#7 Reflecting on the Past

As the year wraps up and I go over the work that I have done in What’s the Story, I am impressed with all of the work that everyone has done. To be even more specific, I have improved significantly in both the Four Lifelong Skills and in other fields which were more unexpected than the skill set focused on by What’s the Story. I broke down each Lifelong Skill to reflect on how I have improved in each category. Also, I am reflecting on my unexpected pieces of learning. These pieces of learning represent all that I have discovered during the past school year, and especially What’s the Story.


The first area of the Four Lifelong Skills is Self-Direction. I have improved significantly in the topic of Self-Direction between the kickoff in September and now. First, I have improved in being able to do work without any major teacher help, which is very helpful because in What’s the Story you can’t have in-person meetings with your mentor very often. Also, I have improved in the area of feedback use (WtS Lifelong Skill 1.4). I have become much better at taking notes of feedback and following through with peer or mentor suggestions. An example for that is that my partner and I both took very complete notes of all of everyone’s feedback, including our notes and thoughts, during the May retreat where our video was shown to a significantly large portion of the cohort and most of the mentors. Furthermore, I have improved in initiative and responsibility (WtS Lifelong Skill 1.3) over these eight months of What’s the Story. In addition,  I have improved in identifying and pursuing questions (WtS Lifelong Skill 1.1). Personally, that means coming up with our big questions, breaking them up into smaller sub-questions, and trying to find answers for the smaller questions. This mainly occurred in the fall section. I have also improved in managing learning (WtS Lifelong Skill 1.2). I have worked with all of the tools that I have been given, asked questions or feedback when answers were necessary, worked through various technical difficulties, and used technology to help set, check, and meet deadlines. One technical difficulty that my group experienced was Google Hangouts randomly stopping working, which was problematic because that was originally intended to be the main source of communication. Still we worked a way through that problem and found new ways to contact each other. In conclusion, I have evidently done a sizable amount of work on the topic of Self-Direction during this school year.

This year, I have also improved in the skill set relating to Responsible and Involved Citizenship because of What’s the Story. One area which I have improved in is proposing positive change (WtS Lifelong Skill 2.1). For me this means making vision statements and a pitch or goal for change. I have done a lot of that in the past few months because of the What’s the Story involvement with the program Courageous Stage. Specifically, we worked with them on working on being ready to give a pitch and speak publicly. To add to that, I have ameliorated my teamwork (WtS Lifelong Skill 2.4) skills. My group successfully assigned roles, corresponded with our mentor, and planned precisely when we would work on different parts of the materials and film. Even though there were some troubles, we still worked out the matters eventually. Furthermore, I have advanced my self-awareness (WtS Lifelong Skill 2.5) skill set. I have worked on finding what skills I can contribute to our group and how I can learn what I need to learn best. In addition, over the What’s the Story term, I have built upon my previous skills relating to the topic of analysis of points of view (WtS Lifelong Skill 2.2). One example I can offer is that when I was researching, I found that many people had very different points of view regarding school bullying and harassment prevention programs all over the country. Many of these perspectives have logical reasoning behind why people might have a certain opinion. One problem that I struggled with originally was finding a good vision statement, which eventually resolved itself as I chose to pursue both bullying and harassment prevention. In summary, I have advanced my skills in the aforementioned area within these last eight months.

In addition, I can see definite improvements in another Lifelong Skill; the field of Informed and Integrative Thinking. For example, I have built significantly on top of my previous knowledge regarding the topic of interpreting, analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing information (WtS Lifelong Skill 3.1). This skill set is important because it helps you make connections between different sources, no matter if they are interviews, articles, blogs, or anecdotes. It also helps you find what the main points are of the information you have. An example of me doing that with proficiency is my mind map (blog post four). I made many different connections between my numerous sources about the topics that I thought were important to the current state of mind that I was in. Another example of my improvements in the aforementioned area is in the category of systems thinking (WtS Lifelong Skill 3.2). For me, this means finding the parts of a topic and how exactly they interact with each other. My mind map also provides an excellent example for how I have improved in this topic. This topic is important because it relates to organizing and summarizing information to make an easier time for the synthesis and convenient use of the now organized information. Furthermore, I have improved in the topic of creating claims and backing them up with evidence (WtS Lifelong Skill 3.3). This is important because a solid claim and explanatory evidence make an argument or statement much better for reasoning and sense. I had struggled in the beginning of the year with this category because I did not write enough matter that my claims were easily backed up with solid reasoning. All in all, I think that the knowledge which this topic in general gives is important if you want to make a strong argument for the world to see and understand.

