Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Book Review: Free to Learn

Free to Learn
Peter Gray
Copyright 2013
235 pages

Taking a break from SVS Press books but still wanting to continue my Sudbury research, I picked up Free to Learn, an examination of what it means to play from an anthropologist (and also father of an SVS student)'s perspective. I'm not sure I really have much to say in review because I completely internalized the entire thing while reading it, enjoying it much more than I expected to. It's an easy read, apparently, as Gray's words leapt off the page and melded themselves immediately into my view of reality.

One of the things I enjoyed most about Free to Learn is the scale from which Gray speaks as an anthropologist. While exploring the world of alternative education, most every bit of literature I come across asks the Why question--"Why is our education system the way it is?" To which the unanimous response reads, "Well, the Industrial Revolution." But Gray, not accepting that as the complete answer, explores further, back to hunter-gatherers, the earliest humans, and plays with concepts he finds there.

In fact, play is exactly what he does, as he, himself, admits. "...I would estimate that my behavior in writing this book is about 80 percent play. That percentage varies from time to time as I go along; it decreases when I worry about deadlines or how critics will evaluate it, and it increases when I'm focused only on the current task of researching or writing. ... I am taking into account not just my sense of freedom about doing it, my enjoyment of the process, and the fact that I'm following rules (about writing) that I accept as my own, but also the fact that a considerable degree of imagination is involved. I'm not making up the facts, but I am making up the way of stringing them together. Furthermore, I am constantly imagining how they will fit into the whole structure I am trying to build, one that does not yet exist as concrete reality." (p. 140, 151) That play through which Gray writes is palpable throughout and makes for an entirely enjoyable experience.

Before reading Free to Learn, I knew, perhaps only through intuition, that play was an important part of learning, just not to this extent. Gray teaches us, through an examination of evolution, that play IS learning and that it is a powerful force, indeed. I can't recommend this book highly enough.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Autonomy

I cannot make children do anything.

I can keep them safe.
I can model behavior and communication.
I can listen.
I can be a sounding board.
I can explain.
I can provide logic.
I can comfort.
I can encourage.
I can love them.

But I cannot make children do anything.

~*~

Note: I wrote this a few weeks ago after a particularly difficult day with a 17-month-old I've been babysitting. It went through a series of purposes throughout its creation. First it was merely a reminder to myself in the moment of what I had control over. Then it was a disclaimer for parents of children I teach or have taught in the past and a sort of explanation about Sudbury education. Finally, I realized it was as true for myself as a future parent as it was for other parents. It rings true for all situations, but I may edit it a little more before attaching it to the school.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Books Included in the Sudbury Valley School Starter Kit

Summaries updated as I read them

Free at Last: The Sudbury Valley School
by Daniel Greenberg
1987 (1995 reprint), 184 pages
If you are looking for somewhere to start delving in, this is it. I consider this the quintessential Sudbury book. It is the first book published by Sudbury Valley School Press, and covers, in quick, easy language, all of the introductory questions parents have.

The Sudbury Valley School Experience
by various authors
1985 (1987, 1992 reprints), 234 pages
This is the second-most turned to book about Sudbury education. In a series of short articles and vignettes, adults at SVS describe different aspects of school life. It ends with A School for Today, 25-page account of how Sudbury works and why it's perfectly fit for modern times, that would be great to share with parents.

Starting a Sudbury School: A Summary of the Experiences of Fifteen Start-Up Groups
by Daniel Greenberg, Mimsy Sadofsky
1998, 220 pages
Written specifically for potential founders, if the title didn't give that a way, this one is incredibly practical. It guides step-by-step through a lot of nitty-gritty and answers questions I didn't know I had. This is one to keep nearby and check every so often for recommendations on how to go about different situations. 

Legacy of Trust: Life after the Sudbury Valley School Experience
by Daniel Greenberg, Mimsy Sadofsky
1992, 332 pages
The first (SVS Press) study of SVS graduates, 188 individuals that graduated over the span of 21 years after SVS was established. Great to have on hand when speaking with parents who are new to the movement, as it answers such questions as, "Will my child be able to go to college without classes and grades?" It probably isn't something they would want to read in its entirety, but perfect to flip through for a little while. I keep mine highlighted for easy reference.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Sudbury as a Metaphor for America and Learning to Trust

"We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard." - John F. Kennedy

Welcome, fellow humans, to the year 2017. This is, again, a reminder that social constructs are merely facades of barriers, and if you have a desire to break one down, the only thing stopping you is your own hesitancy.

