What Did You Learn Manifesto

Why

In my life, I’ve had two transformational moments in education. The first was in fifth grade, where I was given the power to leverage my curiosity through self-directed learning and technology. The second was in high school, when I entered the International School of Communications (affectionately known as the ISC). The experiences I had in my freshman year at the ISC will be the focus of this declaration. I could go on ad nauseum about why I loved the ISC so much, and I probably will at some point, but it suffices to say that the ISC was a school designed to challenge the archetype of the average American high school. It was a school designed for student empowerment, dedicated to celebrating failure, devoted to learning not for school, but for life.

A key component of this vision was reflection. I didn’t realize it until my senior year at the school, but reflection was something that was baked into the DNA of the ISC’s pedagogy. From the first week of high school, we were asked to write reflections called “What Did You Learn This Week”s, or WDYLs, doing just that – reflecting on the past week and communicating what we learned.

These WDYLs were a simple concept, but were also the first time I remember being asked by a teacher to stop, be mindful, and breathe – mindfulness and breath required not only inhaling, but exhaling as well. Breathe in. Intake new information. Try new things. Present deliverables. Breathe out. Reflect. What did you learn? How did you learn it? What could you have done better? What did you do well? Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in, breathe out. The rhythmic pattern of writing a WDYL every Friday was calming. It was a time carved out of the week for ourselves. It was a time for comprehension, not for instruction.

Information is an undigested burden unless it is understood […] And understanding, comprehension, means that the various parts of the information acquired are grasped in their relations to one another – a result that is attained only when acquisition is accompanied by constant reflection upon the meaning of what is studied.

John Dewey

How

It’s been four years since I graduated from the ISC, and eight years since I was introduced to the WDYL. I’ve thought many times about bringing back the practice of writing WDYLs, only to have the ambition fall prey to doing more. Studying, programming, making videos, travelling, friends, family, etc… But, as my mom once told me, doing more is only half the battle – being more, loving more…those were better battles to fight.

So, while I have practiced reflective thought intermittently, this manifesto is a commitment to myself to bring back the rhythm.

What

Once weekly, I will write a WDYL. I will share my WDYLs to have some semblance of accountability, no matter how imagined that accountability may be. I will do my best to reflect on what I care about most in the moment of writing. I will be 100% honest.

I have more ideas about how to incorporate reflection in my life (some of which are already works in progress), but this is my start. I look forward to the challenge.

  • Austin