I responded to a question posed to me by @drew via email: 'what made the Sweetwater offering a success?'. I've taken most of my response to that email, have added a preamble and edits and am posting it here for comment. [Items were added for this blog post, others were edited or rearranged. Yes, @drew - very different - Ed.]
This past week I’ve been spending a lot of time considering how the Offerings process works and what I would do to improve it. This has mostly taken the form of conversations with other ALFs, @abbyo @ryanshollenberger @bear (and now @drew via email).
We have an open process whereby anybody can come to the ALC and offer to lead a class, to make an offering. There are plenty of great examples of how this works well (in ALCnyc there is a regular ‘Go‘ session on Fridays; an acrobalance class on Thursday mornings etc). These activities are supported by those attending them. This is why we can say that ‘the curriculum is our passions’. Nobody is forced to do any of these lessons.
What happens when someone makes an offering that shows promise and real interest but never gets picked up by the students?
One reason that this works very well is that it frees up both the school and the volunteers from red-tape. You simply come to the school on a Monday, present your offering (‘I want to teach people breakdancing‘), stipulate any requirements/restrictions (‘I can only do this on Tuesdays‘; ‘I need people to commit to coming regularly to make it worthwhile’) and let the students determine their interest and ability to commit to the activity.
My concern is in balancing out the needs and expectations of those who are making offerings with the self-directed Agile Learning experience. What happens when someone makes an offering that shows promise and real interest but never gets picked up by the students?
While in Everett I responded to this concern directly. Sweetwater Nannauck, among others, had made offerings to the ALCE which had been posted onto a board that was meant to track these offerings. After speaking with Sweetwater it became obvious that she was frustrated and disappointed that there was no movement on this. She was volunteering sacred knowledge, had been invited into the community to do such, and had not heard much since.
I had a real interest in this topic myself, so I decided to explore it further. I found that a lot of the students were very excited about Sweetwater’s ‘Ghost Stories’ offering and by extension many also interested in the other possibilities. I held coherence for this: I started moving the project forward with next steps (most of the steps came as prompts from others – thanks to Jeff, Sweetwater, Drew, Tommie). So in the end it felt like I was doing very little ‘work’, decisions had to be made by others, we needed drivers to drive us places etc.
What did we do differently?
What do I think was successful?
- It was one of a bunch of offerings that was more appealing (to the students) than others. There was still a degree of choice here. We could have pushed to do Tim’s gardening project first (there was ‘juice’ for that project too).
- Sweetwater is a powerful personality. There is no washiness with her. People are drawn to listen her by virtue of this strength of presence. In the ALC/self-directed environment it is too easy to let the teacher role become slippery (‘we are all teachers…’).
- There was a relatively clear outcome with this project. It had a limited SCOPE.
- The finished weaving was something that we had to share with someone else. [Remember Ethan giving his mom the half finished piece at dinner. He caught himself giving her something that he wasn’t that proud of. He finished it the next day, with help.]
- The finished piece had immediate relevance in their personal relationships (Ethan’s mom).
- Doing it for others means that we impose higher standards on what we deem acceptable/done.
- It was time sensitive and we responded to the awareness of this with action.
- It was something that I thought would be fun to do in its own right. It wasn’t ‘good medicine’ to resolve a gap in knowledge.
- Other associated projects shared the same content area. This was a practical project related to our broader curiosity. We had gone on an excursion to the Tulalip Museum and had already seen some pretty amazing weavings and had learnt about the importance of cedar.
Room to improve?