Meditations on a Cogen (No. 0) • Pre-school year thoughts on cogens

During the 2021-22 school year I’m having weekly co-generative dialogues (or cogens) with my students. In an effort to help me process these talks and document progress, I summarize and write reflections after each cogen. This is the 0th post in the series.

In June, at the end of the school year, a student of mine described our weekly co-generative dialogue as, “A meeting where you can talk to your teacher and other students about the class and what the teacher can improve on.” Another said, “It’s a safe space where we can talk about anything, but most likely about the class and how it’s going. The student gives feedback and the teacher tries to use that feedback in class.” When reflecting on the effects of the co-generative dialogue, a third student mentioned, “We had more control of how our learning was structured. We got to say our ideas about the class and actually have them taken into consideration.”

Those comments were the result of 24 co-generative dialogues (cogens) I had with 19 different students last year. Each session had 4-6 students, an occasional colleague, and me. We came together every Friday for 30+ minutes to find solutions to making my virtual classroom a success. I started my cogens in October and held them through June. They were both insightful and therapeutic. Midyear, I used a blogpost to reflect on my successes and share my motivations for wanting to keep them going after remote learning.

As I return to school this week, I’m excited to make a steep investment into cogens. Obviously, with in-person learning making its much-needed return this year, things are going to be a little different. Last year I remember thinking about how much more effective in-person cogens could be. The eye contact, the smiles, the shaking of the head — these small conversational details should elevate what my students and I accomplish this year in our talks. Rooted in natural, face-to-face conversation, cogens are not designed to be experienced through a screen and impersonal Zoom icons. After a year of doing them remotely, I finally get the chance to tap into their true magic.

This doesn’t mean I’m not rethinking them. One issue that’s staring me down as I type this sentence is timing. Cogens are worth the investment, but last year, with the flexibility of remote learning, we (my students and I) were able to schedule them conveniently and efficiently. We won’t have that luxury this year. Also, last year, a major obstacle for me was not knowing anyone else who was doing cogens. I advocated in earnest for them and understood their utility, but I had no one to connect to and share ideas with. This year, thankfully, I’ve found a small group of teachers through my fellowship at MƒA who will be meeting once a month to do just that. We’ll also be diving into the research behind these transformative spaces which, I hope, will sprout even more ideas.

In the end, the goal is — just like last year — to simply position myself as a learner from my students. To give them their rightful place at the table. If I can do this, if I can continue to push myself to view my students as key sources of intellectual, social, emotional, and pedagogical insight, then I think my cogens will work out just fine.


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