Learning with LRNG
Starting something new is perpetually a complex endeavor: exciting and challenging; confusing and frustrating; fun and eye-opening; and important and mysterious — think first day as a freshman, think mid-week of the first week of the Summer Institute (as part of the National Writing Project), think first day on the job. Being a member of this team of teachers (see links, below) working on creating curriculum for Youth Voices was just as amazing.
What we were doing was vague to me at first. I was in a group of competent teachers that I trusted. We were led by a forward-thinking, energetic teacher and close friend, Dawn. She had a direct communication line to Paul, the originator of Youth Voices. I knew that our work was innovative/novel, but I mostly just trusted that it would make more sense as we went on.
We spent some time exploring the Youth Voices site. I was impressed by the breadth and organization of the site. Reading the student work, I was reminded of the wide range of abilities in my English classes over the years. Much of the writing on the site was filled with passion — personally relevant to students’ lives. The writing was about issues students cared about from their lives and I could tell they had invested much thought and deliberation before publishing it. Their comments on the posts reminded me that high school students are more alike than different. I saw that students were more deeply thoughtful about others (not only their own lives) and that tech really does have the capability to bring people together in some ways that just would not happen in a “regular” school day. I noticed, also, that some students seemed to be just completing an assignment — their responses lacked the depth of the previous work — but the number of these was small.
The LRNG website, which we used to create our curriculum, was in a Beta stage. That was a warning flag to me to expect an above average amount of frustration, lack of clarity, and trouble in this process. That Beta logo reminded me that we were guinea pigs in this process. That we should be vocal with our concerns. That our struggles would help the next generation of users understand the task and the tools more clearly.
Similar to most groups, our team of teachers varied in our experience creating online curriculum. I had not done much of it before and saw a few other grasping things faster that I was — this was a new feeling for me. I have been open to learning — especially tech-related items — most of my professional life. I have had to figure out things faster out of necessity — I was the teacher-facilitator. I needed to know what I was doing at least a bit better than the students initially. They would teach me and fill in the gaps later.
At our first face-to-face meeting, we looked through the LRNG Handbook together. That helped me (and others, I think) talk through the process of creating playlists; I also began to see how the parts of a playlist work together to offer a place for individualized learning to take place.
I had recently been on a Men’s Retreat on the topic of raising our awareness of our racial bias. I was still filled with ideas — practical and pie-in-the-sky — and beginning to awaken to subtle, unintentional ways I am biased in various contexts. When asked by our team what I would write my curriculum about, I initially went back to the basics of the retreat — listening, patience, taking action — but opted eventually for taking on the whole topic. Getting out of my comfort zone had spurred me to grow and I felt that could also spur others to growth. I was aware that I would be asking much of people: a willingness to risk, to feel awkward, to reconsider previously held beliefs, to admit to being biased. However, I also saw the need in our communities and the potential for positive change in our communal lives.
I reviewed the resources we had used on the retreat — this time with the eye of a teen. They still seemed rich and meaningful. Then, I looked for more resources that would complement/enrich/extend what I already had. I wanted to push students but not to an unreasonable extreme. It’s a delicate balance and I struggled to find the right mix — new perspectives and opportunities but not so much that they would be turned off. I was unaware of how much support the students would have from their teachers (tech support as well as emotional support) with this sensitive topic.
I’m curious to see how students will respond to being pushed about self-analyzing their own biases — or even if they’ll choose that playlist. The next stage of the journey is yet another beginning. Like having a child, you see your youngster run off and wonder what he or she will do next. It’s all just one big learning experience.