Schools must be transformed from platforms for instruction to platforms for learning, from bureaucracies bent on control to learning organizations aimed at encouraging disciplined inquiry and creativity.
I got this from Will Richardson's blog, and he attributes it to Phillip Schlechty (not Scott McLeod, whom I've featured before with his lovely video about Bloom's taxonomy). It's a perfect intro to what I am about to tell you all about summer academy.
First of all, the numbers in the academy were scant. Two kids showed and they were not sure they wanted to be there. They were required to be there due to academic failures in their previous year.
My director charged me to make the learning time student-centered, with plenty of choice, and plenty of aspirational cheerleading. In other words, show these kids that school is okay and not a place where they are doomed to failure.
So the first day I unpacked my goals: we were going to do something physical every day, we were going to make movies, and we were going to cook. Those three activities were open to their own interests and I would support their choices. Beyond that we were going to tour the school and start the freshman portfolio, something I discovered was a huge source of anxiety for freshmen. I wanted them to be leaders among their peers when that time came.
So what, ultimately, happened? Well, besides a few parental calls..."Is this really summer school? My child says there is no learning. That it is all fun." Besides that, my students showed up every day, we had a morning meeting, and we planned our time together. I gave them support and encouragement and when necessary I told them, give me more, do better, climb higher, make it shine, make it awesome. I edited, gave feedback, encouraged, sometimes lectured, and did a lot of standing back and letting them just do it.
And they did not disappoint me. We filmed our cooking, and they decided what to cook. We filmed our physical activity, and they decided what that was. Ultimately we read a great essay that the genius sent over, and they wrote brilliant essays in response. We worked on the freshman portfolio (super session, anyone?) and the crowning achievement of the four week session was a visit to the local cable station, where they pitched ideas for local access and were able to check out professional equipment. I wish I could show off their videos here, but I will not. Know this: dreams were forged and allowed to flourish. And yes, it was a lot of fun. And yes, they learned something. They learned that their ideas and dreams were valuable and that school was a place to refine, hone, enhance, and take those dreams and ideas to the next level.
Hidden learning, my director called it. With script-writing came literacy skills. With storyboarding came logic. With recipes and cooking came basic math. With eating together at the end of a four hour marathon of cutting, chopping, sauteeing, filming, and baking, came a huge sense of accomplishment for THEM.
I'm glad I did summer academy, rabble rousing aside, (at the time I was hired there seemed to be flak from different directions about the job). Those kids are great kids and will make great freshmen. They are a step ahead of everyone else--they now know the school and have confidence that they can do stuff and do it well.
I'm pretty happy.
It was not "all flowers and sausages" to quote a favorite blog author. But despite typical teen resistance and antics, it was, in my mind, a huge success. Both students were invited to participate in leadership conference next week.
From failure to leadership. How is that for a role-reversal.
It's over now, and I can rest for a few weeks before tech camp.