Episode 36


Episode 36: Learning to Write

We’re continuing our “core skills” series (which we started with Learning to Read) by discussing how students at a self-directed democratic school learn the essential skill of writing. We’re joined on this episode by AVS graduates Jesse and Vanessa who talk about how the extensive communication they engaged in at school translated into their adult lives as interesting communication careers. We all know written communication is foundational, and you can find out how our students engage with, and find their passion for, the written word on this episode of the Alpine Valley School podcast! 

Also available on YouTube

Want more? 

  • Hear Jesse and Vanessa share more of their personal journeys on their individual podcast episodes. 

  • Watch a video about the 3 R’s (reading, writing, arithmetic) in Sudbury Schooling. 

  • Read a blog post about how the skills learned at self-directed democratic schools translate into real-world job experience. 

  • Hear from another set of Alpine Valley School graduates about how they learned to read at our school. 

  • Read an article from Sudbury Valley School about how students at Sudbury schools go on to college. 

Get in touch with the show! Send us an email at: podcast@alpinevalleyschool.com 

Episode Transcript:

Marc: (00:00)
Hello and welcome to the Alpine Valley School podcast. I'm your host, Marc Gallivan. This is episode 36 of our show and we are continuing with our core learning series that we started last episode with learning to read. Today we're going to be discussing how students at our school learn to write. You can find show notes for this episode at Alpine Valley school.com/podcast/ep36 for episode 36 before we get into that, I just want to give one housekeeping note that we have an additional way to support Alpine valley school with a service called donation line. You can donate your used vehicle, car boat, RV, jet Ski Snowmobile, pretty much anything on wheels or that is a mode of conveyance and send that to our fundraising partner donation line and they will donate the proceeds from the item to our school. Ah, we've gotten some great donations in the past from the service, so I wanted to share it with our listeners in case you're looking for another way to help support the school to find out more. You can go to Alpine valley school.com/support and that shows you all the ways that you can support the work we're doing here. As I said today on our show, we're talking about learning to write and I've got two great graduates today that are going to to share their stories on how they learned to write at our school. So let's jump right in.

Marc: (01:25)
Let's meet the graduates you'll be hearing from today.

Vanessa: (01:28)
My name is Vanessa and I am a podcaster. I'm a writer. I um, work in communications basically and I just graduated with a post baccalaureate diploma in communication as my second degree and I'm trying to think. I graduated from AVS in 2004

Jesse: (01:55)
My name is Jesse Alford. I am a software engineer, pivotal software. My formal education runs about to that of huckleberry Finn, which is something that I'm somewhat fond of. I work in a collaborative environment, requires a lot of communication and writing code, but also writing documentation.

Marc: (02:18)
How do you use your writing skills in your work life?

Jesse: (02:23)
People often think of writing as being, especially as a passion being about fiction. But when I think about writing and where my passion for writing draws me in the work environment is much more around technical documentation, commit messages, documents, or even extemporaneous bits of writing, whether they're on a whiteboard or you know, chat room, trying to explain concepts and reach consensus and all right. Get ideas across both with that, you know, and work with closely and with people where you have to build up an entire context. So you end up having to think about, okay, what exactly is my audience know which pieces of information that I excited about the topic may wish to include, do they not actually need in order to think about this the way I'm hoping to help them think about this. So like, I think this is a specific representation of the stereotypical belief that communication is the most important and complicated and ongoing process in an organization, whether it's a corporation or a nonprofit or whatever. It's just all these little pieces of communication often written that tie the organization together and make it exist.

Vanessa: (03:43)
So communication involves writing in many different ways. Um, yeah, and I was saying earlier that I'm a podcaster and you would think, oh, podcasting, it's a very audio based. Um, it's something that, uh, you might not think would involve a lot of writing, but it really does like you need to be able to plan and episode, which might involve writing notes to yourself. It might involve research, which, um, honestly you can't do without being able to. Right. Um, it might involve interviewing somebody and writing down the interview questions after you've researched that person. Um, and it involves writing show notes. Um, podcasting is super involved with writing. I also do communication for a nonprofit and um, I work on the social media, I write blog posts. Um, I write emails like writing touches every single thing that I do. Pretty much. Yeah. It's funny because I always said to myself, I want to be a writer when I grow up. Like when I was, you know, a teenager or whatever. And I'm not necessarily somebody who has published a book, but I am a writer because I'm writing all the time in so many different ways.

Marc: (04:53)
How would you describe your writing life while you were at Alpine Valley School?

Vanessa: (04:59)
I wrote like all the time. I don't think there was a day that I was at AVS where I wasn't working on something, whether it was a poem that I randomly thought of or a story that I actually wanted to finish or, um, an assignment for class. Cause I think actually the three of us were in sort of a quote unquote English class with one of the staff members, Bruce. Um, and I actually learned in that class basically how to write an essay, which I didn't really know how to do before. And then I went on to, you know, now get two university degrees and that kind of thing. Like writing was like my whole life at aps. I don't even know what more to say. I just was writing all the time. I had said earlier that I kind of had always wanted to be a writer. I've been writing since actually before I could even write, like, you know, I would draw pictures and tell stories through the pictures and then I learned how to write. So I started writing instead of drawing pictures. So I think that's just something that's always been a passion of mine and has always been there. But I, I think honestly that when I was in public school, I felt like my writing passion was squashed a little bit and I'm not a hundred percent sure why that was. I think maybe because I didn't have the space to really explore and have the freedom to really dig deeper than myself and write things that I wanted to write. So at being at AVS, I just had this like tremendous freedom two, take that passion and do what the what I wanted to.

