This past week I rediscovered the UVA Young Writers Workshop. I’ve been looking around for out-of-school learning opportunities that could replace parts of the traditional school day to bring more authentic work into schools without diluting the power or appeal of the programs. Too Quixotic?
Our program is dedicated to developing the work of young writers in the range of rising freshman to seniors in high school. The desire to write is what counts. We encourage inexperienced as well as practiced writers to apply. You will receive feedback, personal attention, and the level of instruction you need in order to grow. You will also receive written commentaries from your instructor specific to your progress and suggestions toward eventual publication.
One of the program’s long-term goals is the creation of a full-time school, which could be a charter school housed in the surrounding community or at UVA itself if Virginia ever legislates multiple charter authorizers. This ambition got me thinking about post-test school scheduling.
If our current norm is to teach for the test before the test, why teach for the test after the test? We should – by all means and at all times – get students the support they need in literacy, numeracy, critical thinking, creativity, curiosity, compassion, and self-expression regardless of our testing schedules. However, if the only time we’re systematically allowed to stop teaching to the test is after the test, then let’s not keep teaching to the test. Let’s not insist on business as usual when the business of testing is done. Let’s not talk about how we’re going to maintain control over kids when – well, not ever. Let’s not put all the responsibility for enriching learning and entertaining students on individual teachers.
Instead, let’s think systematically about using the time after testing to create school-wide new schedules and structures built on authentic, interdisciplinary learning. Bobbi Snow, one of our school’s co-founders, has started me thinking on this. Let’s try what we seldom try during the year. Let’s go out into the community and learn about our neighbors, their needs, and ourselves. Let’s bring our communities into our schools. Let’s experiment and find out what works in authentic engagement so we can infuse all of next year’s lessons with more choice and meaning for kids.
I’d love to hear what Margo and her collaborators think about helping struggling writers succeed at school. I’d love to see how they would adapt their schedule to ours. I’d love to see how they further foster choice and meaning inside our school.
So, I’ve got an email to write.
What programs exist in your community and offer kids authentic learning experiences outside school? What insights and expertise can they offer you, your students, your school, and your system? How can you partner with them this Spring to better infuse the entirety of next year with more choice and meaning for students? What relationships can you develop from your classroom to bring in visiting experts and community educators as volunteers?
One way to get every kid into a camp is to bring camp to school. One way to transform school is to make it more camp-like. If you can’t convince your school to restructure its day for more authentic learning after testing is done, think about how you can transform your classroom over the last few weeks of school and ask yourself who can help you do it.
If you’re outside the classroom, can you find one to support in authentic learning?
Can we make room in curriculum maps for partnerships like these throughout the year? Can we recruit and join with pre-service teachers to run opportunities like these on Saturdays for our students and offer them field-experience credit in conjunction with ed schools? Can we showcase our schools to students, families, and communities in enough ways to get ourselves thinking of schools as something else?