I Know What I Did This Summer

By Kim Jenkins, Assistant Director

The breeze is warm, some kids are walking up the path to go for a swim in the pool and I’ve landed a nice spot under a large oak tree.  Given the beautiful day my mind starts to drift off a bit as I think about the kids that just walked past — school will start for them in a couple of weeks and I wonder what their classroom will look like, I wonder if they will be asked to think about themselves as learners, I wonder if they will be encouraged to ask questions, to make mistakes, to get stuck and to find their way out of being stuck?  I wonder if they’ll be able to engage with their academic content not only in a way that is interesting to them but also at a level that is attainable yet still a challenge. I wonder if they will be given the opportunity to have voice and choice in their learning activities, if they will be asked to share about their home culture and have that appreciated, valued and pulled upon as a resource in their classroom?  I wonder if they will be able to get to know themselves as learners, and have some say over their lives?

Pulled back into reality, I realize that the talking stick has been handed off to me.  I am at the Culturally Responsive Practices in a Personalized Learning Environment sectional at the Institute’s 2014 Summer Camp.  The 1st grade team from 81st Street School (MPS) is leading this sectional — and they are starting our session with a simulation of their classroom’s morning meeting.  This meeting is one (of the many) ways that this team uses to get to know their students and their culture.  At this point, it is half way through our second day of camp and our participants are excited about this strategy and the content.  At this point though, they are more excited to converse with each other and it is quite amazing to see all the questions and connections being made between this topic and others that they’ve been learning about over the past two days.  If there was ever a dream group — this one is it.  After two days of varied content, they are clearly ready to pull it all together and figure out strategies for taking this material and these ideas back to their buildings and classrooms in a few short weeks.

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It has been a fun two days filled with thoughtful and thought provoking sessions.  A couple of the highlights include Jim Rickabaugh’s session on contextualizing and addressing “learning illnesses” (Who doesn’t lose focus and motivation once in a while?  How do we help our kids when they do?), our various teacher-led sessions that were embedded with process and strategy (a HUGE shout out to our teachers from Kenosha, Waukesha and Milwaukee that provided these valuable and energetic sessions), Jean Garrity’s sessions on “assessment as learning” and the development and use of rubrics and lastly, my own session on implementing authentic learner paths.

As the Institute continues to expand the scope of our Professional Development and continues to strive to meet the needs of both our newest and our more seasoned members, Summer Camp is a place that we push ourselves and our thinking outside of the box.  We feel that our participants did the same — and together we put ourselves in a new kind of learning environment, engaged in some new content, tried out some new ideas, allowed ourselves to ask questions, got stuck and then unstuck, watched the kids play in the pool, watched the ducks swim in the pond and, if need be, chased after the ice cream truck when it passed us by.

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That’s what I did this summer. What did you do?

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