Jesse: (06:40)
Okay. Uh, so I was driven to write by two things and one of them I didn't really recognize as writing even before I came to AVS. Uh, I wrote a fair amount and it was very weird. It was not what people were asking me to do. I liked technical manuals as a kid and like, no, not, I'm not talking about technical manuals for printers. I got into those later. I'm talking about, it's the star trek technical manual, right? Like a, a piece, a this, this thick book, dry describing this fake technology and including a lot of diagrams of how phasers and transporters and tractor beams work. I kept some of the Ephemera from there and I can go through it and see, you know, listing outs of uh, how much ammunition and how many days of water. This spaceship that I was thinking about carried and I had stories in mind for this and I think some of it was inspired by, you know, I was at a Montessori School before AVS so teachers would, you know, assign a story writing assignment. And I would do the minimum number of words or whatever to actually create the story they were asking for. And then on my free time I would generate this expansive and detailed accounting of the exact technical capabilities starship. I'd imagine once I was at AVS there was a lot of imaginative play and some of that came with textual support. I, in addition to having the imagined to play, take something like dungeons and dragons, there would be the adventure notes. There would be the plot notes or the, the character design a notes on ideas for development that I wanted to see maybe players lean into. Uh, cause I, I run it ran a den and under the dragons game for years. As for the writing class, I actually only ever joined two formal classes in my time at AVS, Japanese and writing. I joined them in the same year and for the same reason, which was that I had a crush. So Japanese did not take. The homework was hard. So I stopped. I stayed in the writing class for a very long time because it was very interesting and satisfying. Okay. Well I decided that I was going to join the writing class. I wrote the first poem that I am aware of having written, certainly the first poem that I wrote because I wanted to write a poem and not because someone was trying to make me do something. I settled into trying to write fiction, like the fiction that I enjoyed in addition to this weird stuff. Uh, the third category of writing, which again was crush- driven, very important for an educational plan for a teenage boy, was chats, online chats. I learned it type and you know, I was interested in this, this cool girl who wrote and cared about English. So I, I, I learned to be, you know, use correct punctuation, capitalization and spelling use good sentence structure and B, Clever and enjoyable and communicative in a chat context. I practiced that it really hard, long hours probably with instant feedback. Right? Cause you the girl is either impressed or she's not. And that was also a big piece of what ended up being my chat client voice. Like my written voice, which has continued to be a distinct asset years on.

Marc: (10:23)
So how do students at AVS learn to write?

Jesse: (10:26)
Uh, first time I tried my hand at being a JC clerk, I wrote really good notes for JC and it took far too much time and it wasn't sustainable and it burned out. But I wrote those really good notes and people kept doing that. Right? These procedural moments, whether it's the minutes of school meeting or uh, complaints. Even when you're writing someone up for the judicial committee or the, or capturing minutes in a meeting, any sort of, you know, the stuff we were talking about earlier, the procedural communication that makes an organization exist. It's actually something that the students participate in. So I forgot that whole layer of it. And then as you were asking the question of like, oh, what are, how do people learn to write at AVS? There's this whole layer of the experience that generalizes to a bunch of other people. Okay. And then there's people who, you know, much like learning to read by playing video games, end up learning to write in order to do fan fiction or tell each other theories about video games. There's participation in internet discussions and forums. Uh, there are group chats that's more and more a thing. So it's just really woven through the AVS experience. And if you, I mean, you don't, I was going to say, if you can't, right, you can't participate, but it doesn't really work that way. No one can't write. They learn to write so that they can participate

Vanessa: (11:49)
I remember the younger kids sometimes coming up to me and saying, I want to write up so and so, you know, take them to JC. Um, but I can't write, can you help me? So I would help them. I wasn't going to sit there and be like, okay, I'm going to teach you how to write. No. Um, but I, I would write it for them and I'd be like, okay, tell me what you want me to say and I'll put it down. Um, and I also remember as those kids grew up, um, realizing that they wanted to have that agency to write somebody up. So they had to figure out how to do it. And I remember I'm one of the younger girls coming up to me and being like, can you help me write up this person? Um, I want to do it myself, but can you tell me if I'm doing it right? And this memory just came back to me and I remember feeling like, oh, yes, of course. Like I felt really honored. Um, I was at AVS from 2000 2004. Writing was definitely a huge thing, but it's really a huge thing now. Like Jesse was saying, group texts, um, group chats, texting each other on phones like we need to be able to right in this day and age, so to speak. And I imagine that those kinds of technologies have really even become more used at AVS. Like I remember being at AVS and we were like, you know, Ooh, we have cable internet, you know, and now it's like, uh, everybody's got a phone I'm assuming. And you know, things have really changed. So, um, I just think that it's, it's just hard to avoid having to write. And I would be very surprised if there was ever a kid who came out of AVS not being able to write.

Marc: (13:25)
That does it for episode 36 of our show, you can find show notes for this episode at alpinevalleyschool.com/podcast/ep36 for episode 36. As always, thanks for listening. I'm Marc Gallivan. This is the Alpine Valley chool podcast, and we'll be back again soon with more stories of real learning for real life.