I am afraid of starting a Sudbury school. It's a fear I keep not in the foreground of daily life, but one continuously simmering on the back burner of my mind.

It's akin to the fear I have of having children.

I know that once I birth this thing, it will no longer be in my control. I will have the illusion of control over it, but it, itself, will be its own, autonomous being. Making my way slowly through the books by Sudbury Valley Press reminds me of that over and over.

To create a platform for the democratic process to exist is to acknowledge the relinquishing of control, giving it, a gift, to the people. At times, that will hurt. It will seem as though it is destroying itself, this thing that was created with such great effort and sacrifice. The people will convince themselves to go in a direction entirely antithetical to what I believe to be right, and there will be no way for me to prevent it from happening. There will be nothing for me to do besides trust. Trust in the system. Trust in humanity.

How apt it is that I'm writing this at the dawn of 2017 when the American people at large are struggling with the same thing.

A friend and I once had the most open-minded discussion of politics I have ever experienced. We realized, together, that he is a libertarian because he trusts humanity, while I am a socialist because I think humanity needs to be protected from itself. It was an eye-opening realization, one I haven't known what to do with since. I felt guilty upon realizing it and tried to take it back at once, but I knew I never could. It was a truth I had learned about myself. It was a truth about myself that I disliked.

I want to be more trusting. I want to trust that there exists enough kindness and love in humanity to overcome the hatred, anger, and fear that keeps presenting itself throughout the world. It will be an ongoing struggle, one that I may fight my entire life. But every time I succeed in this way of thinking is a victory, and it will get easier, one small victory at a time.

I must trust in the children, the future of our planet.

(That is, at least, easier than trusting adults, those who have learned to lie and cheat and think only for themselves. Wait. There I go again. Breathe. Let it go. "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." Good. Continue.)

When I came back from my first visit to a Sudbury school, I told Joanna that the concept most concerning to me was Judicial Committee. In brief, because it's not my current goal to explain it in its entirety, the students agree on certain rules. If someone (adult or child) breaks a rule, it gets written up as a complaint to a jury of peers who investigate the matter and determine what should be done about it. I told Joanna that I could see it easily being something that I try to enact while everyone else rolls their eyes. Something that I, alone, fight for. Something like nearly everything in the classroom I attempted while I taught high school.

"Then drop it," Joanna replied. If it gets to that point, we don't do it. It is only for them, after all. When they complain that someone keeps doing something they don't like, we remind them that we had a process for what to do when rules were broken. Ask them if they want help setting that system up again or if they want to create something entirely new.

Trust. Trust in the system. Trust in humanity.

Friday, November 18, 2016

A Long and Emotional Introduction to Starting a Sudbury School

I've been staring at a blank page all day.

I've been trying to write about the two weeks I spent in another state visiting a Sudbury school, and I think, instead, I'm letting my perfectionism control me. I wanted to write up a sweet, little blurb about the school that they could add to their list of things cool people have written about them. I wanted it to be a positive, little thing that we could all share around and be happy and proud about.

But the truth is, my experience there and my thoughts about Sudbury aren't entirely positive.

The reason I can't write is because I haven't been true to myself. I've been trying to hide. I've been trying to hide all of the real-life, potentially negative aspects, both from myself and from everyone around me. I've been trying to convince everyone that there are simple solutions and that I trust myself to make positive change happen.

~*~

Okay, back up. You deserve more context for all of this emotion I'm spewing at you. I've been writing a lot about how teaching high school went last year, but I haven't mentioned anything about what I'm doing this school year.

Well, I'm not teaching.

For years I've been entertaining a daydream about creating my own school. That's the logical outcome for this entire blog, right? Surely that's why I've been exploring so many aspects of education, right? What else would one do with this knowledge?

And yet it's remained a dream for so long.

Almost two years ago now I started seeing a therapist. It has been an incredible journey of self-discovery and insight into the psychology of humanity. I've grown more than I ever expected to, difficult as a journey as it was. I've found parts of myself I didn't know existed, parts of us that we all have in common but never speak of, parts of humanity that make us flawed but beautiful. I've discovered how to embrace the parts of life that are uncomfortable and learn from them. I feel like I am foundationally almost a different person, continually changing and growing and learning and living--intentionally.

I've learned that my life is my own, and I am in charge of how it goes.

