Thursday, October 14, 2010

This I Believe Goes Global 10-11

For the past four years, I have had my classes write their versions of National Public Radio’s “This I Believe” segment. I was introduced to this idea by a colleague and have been always impressed by what my students hold as their personal values and beliefs. Writing these essays has allowed for them to do something they don’t get to do all that often at school - express their heartfelt beliefs.

After writing the essays the first year, we submitted them to NPR, but we also decided to podcast them ourselves – no need to wait to see if NPR might choose to broadcast them. The writing was good at expressing their values, but once their voice was added to their written expression, WOW, it simply transformed that personal essay. Instead of the words simply being words, the words conveyed deeply held emotions. Now, this is the standard.

Here are some previous class examples:
Period 2 06-07
Period 5 06-07
Period 3 06-07
Period 2 07-08
Period 5 07-08
Period 3 07-08
Wiki 09-10

We are approaching that time of year, when I am going to start the kids on this writing adventure, but this year I wanted to invite you in the blog-o-sphere to join us again. I want “This I Believe” to go global. I want my students to benefit not only from knowing what their peers believe, or what the other AHS classes believe, but to hear and see what the world values. What do kids elsewhere in the U.S. believe in? What do kids elsewhere in the world believe in? What do some of the learned professionals that I know believe in? I want my students to walk away from this experience realizing the power they have as professional writers as well as connecting to other teenagers and adults from around the world. I want to see them exchange ideas, foster relationships, and appreciate the variety of perspectives. Maybe you can challenge your principal, your school board members, your local politicians, heck, maybe your entire school. Maybe we can even get our President to write his own “This I Believe.”

So, how do we accomplish this? Karl Fisch, of course, is willing to be my master facilitator. He has set up a wiki (still a work in progress) that will provide the guidelines for the classes to follow. I am making Maura Moritz’s classes join us again, so there will be five classes (ninth grade, 14 and 15 years old) from AHS writing and podcasting their essays: Moritz 3, Moritz 4, Smith 1, Smith 2, and Smith 5. We are hoping to attract at least five other classes from around the world, one each to pair up with each of our five classes. If we get more than five classes that are interested, then we will try to pair up any additional classes with another class somewhere in the world.

If your class(es) are interested, please complete this Google Form with some basic information (your name, your email address, school name, location, grade level(s)/ages, how many classes, number of students in each class, and time frame that you’d like to do this) so we can setup those partnerships. (Our thinking is that pairing one class with one class will keep this from becoming too overwhelming for the students, although of course anyone can read/listen/comment to any of the essays on any of the wiki pages).

We will create a wiki page for each set of paired classes and each student will upload their written essay as well as their podcast (the podcast can either be uploaded directly to the wiki, or you can use a variety of other services for that and then link to them). Each pair of classes will be in charge of their own wiki page and we’ll use the discussion tabs on each page to give feedback to the students.

If you are an adult interested in writing a piece yourself, simply add them to the “adults” page on the wiki. I am hoping to get some notable edubloggers as well as my superintendent, CIO, and others to participate. It would also be helpful to include a brief bio so the kids can know who they are reading about.Obviously you don’t have to do this with us or on our wiki, you can create your own. But we thought it might be interesting and helpful to have one wiki that aggregated all these essays/podcasts, one place that students (and others) could visit to learn about beliefs all over the world. Wondering where to start? NPR has a number of education friendly links to help you along the process:

For Educators
For Students
Essay writing tips
How to contribute an essay to NPR

Timeline: For our honors classes we are going to start writing our essays, November 4th with a final due date of November 12th for their essay. For my English 9 all boys class (Smith 1), they will start writing their essay November 19th, with the essay due December 3rd. The week following their due date, they will begin podcasting their essays. The paired classes don’t have to match this timeline exactly (although that would be great), but we’re hoping they can have theirs completed by Thanksgiving so that the students can start commenting on each other’s essays/podcasts.But for other pairings you can set whatever time frame works best for you – that’s the beauty of the wiki, it’s a living document with no “end” to the assignment (although that’s why we need you to include your time frame when you email us so that we can try to match folks up). We would really appreciate any feedback (now or as this progresses) to make this an experience that is truly relevant and meaningful for these kids.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Wonder Woman Gone Country 10-11

