We are in the last weeks of the inaugural Independent Seminar. If you have been following the Independent Seminar blog you know that each of the students involved is pursuing a very different passion. In mid-December they each wrote a final blog post and are now writing self-reflections as they put the finishing touches on their projects.
I have been trying to decide how to describe my role as it has evolved. What follows are some terms that do and don’t fit.
Facilitator– I have helped them at different points along the way to find the person they need or to talk through an idea. For Isabel’s performance I helped her think through all the support people and scheduling hurdles she would need to negotiate in planning her performance. I connected Eric with our Lower School Principal so that he could set up a day long visit. Tristan and Habeeb’s poetry jam took a different sort of facilitation — assuaging the concerns of teachers that the assembly would be too provocative (it wasn’t).
Mentor — Lyra and I discussed feminist theories of writers and wondered aloud what her French fairy-tale writers were challenging. Emma needed help from time to time talking through a writing idea. Taylor wanted to discuss the writing process. Nate needed to try out his ideas on the Alawites. Shuangcheng needed to talk through his frustrations with Westtown’s performance at a math competition. Chester, writing a computer program, probably thought I had little to offer and yet we talked through the steps he needed to follow and the problems he was encountering. I didn’t have answers, but I did have the sense to help him consider his program from different perspectives.
Administrator/Conductor — I am not sure about these two.Certainly, I have had final say on publishing each post and seeing to it that the posts happen on time. I have alerted other administrators that students would be coming their way to set up use of the theater, schedule final presentations, or visit classes. I have kept in contact with mentors and made sure students fulfilled the intent of their original proposals. I haven’t been able to pull the eleven into a semi-cohesive group seeing themselves as supportive and more than mildly interested in each other’s work. Efforts to have them comment on and read each other’s blogs have been sporadic at best.
Teacher — One of the skills we have focused on is blogging. Over the course of the semester each student has received feedback on everything from grammar, to tone, to using images to add interest. What’s interesting and challenging is the awareness they have that what they write goes out to a wide, unknown audience and a resistance to adopt techniques to improve that reach such as adding hyperlinks or sharing their posts on their Facebook and tumblr pages. Our college counselor wished that each blogger had attended to the over all quality of their writing (as did I). As a teacher of blogging I give myself a B- and look forward to having the opportunity to improve!
Another skill reinforced was creating an annotated bibliography. Taylor’s bibliography includes sources on ammunition, Isabel’s focuses on the pieces she selected for her recital. Each has expanded his or her understanding of this most basic of tools for recording and focusing one’s work.
In the next two weeks all of their work will come in, I will read their self-reflections, check in with our librarian about the quality of their bibliographies, sit in on their presentations and defenses, check in with their mentors, write summative comments and assign grades. This feels teacherly.
In spite of or perhaps because of the muddiness of my own role, everyone involved in this first go round feels this experiment in education has been hugely successful.