Subconsciously, I've been living in the pattern, the system, that modern society has created. It's not a bad pattern. It does very well for most people. But that doesn't mean that I have to be confined by it.

That school doesn't have to remain a daydream. I can bring it to reality. It's a lot of work, but I  can make it happen.

There are people out there that do great things. They are real human beings, just like I am, and I, too, can do great things. I know I can because they can. We are fundamentally the same. We are all made of star stuff, after all.

~*~

The journey to create a school still probably wouldn't have gotten off the ground if it weren't for the random happenstance of realizing that Joanna, an acquaintance, a friend-of-a-friend, also had daydreams of creating a school. We come from different backgrounds--I'm an unsettled teacher; she's an unsettled parent--but that unifying desire to make something great was all it took. Neither of us were going far on our own, but as partners, we pushed each other to accomplish more. It's her children I think of now when I start to question myself.

My research, having gone through a Montessori phase, was now travelling through the land of Sudbury. We hesitated but then went all out on a successful internet fundraising campaign to raise $675 and purchase a School Planning Kit from Sudbury Valley School.

The first goal after receiving the kit was supposed to be looking through the material more thoroughly to determine whether this was, in fact, the path we wanted to be on. It was roughly timed, though, because Joanna got caught up in other aspects of life, and my brain simply refused to look critically at the material. Every time I sat down to ask myself, "Is this what you want your school to be?" the immediate response came, "Uh, well, of course. We spent all this money, and it seems like the right choice." Our progress stalled. At least I had set up that two-week visitation to one of the schools I had been in contact with! I allowed the dust to settle while I waited for the trip. "Everything will be better after the trip," I told myself. "You'll go and see how perfect it is and come back motivated and eager to keep going all the way to the finish line."

But nothing is perfect, after all.

I am so incredibly thankful to the school for hosting me for two weeks. It was a fantastic experience that I still haven't completely unpacked yet.

Again, mostly because I'm afraid to. I'm afraid to come to terms with two major points. But we don't move forward without difficulty, so here we go.

~*~

The first point is partially an issue with my own expectation. I had built myself a little bubble of how I imagined Sudbury to be, and I was unsettled when I didn't find it to be true. Or, more accurately, when I found it to be truer than I completely realized.

"It's the atmosphere," I told everyone who asked my first impression. "It's an atmosphere of literally doing whatever you want and not feeling any amount of judgement for it. It's one thing to know that, conceptually, but it's another thing to actually witness it."

What I meant to say was, "I'm happy to see the littlest ones running and playing in the main room where they have a lot of space; their bodies and minds appreciate all the physical movement and activity. I'm also happy to see the group of kids playing video games in the computer room; they're learning to solve complex puzzles and be efficient and control technology. However, the teenagers just hanging out and talking make me uncomfortable."

Perhaps it's because I'm still stuck in the current societal system of, "Okay, you're going to be productive now, right?" In the Sudbury framework I had built for myself, it was okay for the children to play all day because they are learning in their own ways, and when the appropriate time comes, something will click inside of them, and they will produce something. They will become something. They will have something to show for all of the work they did when they were younger. They will prove to all the adults watching with scornful faces that freedom is a shortcut to a happy, productive adult life.

How could these teenagers just sit around talking when they had so much to do? They should have been well on their way by now. What happened? Did they join the school at too late of an age? Did they not get what they needed out of their younger years? Was the system failing them?

Boy, did these teenagers have something to teach me. And, in true teaching fashion, the seeds they planted in me when I met them at the beginning of the month are just now starting to sprout. I suspect I won't be harvesting fruit from them anytime soon, but for now, the sprouts are reminding me what trust is all about.

Trust is the backbone of the entire Sudbury model. Again, it's one thing to know, conceptually, but it's quite another to actually practice it.

Because teenagers, you know... Teenagers like to hang out and talk. That's true of teenagers everywhere, and it's true of Sudbury teenagers. I know, logically, that they're getting a lot out of it, just like the others running around in the main room and playing video games in the computer room. They're learning what is socially acceptable. They're learning how to treat others. They're learning empathy, current events, and how to have a conversation. They're learning how to interact with others. They're learning connection.

It doesn't matter that the girl with the sketchbook couldn't draw every day with all the conversation buzzing around her. It doesn't matter that she admitted she doesn't "get any work done at school" and does most of her drawing at home. She chose to stay in that room and participate in the conversation instead of finding a quite space to be by herself, and I'm choosing to trust that she's getting what she needs.