The final Lifelong Skill is Clear and Effective Communication. I believe that of all of the Lifelong Skills, I have improved the most in this one. One section of that topic that I have improved in is the organization of my writing (WtS Lifelong Skill 4.2). To me, this means using the format of brainstorm when necessary, using more eloquent and complete writing when the context is right, and making mind maps when they are the most effective way of communicating the ideas to the reader, and so on. This makes sure that your writing is in an appropriate form when it is necessary and that you do not need to waste time trying to write elegantly when you are brainstorming ideas. Another topic of this skill set is active listening (WtS Lifelong Skill 4.1). I can offer my second and third blog posts as examples. This means taking notes, participating fully in discussions, and synthesizing the information from the discussions, other sources, or your notes taken down. Also, I can offer the complete notes that I took of the feedback from our video’s viewing as another example for that field. Furthermore, I have gotten better at the skill of finding the purpose, audience, and context (WtS Lifelong Skill 4.3). During our in-person work sessions we worked a lot with trying to find our purpose and audience. This helps you use the correct tone and most fitting style of organization for the audience you will have. The last skill that this area focuses on is storytelling (WtS Lifelong Skill 4.4). Personally, this skill means using storytelling techniques to elicit the intended impact from the audience, whoever they may be. For an example, I can offer my video documentary, as it is a narrative intended to elicit action from watchers. In the beginning of the year, I did not know how to use the cameras or what tools make a documentary great. By now, I have mastered the basic use of the provided cameras and suggested storytelling devices. I believe that this skill set has been the most important to making our documentary, which is why it is so important that people doing What’s the Story learn these skills. Still, this has not been the whole of my learning with What’s the Story this year. (cut at 1380)

A significant portion of the learning that I have done was non-correspondent to the Four Lifelong Skills. For example, I figured out how to work with WeVideo, the video editor that What’s the Story made available to participants. This was partially tricky because before the program, I had only knowledge of how to use iMovie, another video editor. The two editors are partially similar, but there are some fundamental differences between the ways they operate. For example, I had to work with learning how to create scrolling credits by hand because WeVideo doesn’t have an embedded scrolling credit engine. Even though it took me a week, I finally figured out how to make the credits go at a reasonable speed and how to get the What’s the Story logo to scroll with them. Another piece of unexpected learning that I had was learning how to get people to answer your questions the way that you want in interviews and how to get people to turn in video release forms. It took the first five or so interviews before I got the hang of asking the right questions to get the wanted answers. Still, it took a month or so between the interview and when the interviewee would return their release. One person who goes to my school required a month of daily nagging about turning in the form before they actually sent in the form to the project library. I also learned about how interviews work. I had gone in to the program without much, if any, prior knowledge about how video documentary makers interview the people in their film and how it is sometimes very difficult to schedule an interview. One of my various interviewees, an adult who lives in a different town than mine, took a month of back and forth dialogue before I could schedule a good time for the interview for both of us. On that matter, I learned that making a documentary involves a great deal of persistence, patience, and dialogue before it starts to form shape. Furthermore, I learned about the many perspectives that people, especially students, have about bullying, harassment, and how to prevent them from occurring in schools. I also learned about the many different forms of bullying and harassment, which include physical, verbal, and cyber bullying, and racial and under the protected categories for harassment. This learning helped me understand how some have very different ideas about what harassment is. To add to that, I have learned how social activists and change makers elicit the intended action from their audience. This is important because the goal of What’s the Story is to get youth from all over Vermont to become change makers by making documentaries and learning skills that help produce change. One thing that we did to work on these skills was to work on speaking publicly. The activities relating to this were led by Courageous Stage and occurred during two retreats (the March and May retreats) and one in-person meeting (the April cohort meeting). During the April meeting’s work on this, the whole cohort wrote a few sentences about who they are. Next, four people were called up. Two people stood and two people sat down, but were still in front of the audience (everyone else). They systematically read their speeches and then changed spaces with the two other people in front. After all four people had read their writing, four people were called up and traded places with someone. For me, this activity was not extremely difficult, seeing as I am an actor. Still, it helped work on things that are not important in theater, like eye contact or successfully watching the timekeeper. Personally, making eye contact with people I talk to is something that I moderately struggle with so the practice was helpful. All in all, I think that I have learned many perfectly valid things that do not fit under the Four Lifelong Skills.

I am certain that I have done more learning, both in and outside of the Four Lifelong Skills, but I chose these things to represent my learning this year in What’s the Story. I have learned and achieved much more than I had originally expected to learn when I signed up, which is a good thing. The program of What’s the Story has changed my perspective about how learning doesn’t need to stay in a classroom or even follow a strict curriculum such as the Common Core, but can just be free and more interactive.

Miles Ellis Novotny

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