Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Students, Storytelling and SEL: EduCon 2.5

On Saturday I attended EduCon 2.5, an "innovation conference" hosted by Science Leadership Academy in Philadelphia. While I only attended one of the three days of EduCon, I found my sessions did an excellent job of sending me home with a few concrete ideas to implement in my classroom.

In the morning I attended a session on Students as Teaching Resources led by Anastacia Brie and Grace O'Keefe. The two presenters shared details of a high school program in which they train students to become 'lead learners' during science labs, and after some breakout discussion with lower/middle grade teachers, it became clear that there were lots of opportunities to use a similar model in 5th Grade. For example, this year I rolled out Google Drive to my English students, and the process took several class periods up front, with additional conferencing time to troubleshoot individual student issues. After the EduCon session, I decided to try the roll out differently next year. Instead of doing all the teaching myself, why not invite a few students to come to a training session in late August? This way, a handful of students get a chance to be leaders in their grade, facilitate peer-to-peer learning, and move our class away from a teacher-as-only-resource frame of mind. I'm very excited to try this out next year!

After lunch I attended Sequence and Consequence: Why Storytelling is Essential for Learning, led by Gerald Aungst and Amanda Dykes. Here too I felt the session was structured with concrete ideas in mind, and almost immediately Aungst provided me with an excellent tool to use in my classroom. He asked all participants to close their eyes and imagine they were holding a present. After a few seconds, we opened our eyes and discussed the story behind our imagined gift. As Aungst pointed out, without being asked we had all created a narrative to go along with the present -- who gave it to us, what occasion it celebrated, and even what was inside the imaginary box. I'm psyched to take my students through this activity as we begin our unit on writing historical fiction, as it so clearly demonstrates the power of their own imaginations.

The day at EduCon 2.5 ended with a session led by Chris Lehmann, the founder of Science Leadership Academy and a veritable celebrity when it comes to education innovation. At Care For vs. Care About: Creating the Ethic of Care, Lehmann was joined by two of his colleagues, Pia Martin and Larissa Pahomov. The three educators posed an intriguing question: What is the difference between caring for and caring about? Conversation in the room led to an agreement that caring for something implied more action and emotion than caring about, but perhaps more interesting was the developing notion that students and teachers can do one without the other. For example, a teacher might care for a student, tying her shoelaces, helping her with a math question, without explicitly caring about her. It's important for teachers to model for students that one must strive to both care for and about those around them. To that end, the SLA team focused on a discussion of their advisory program, and I sat back with no small degree of satisfaction over the healthy and robust advisory program my own school has developed over the last few years with the help of Responsive Classroom and Developmental Designs.

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