Putting Youth Voices Front and Center Online
7.19.12 | Over the past decade or so, digital communication has greatly expanded and influenced writing styles and, by extension, classroom writing assignments.
One of the earliest projects to take advantage of this shift is Youth Voices, a school-based social network that encourages young people across the country and even globally to publish their writing and other creative work and engage in discussions around personal interests and inquiry-based research.
Founded way back in 2003 by a group of National Writing Project (NWP) teachers, Youth Voices started as an alternative site for classroom blogs—a way to continue the conversation not only after class, but after the class had officially ended.
Paul Allison, an English teacher at Bronx Academy Senior High and one of Youth Voices founders, said during a recent NWP radio discussion that the site initially attempted to solve a couple of problems associated with classroom or individual student blogs—namely, the amount of time it takes for students to get used to blogging and the work involved in building an engaged community that comments and responds.
Listen Here: Connected Learning with Youth Voices
“Then the question becomes, ‘What do you with that blog when you’re done?’”
Youth Voices solved the issue by providing an open and ongoing community. “People can come into it and leave it and then maybe they’ll have an English teacher down the line who will use it again,” said Allison.
The administrators even stopped using the word “blogging,” favoring “discussion” instead, though these discussions are grouped into a blog format.
Students are encouraged to publish their own writing, as well as any multimedia they create—video, audio, images, even projects built on programming platforms such as Scratch. Teachers can review and correct posts.
“The heart of the site is asking students to find things that they are passionate and deeply interested in and to post about those things over time,” said Allison.
There are high standards set, however, to ensure that students deepen and support their arguments and compose thoughtful responses to each other. The “Guides” tab leads to detailed examples of how students should respond to a Wikipedia article, for example, or quote a source within a comment. Advanced users are eligible for Youth Voices badges and quests that align with Common Core learning standards.
Teachers can start discussions, too. Drawing from the dystopian novel “Divergent,” in which all children must select one of five tribal factions to join once they turn 16, Scott Levy, a language arts teacher, recently asked middle school students in his summer program at Dwight-Englewood School in Englewood, N.J., to consider which faction they might have been born into and which they would choose. In addition to answering the question with supporting evidence, they offer constructive critiques of each other’s responses.
The site also provides a community for teachers interested in working together and sharing curricula. Listen to the NWP radio program to learn how teachers from the New York City Writing Project and the Wasatch Range Writing Project are using Youth Voices with their students and what they’re learning from each other.
Need more information? A lively study group for teachers using Youth Voices is run through P2PU, providing answers to technical questions as well as discussions on pedagogy and barriers to participation, such as limited computer resources and institutional support.
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