Teaching in the 21st Century

Traci GardnerTraci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.

Yes, And . . . I Still Want to Try Connected Learning

posted: 5.29.12 by Traci Gardner

I’ve been talking about connected learning in the composition classroom for over two months now. Why? Because the connected learning model offers possibilities for engaging students in authentic learning experiences that take advantage of their interests outside the classroom in ways that broaden and deepen their learning.

Still, the connected learning model brings many challenges to the typical college composition classroom. Just last week, for instance, I wrote about the difficulty of addressing student interests in a diverse classroom of randomly assigned students. The more I learn about connected learning, the more questions I have about whether this model is possible in a traditional college classroom. I understand how it works in libraries and after-school programs, but I still question how it would work in a customary college writing program. I’ll even confess that, recently, I have been wondering if I have been pursuing something impossible.

But despite my pessimistic questions, I respond: “Yes, and . . . I still want to try Connected Learning.” I owe my change in thought to Jane Lynch’s Commencement Address at Smith College (and to Chris Boese for passing the link along on Facebook). Here’s the video:

In her speech, Lynch focuses on the philosophy she learned while doing improv, the notion of “Yes, and . . .”:

“YES AND” is the vital and only rule of improvisation. Never deny your fellow actor. You should be willing and able to accept whatever your fellow improviser throws at you. Use that as your jumping off point and expand it. “Heighten and explore,” as we call it.

Lynch applies her philosophy of accepting whatever happens and moving on to every aspect of life. She explains, “You can’t make a cloudy day a sunny day, but can embrace it and decide it’s going to be a good day after all.”

This little nugget of advice came at just the right moment for me. Yes, connected learning is different from what is customarily taught in the writing classroom. Yes, it’s difficult to find common interests in a random distribution of students you see only three hours a week. Yes, there are challenges to address and questions to answer. Yes, and . . . I still want to try connected learning in the college composition classroom.

What about you? Are you willing to say “Yes, and…”? Are you interested in trying connected learning? Do you want to learn more about the model? As always, I’d love to have you join me at the next Connected Learning webinar session, or have you leave me a comment below or drop by my page on Facebook or Google+.



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One Response to “Yes, And . . . I Still Want to Try Connected Learning”

  1. Jack Solomon, CSUN Says:

    If “connected learning” simply means finding something that interests students from outside the ordinary classroom experience, then Sonia Maasik and I have been promoting connected learning since the first edition of Signs of Life in the USA: Readings On Popular Culture for Writers appeared in 1994. Through seven editions of the book, our main premise has been that in an entertainment culture, most of our students are likely to feel a powerful connection to popular culture, and that composition classes can make use of that feeling of connection in teaching critical thinking and writing skills. It is significant that a speech from an entertainer is the source of inspiration in your blog, and that most of the examples that I have read of students identifying what they connect to involve entertainment in some way (writing film scripts and so on). Thanks to the near universal sense of connection with popular culture, one does not need to worry too much about how to find something that a diverse and randomly selected group of students will connect with in a common interest. Popular culture is that something.

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