The oldest teenagers were actually the ones that had been there the longest, and, as difficult as it was for me to see at the time, they were serving as impeccable role models for the younger students. They were the ones who ran the weekly school meeting and judicial committee that met whenever a problem needed to be solved. They were the ones that scolded the younger ones for running in the halls and kept the school running smoothly. Sure, they didn't do a perfect job, but I'm choosing to trust that they are getting out of it what they need.

I can tell it will be a long journey to actually embracing this. It will take a long time and a lot of struggle on my part, but if I allow myself, I can form myself in this way. I've had 28 years of society forming me, so that it will take effort and patience to unlearn is to be expected.

But how can I also convince parents to trust their children if I am also struggling?

~*~

Which brings me to my second point--I'm still not convinced Sudbury is the model I want to follow.

I am hyper-aware of my tendency to, as my husband puts it, follow the novelty. I'm the type of person who likes to explore everything. There's always something new to look into. Who's to say that in one year's time I won't feel the same about Sudbury as I do about Montessori. Goodness knows the Sudbury community is rife with drama.

But even more than that, settling down with one model for what, at this point, seems like the rest of my professional career... That scares me more than anything else. It almost seems like a compromise of my own values. In the aforementioned "list of cool things people have written about" the Sudbury school I visited this month, I found links to where two other visitors like me had written of their experiences. Two other people who explored alternative education. Two other people on this endless quest.

I don't want my quest to be over. I don't want to settle down and decide, "This is the best. There's no reason to keep looking." And that's the biggest reason I'm hesitant to commit to the Sudbury model.

Joanna and I have played around with the name of our future school, which we're still planning to open September 2017. Nothing seems quite right. We almost settled on Wichita Creative Learning School but then decided it was too ambiguous. Immediately upon returning home, I decided we had to commit, at least partially, to Wichita Sudbury School so that we could open into an already existing community. We could keep our business name as Wichita Creative Learning, Inc., but the school itself needed to completely comply with the Sudbury model so that we could have support that came with it.

Now again I'm questioning that.

~*~

There are no easy answers. Life is not that simple.

I'm fully aware that this school could fail. I'm also fully aware that even if this school is successful, it's not necessarily the only thing left in my professional career. I'm hoping that it can grow and change with me, but I'm not quite sure how to let it.

And that's where I stand now, eager to proceed but nervous that I'm going in the wrong direction.

But I can trust myself.

One thing I've learned from therapy is that there is no right direction. Any direction I choose to go is fine. Regardless of what happens, I will continue to grow and learn. If I let fear of failure control me, I won't do anything great. And I know that I can do great things.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

DIY Notebooks and My 2016 Take on PBL--Individual Study

Sometime right before winter break in my second year of teaching high school English, I got this idea for a do-it-yourself notebook. You see, I have this specific something instilled in me that's part environmentally-friendly, part OCD, where I don't like things to be wasted. I've been saving paper that's only been used on one side since high school (and, boy, did I get teased because of it!), and I've amassed quite a stack of it. I encouraged the third-graders I taught to draw and color on the blank sides, but the practice never quite caught on with teenagers. I'd been taking notes and doing daily writing on them, but the stack was growing ever taller, regardless.

It was around this time I started thinking that I should just carry some of this scrap paper around with me. Like a notebook.

But... more like a 3-ring binder because, as much as I like having the pages in a notebook securely attached, I enjoy the flexibility of being able to reorganize, add, and remove pages as necessary.

But... full-sized sheets are so large and cumbersome. I'd definitely need to cut them in half to be a good size.

But... one thing that's awesome about 8.5x11 pieces of paper is that.. well, they're a standard size. So when you put them in the hole punch, one of my favorite toys, all the holes are in the same place. There's not a standard hole punch for 8.5x5.5 papers.

Wait! What an excellent critical thinking opportunity with real world application! I offered my students some extra credit and gave them 20 minutes to come up with the best solution.

I finally settled for one offered by two of my juniors--If you align the papers at the bottom of the hole punch, like usual, the holes are awkwardly positioned. Same for if you align them at the top of the hole punch. It's not so awkward if you turn the hole punch to the right side, flip the pages to the back so that the used side is showing up, align at the top, and then punch! It took some getting used to, but it totally works! I was so happy to offer that opportunity to my students, and even more so to let them see me use a design they helped come up with on a daily basis.

