been both challenging and incredibly rewarding. This is a completely different way to look at education--which inspires me, but also pushes me out of my comfort zone regularly. One key to successful educational reform is time to reflect and take risks (and then reflect on those risks). In schools, we rarely have the luxury of reflective time, and taking risks feels really terrifying because we are working with live students (and parents). But WtS provides both opportunities--everything we're doing is a risk as it's new, and because of blog posts like this and other times that we spend together online or in person, we regularly reflect on successes and challenges. Because there is no model for the work, there's no "falling short", so when we come across obstacles or challenges, they don't feel like failures; rather, they feel like necessary steps to a better experience for the next iteration. Students aren't afraid of giving honest feedback because they know they are part of an experiment, and they see us modeling questioning, reflection, and risk-taking, which leads to an openness that is harder to achieve in a traditional classroom. 

WtS has changed how I think of learning in my own classroom. The excitement I feel from WtS students when they are following a passion inspires me to provide similar opportunities for my own classroom. I have been providing more time for exploration and risk-taking in class, and at the end of last year even did a mini WtS-inspired unit that allowed students to go into depth with an issue they care about. Even though it's certainly more work than I initially expected, it has been worth every moment!

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