April 21, 2020

The Workshop Update: Two Weeks In

How we’re creating an inclusive and reflective learning community…remotely
by Andy Housiaux

“Mr. Housiaux, you are now running an experiment on an experiment.” These words from a former student have been in my head often during these opening weeks of the Workshop. We had always seen the Workshop as an opportunity to re-examine the fundamental building blocks of schooling: time, space, grades, assessment, student agency. We just didn’t realize we would be doing so remotely during a global pandemic as well.

Nevertheless, we’re off to a strong start, due to the extensive planning of the faculty, the good will and enthusiasm of our students, and our shared commitment to making this undertaking a meaningful educational experience for all involved. As we’ve done this work, three major areas of importance have emerged:

  • the centrality of communication and community
  • the need to design learning experiences, not classes
  • the deep value of introducing students to models of excellence

Communication and Community

When talking with Global Online Academy’s Eric Hudson about our new undertaking, he encouraged us to think of ourselves as a remote team that would need to standardize certain protocols and procedures around communication. Led by Nick Zufelt [instructor of math, statistics, and computer science], we have set up a learning environment that prioritizes regular communication. We have daily Flipgrid videos replacing a morning meeting, goal-setting check-ins to small advisory groups, and evening reflections and check-outs about how well learning went (or did not go) on the day that just ended. Even though we cannot have the in-person community we hoped for, these technological tools help us fulfill our pedagogical aims: community-building, goal-setting, and metacognitive reflection.

Design Learning Experiences, not Classes

This point was articulated beautifully in a recent tweet by Milton Academy’s Director of Teaching and Learning, Indu Chugani Singh. When we realized that we would not ever be in the same room with our students, we had to reflect carefully on how best to design for deep learning and engagement. For us, that has meant a combination of the daily communication rituals described above, weekly blog posts and textual discussions via Flipgrid, and multi-week, open-ended projects.

Students are currently revising blog posts for publication on our blog and designing projects about “Community, Class, and Crisis.” They are reflecting on food supply chains in local communities; interviewing neighbors and family members; surveying Andover peers to learn about discussion pedagogies in humanities classes; and researching questions of educational access in a local school district. When these individual projects are completed, they will work together to curate and publish an online journal, perhaps in the style of Lapham’s Quarterly.

Models of Excellence

What does excellent work look like? To help our students better understand the quality of work expected of them, we asked them to study and analyze an example of the kind of work they sought to produce: what specific features make it compelling? What artistic and authorial choices were made, and how can students reflect on these choices and transfer this deeper understanding to their own work? Lapham’s Quarterly is one example of a compelling publication that brings together disparate articles around a common theme. This pedagogical approach is inspired by Ron Berger and EL Education. When students see examples of thoughtful work, they have a clearer mental model of what excellence can look like. And when they study it closely and identify how to make an argument effectively, communicate clearly, and engage an audience, they gain transferrable skills that will benefit them long after the project—or the Workshop—concludes.


*We look forward to updating you on the ways we are (re)imagining the Workshop, our connection with students, and our approaches to teaching and learning. Follow us on Twitter, Instagram, and Medium. Subscribe to our monthly newsletter, Notes on Learning.

Categories: The Workshop, Featured

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