A few months later, I decided that size wasn't right for my needs. I needed an even smaller size, a quarter size, to fit inside my purse. That was a bit of a struggle to design, as well! Eventually we decided that this one wouldn't work if aligned at the top or bottom; we just needed to center it between two of the holes. The pages weren't exactly the same size, which is what I was afraid of, because I cut several pages at the same time in an inexact method, but it really didn't matter. All that mattered, after all, was that the holes were a standard distance from each other. Neat!


Alright, switching topics, just a little. I knew I wasn't coming back to work the following year about half way through third quarter. That being said, I really wanted to go out with a bang. I wanted to give my students something they would really learn from and remember, something important.

At that time, I had a sophomore who was teaching herself Russian in her spare time, which I was immensely proud of. It reminded me of teaching myself Japanese when I was younger, and that spurred an idea I had been considering after reading Summerhill School.

It had a basis of Project Based Learning, and that's how I sold it to administration, but in reality, I just wanted my students to realize that they live in the digital age. Literally ANYTHING they want to learn is at their fingertips. Mostly, I wanted them to have more control over their learning, to have more ownership of their own learning.

Thus, it manifested like this: Individual Study. Once again, I threw the entire curriculum out the window for the final month of school, telling my students that we were going to be doing something more important--focusing on whatever they wanted to learn. I stressed how important it was to follow your passions, not let anything come between you and what you want to learn, and turn hobbies and interests into viable options for study and bettering yourself. I reminded them that this is what it means to be a 21st century learner.

But being a public school teacher, I still had to enter grades into the computer, unfortunately, so.. Remember those journals I had the students help me on? We made more, and they became logbooks.


This is what I told students I was grading on:


This hastily-hand-written-and-then-photo-copied sheet became "conference sheets," and students were to keep them to use as a reference every day. We discussed the entire sheet at length together, but also during conferences. I'll go through each bullet here like I did then.
1. Logbook
I. Participation - Are you filling out your log book every day?
II. Legibility and neatness/organization - Can someone else pick up your logbook and understand what you're doing without context?
III. Completion - Does each entry have everything it needs? Include the following:
i. Date
ii. Pre-planning with signature of approval
iii. Reflection - What do we mean by that? Here are some examples:
a. Self-exploration / meta-cognition - Thinking about your thinking. What are you learning about yourself during this time?
b. In depth explanation of process and findings - What path did your thinking take? What problems did you come across, and how did you solve them? What were the answers?
c. Analysis of findings - What do you make of what you found? What can you generalize or apply to other areas? What does it all mean?
2. Presentation of findings
I. Communication of ideas - Can you explain what you did in a way that everyone else understands and learns from, too?
II. Advocating for self - Are you enthusiastic about what you're learning? If someone is critical of you, do you stick up for yourself and what you're doing?
3. Weekly conferences
As you can see, the logbooks were the backbone of the project. It was a difficult line for me to address because I wanted to demonstrate to other teachers, parents, and administrators that this plan could work. I wanted them to be a physical representation of students learning on their own with minimal guidance, but to do that, I had to set a secure infrastructure. I wanted to leave enough room for the students to explore and be able to come up with their own, innovative ideas, and I knew that involves being able to fail. It's so much to learn in just a month. I knew it wasn't reasonable, so I built myself a safety net. I started a spreadsheet of what I noticed the students doing each day.


The truth is, I hated keeping this. I felt like I was judging my students on something they shouldn't be judged on. Isn't that all grading in a nutshell? Yet this felt worse, somehow.. Like I was giving them false freedom. Like I was keeping secrets from them. It felt like judgement, but it never entered into how I graded. It's just what I had to do to ascertain that I was still doing my job as a public school teacher, and I still hated it all the while.

It did, however, free me from keeping unnecessarily close tabs on the logbooks. Once they were created, I let the students conduct their business in whatever way they wanted and only asked them about their process during conferences. Thus, they knew what the expectations were and could choose to act on them or not, hence the pages being kept for reference and being revisited during conferences. They knew that the expectation was they kept their entries dated, for example, and could decide how much not doing that counted off of their own grade.

Here's an example of what one looked like. Again, the sophomore teaching herself Russian. (She chose to use the backs of scrap paper, as I did in my own journals. Other students used lined paper.)


The presentations were a little difficult to get started, my students all being hesitant to talk about themselves and having been instilled with a fear of the word "Presentation." My Juniors, however, were extremely grateful to realize that they didn't have to be formal presentations and arranged themselves into a big circle on the floor on presentation days. They went around the circle describing what they were learning and answering questions from the others. It was informal and pleasant, and it went so well that the biggest struggle we had was the time limit because of the bell system.

