In high school, after my best friend’s parents sent her away to boarding school and my parents didn’t, school became a pretty lonely scene for me. Not only because of her absence and my grappling with my lesbian identity in a pre- Gay-Straight Alliance world, but maybe even more so because I was a wanna-be intellectual in a population where, in a typical year, only about 40% of the graduating class would go on to attend a four-year college. Being engaged with the wider world of ideas landed me in a pretty small club. There were sometimes opportunities to take courses at an honors or Advanced Placement level, but it depended on interest and ability — my senior year, the AP English Literature course that I would have loved to take didn’t “run.” The rules of regular English let me test out of some of the units I could demonstrate mastery of, so Mrs. McLain found herself writing me pass after pass to the library, where I stumbled upon a video of a PBS special featuring a young Ian McKellen entitled, “Acting Shakespeare.” I was absolutely spellbound. I watched the video over the course of multiple days and then, when
Learning, to me, is either the accomplishment of an earlier unknown task or a mistake made that leads to more understanding. We mainly improve from our mistakes. I intend to answer four simple questions about learning. When I began grade school, I soon figured that this particular school was not the school for me. In fact, it was the biggest mistake of my early education. I began my education at a Catholic school in town. The Catholic School had rules. In fact, the number of rules was beyond infinity. The rules were everywhere with their everyday church, uniforms, nuns as teachers, pepperoni pizza, and assigned seats absolutely everywhere you go! Eventually, they kicked me out, and I ended up here. Since that happened, I have been improving much more frequently due to me getting the help that I need. After a few years, I found out I’m better off learning “1 on 1” from my educator, but I’m quite flexible when it comes to class size. My classes have ranged from 1-30 students my entire life! The “1 on 1” studies do most of the time turn me into the teacher’s pet, but I don’t mind. It’s much easier for
I think that people learn best when they go through personal situations. When I was 12, my dad got very sick, and doctors could not figure out what was wrong with him. As a family, for weeks they told us all they could do was keep him comfortable, until they figured out what was going on. Being 12, I was very confused, upset, and scared. I couldn’t understand why he was hurting and why the doctors weren’t making him better. After about four weeks of torture for us all the doctors came to a diagnosis. My dad was in stage 3 of chronic milocetic leukemia. Cancer is a very scary word that no one wants to hear. Even being so young, I could see the fear in my dad; I had never seen him cry until that day. I didn’t know what to do; I was lost. I just wanted to give up on everything and stay with him, along with the rest of my family. The next few weeks I remember it being really hard on him and it seemed like he was getting worse instead of better. When I looked around I felt like everyone was giving up.
When I was thirty, I had the great good fortune to attend my first Alcoholics Anonymous meeting and thereby board what I think of as the great ship of AA, which was to carry me through the often-stormy seas of life, one day at a time, to today, 33 years later. AA is an extraordinary model of learning. There are no paid employees and no one has higher rank than anyone else. We learn by sharing our “experience, strength, and hope” with each other. Meetings are lead by volunteers, who tell their stories: “what we used to be like, what happened, and what we are like now” (quotes from the “Big Book” of AA by Bill WIlson, the founder). Support, in the form of friendship, telephone calls, and getting to meetings, is offered unreservedly by members to each other. The only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. Meetings are always free, and available in most areas every day of the week. The principles of the program are put above personalities, and you are advised to “take what you want, and leave the rest.” Learning happens at your own pace, incrementally, over time. No one lectures. The important
Last summer, I participated in a graduation gateway exhibition of a young man, “Patrick”, at the Monadnock Community Connections School in Surry, NH. Patrick started MC2 four years ago with only one interest, his Supra car! He was able to build on that interest through four different internships and mentorships, to graduation with core academic skills. He graduated with 12 credits of post-secondary accounting courses and has gone on to 4 year college. All because he was connected to a school that connected to him. His comment, “I would have ended up in jail if it wasn’t for this school!” Bravo, CES and Ted Sizer, for creating and fostering the creation of a wave of schools dedicated to true personalized learning! Bravo!!!
I love teaching my students to write because there is no greater pleasure in my life than expressing myself. Over the years, as politicians and other folks push standardized testing, students resent the more formal writing and complain, refuse to participate or do a lousy job to prove how much they hate writing. Today, I explained to my students that we were going to venture into writing about ourselves – about things that matter to us. Guess what? Not one complained – not one. We pulled up Inspiration (a software that helps with planning) and students worked through the parts of the document that they needed to include in the writing in order to create a document that they can display with pride. This writing will be a slow process because students will need to conference constantly with teachers and students; learn new evaluation techniques to help them make decisions about their writing style. It was wonderful day working with my students because they have already demonstrated their total interest in writing about themselves. Little do they know that there is more ahead.