Every week in English Nine Honors, students are given a set of 15 SAT preparatory vocabulary words. Last week’s words were antipathy, elucidate, imminent, banal, obdurate, peruse, bedlam, affluence, scurrilous, parody, sedulous, onerous, amoral, eschew, denouement . They are expected to know and use these words appropriately by the end of the week. One exciting part of getting a new set of words to learn, besides of course learning new words, is our end of the week vocabulary quiz. Students have created bumper stickers, pick up lines, written letters of complaint and recommendation, made me, their teacher, wanted by the law, and written tabloid headlines.

However, none are as clever as when they are asked to create a country western song about Wonder Woman (yes, the lady with the golden lasso and bracelets). In their groups of four to five, after completing their fantastic composition and practicing for a few moments, the next step was for the students to record their “original” work in Audacity. After saving their recording, students were to export the files into an MP3 format and voila! We have Wonder Woman Gone Country!

While none of these may be destined to win a Grammy, take a listen and see if you can pick out the vocab words. Also, take our poll and vote for your favorite version...

Period 2

Tune in next week for Facebook pages of literary characters using SAT words.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Third Grade is the New Cut Sport

In an era where we can’t get kids to participate in many activities, why are we cutting kids out of opportunities they want to succeed at?

This is the question I have been grappling with since Wednesday afternoon, when my 8 year old daughter told me she didn’t get a speaking part in her school musical. Emma tried out for over 10 speaking parts, and didn’t get one-no parts available for her. She was crushed, mortified, heartbroken, and I, for the first time, realized what it was like to be the kid who didn’t make it. It still brings tears to my eyes today as I write this thinking about how here is another opportunity for us to do right by kids, and we limit those who can have a role. Why in third grade can’t there be a role for everyone who wants one? Is third grade a cut sport now? Is third grade the time that we are telling kids, “hey, you are not quite good enough, sorry.”

Growing up as a competitive athlete, heck, I am competitive in about every thing, I really can’t say I ever remember the feeling of being cut out of something-sure when I was older, but not as an 8 year old. I was the kid picked to be on the Dodgeball team, Red Rover team, soccer, volleyball, etc… I never tried out for a play, but would rather have been behind the scenes, and there was always a place for me there. I was cut from my college volleyball team, but I was ready to be done playing then. I was ok with my career being over after playing competitive volleyball for many years.

Wednesday with Emma was the first time I felt like what it was to be the kid no one wanted. (It was so hard being her parent then when all I wanted to do was yell and scream composing some really nasty email to the person who denied my child her heart’s desire). And it made me think a lot about my own classroom. How I am extending learning opportunities and chances to perform, succeed, challenge to everyone; not just those that always get those roles? How am I making a place for everyone in my community of learners? How am I making sure kids don’t feel cut out of my class and making sure they feel as though they have a role?

I have always supported cuts in activities. It helps kids understand that we are all gifted in different ways. This is the conversation that Emma’s step dad, dad and I had with her. She has succeeded in many other ways: art, swimming, soccer. But after our conversation, I had a lot of questions about what we are doing to kids. I am wondering, when did elementary school become a cut sport? When did third grade become the deciding factor in whether Emma is good enough to speak in front of the school? When did third grade become the time for my daughter to start feeling as though she isn’t as “good” a kid as those that did receive roles?

I am not trying to demean the school’s choices; I am sure all those that received speaking roles will be fabulous, but at what point did we decide to limit the participants in school? At what point did we decide that 8 year olds don’t get to do something creative and important to them? (Everyday Emma came home and talked about her excitement over waiting to find out who got a role). If everyone wants a chance to stand up and participate, why would we say no? Why is third grade the new cut sport?