My favorite part of the entire project were the weekly conferences. I met with each student in their own space, joining them on the floor or in the desks, and let them flow through the Conference Sheet at their own pace, expounding on whatever they felt most important. I got to hear their genuine voices during these times, how they thought and what interested them. I asked them questions about their work and process, and then asked them what they would grade themselves, which was an incredibly interesting undertaking. Some students were hypercritical of themselves while others weren't as much, but, regardless, I always asked them how they would improve during the following week. It was an honest, authentic conversation, and one in which I felt like I was doing my best work as a teacher. This speaking quietly with students in a relaxed environment, listening as they explain what interests them and how they can and are growing as humans, while the other students work and play conversate and live around us.. This is what teaching is about for me. <3

I know this was a unique experience for my students, and I hope that they got something out of it. My biggest hope is that they will remember these four weeks at some later time in their lives and that it sparks some sort of renewed flame in pursuing passions. Teaching is sewing seeds of inspiration that won't grow into anything noticeable for years. I have faith that in 10 or 15 years, this one month will make a difference in the lives of some of my students.

And as for now.. I may have found another transformation for those logbooks in a new project of my own... more on that later!

Monday, September 26, 2016

Ownership of Learning in a High School English Classroom

The most difficult thing about being a public school teacher in 2016 is that the students have given up all autonomy in their learning. Especially when they get to high school, they're completely accustomed to being fed lectures, work, problems, solutions, and techniques for every part of their day. By that point, they're even accustomed to being beat back down, and quickly!, every time they try to rebel against the system.

During my second year of teaching high school English, I wanted to give my students just a small taste of actual control.

I had designed my curriculum schedule for second semester very quickly. I probably only spent about 20 minutes on it at most. It looked like this:


My four grades each still had seven unite left, and it worked easier for me to teach the same unit with all four classes, just using different materials. My OCD found it much more manageable that way. However, for the sake of my students, for the sake of something I knew they would benefit from, I relinquished control. I gave them the opportunity to redesign the curriculum schedule.

Now, at this point, I knew giving them complete control would be too much. They wouldn't be able to handle that sort of shift suddenly, so I'd have to decide what was on the table. I gave them each the list of seven units, and they decided how long each should take and how to order them. It was extremely interesting watching how the problem solving discussion evolved differently among each class!

Here's what they came up with:

 Freshmen

Sophomores 

Juniors 

Seniors

After our discussions, I transferred all the calendars to separate sheets of paper. At first I thought we could hang them on the insides of different cabinets and open them during the appropriate class, but with the flexible classroom, I had students sitting against the cabinets every hour. Thus, change of plans, I moved them to a pillar at the front of the room. It was a rather inconvenient spot when I lectured, but I tried not to lecture so much, anyway. Plus, I think it was more convenient for the students to be able to see their schedule at the front of the room.


And the results?

First, yes, I was a little bit crazier not having everyone on the same schedule, but it was definitely worth it. When my students have more autonomy, I can deal with a little OCD-related anxiety. I own that, and it's mine to deal with.

It was also very important to me to listen to my students likes and dislikes. I gave them all a suggested time frame of how long I thought each unit should take, but then we discussed and compromised. My freshmen collectively hated poetry. They had taken 8 units of poetry in their school career thus far, and they knew their preferences. Even though I had planned to spend two weeks on that unit, we realized together that one week would suffice. This was helpful to them because they got to avoid more time with something they already knew wasn't their favorite, but also helpful to me because I learned that they had a very limited attention span for that unit. I would need to pare it down to just the most important highlights because if I included anything remotely boring, I'd lose them.

Some students admitted to me a few weeks or a month into the second semester that they were really surprised I followed through with the curriculum schedules they came up with. When I asked why, they told me that they thought it was a gimmick I was trying to sell them to get them interested in class but would eventually go back on. I was sad that they had that impression, but even more glad that I had made the decision to go forward with this idea. A month or two into the new schedule, as everyone realized I actually was serious, my juniors even came to me with the idea to replace their Shakespeare play for that year with Beowulf! They convinced me that it was a piece of fiction with arguably more historical significance, and I agreed. The unit was changed.

Some students listed designing the curriculum schedule as their favorite part of being in my class that year in their evaluation survey, and that makes my heart sing. <3