A stella2.0 workshop: Dartmouth without the comfortable chairs!

It’s almost 50 years since the now famous conference in Dartmouth College in 1966, where a group of passionate English educators from diverse backgrounds gathered to discuss the teaching of English.

On Wednesday last week, 24 Feb 2016, another group of passionate English teachers, pre-service teachers and teacher educators gathered at VATE for the third and final workshop in the latest season of the stella2.0 project.

At the workshop, we reflected on some of the key concepts that arose from the Dartmouth conference, 50 years ago – in particular the so called ‘personal growth’ (PG) pedagogy. We began by considering our views and understandings of PG. The conversations lurched between pessimism – have we forgotten all that Dartmouth proposed about English teaching?  What has happened to the importance of meeting individual needs in a classroom? – and optimism, as we reflected on current classroom practices and our experiences of personal growth pedagogy amongst a sea of standards-based reforms.

Many of us spoke of feeling overwhelmed by the impact of standards-based reforms. In that mood, Dartmouth felt like a distant historical aberration, driven into the margins of time by standards rhetoric that is only interested in testable and standardised knowledge of English teaching and learning. Much time was spent unpacking the reasons for this focus on standards, as well as discussing strategies of how to still incorporate personal growth into our teaching within such an environment.

While there were moments of … well, despair, when people discussed school systems that try to ensure that every classroom is teaching the same lesson in the same way, overall the atmosphere was positive. Many believed that while the policy landscape may be currently focused on standards, the voices of teachers and educators are being heard – and they must be heard.

Similar to the other workshops in this season of stella2.0, there was an extended period of time for all delegates to write. Every one quickly settled into their stories, experiences and reflections. At my table, people who had focused on the negatives of standards reforms during earlier discussions and what they saw as the ‘loss of personal growth’ in the contemporary English classroom, then proceeded to produce powerfully inspiring pieces about an ongoing optimism amongst teachers, enhanced by the gathering of English educators in forums such as stella2.0.

Some of these thought-provoking pieces have already been uploaded to the stella2.0 Forums page.  We encourage you to have a look and post a comment. If you attended the workshop we encourage you to upload what you completed on the night, or a section of it, for the benefit of others, particularly those who could not attend. For those who were unable to attend, please do not feel that you cannot contribute to the discussion; the forum is for all English educators, not just those who attended the workshop. We encourage you to consider your views on personal growth pedagogy and its place in current English classrooms, and to add your voice (and writing) to the online forum discussion.

We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you for being involved in the stella2.0 workshops over the past few months. It has been a gathering of inspired and passionate English teachers and educators from a variety of backgrounds, sectors and experiences. In an educational climate that is focused on standards-based reforms it has been exciting to bring together educators who are committed to professional dialogue and writing that focuses on the how, why, what and when of the teaching of English.

We are not sure what form stella2.0 may take from here. Discussions have already begun to happen about next steps. If you have any suggestions or would like to continue to be involved please keep in contact with us. We would like to continue to stay in contact with all those who have been involved. The forum is for all of you so please feel free to start your own threads or add to the ones that are already there.


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