Students on a Global Stage
Essential Guiding Question: How can technology help my students see themselves as citizens of the Global World and take part in a social action project to push for positive change?
One of the many marvels of technology in the classroom is the realization that the world of student learning no longer needs to be contained within the four walls of the classroom. An internet connection is a passport for many young people to discover facets of cultures and lands that otherwise might have been undiscovered country. As educators, we should try to tap into both that opening of the world and our students’ interest in technology and connecting with others to engage them in global affairs in meaningful ways. The Many Voices for Darfur project is one such example of how students in my relatively sheltered suburban school district in Western Massachusetts were able to use the power of persuasive writing and their own voices to engage on the world stage on an issue of poverty, violence and inequity in Sudan, Africa.
The brainchild of George Mayo and Wendy Drexler, the Many Voices for Darfur project was conceived during the 2007-08 school year as both George and Wendy, after meeting for the first time at a conference, proposed using the concept of Weblogs for social action with students. Their idea: to have a single day when young people from all of the world would provide evidence and persuasion for world leaders to act aggressively to bring peace to the Darfur region of the Sudan, where militias were decimating villages and causing atrocities against the Darfur people.
In the weeks leading up to the launch of the Many Voices for Darfur project, my sixth graders worked hard to come to understand what was going on in an area of the world they had not often thought about. We watched documentary videos, read articles and had frank discussions about what it would be like to live under such conditions. As it turned out, we were also in the midst of lessons around paragraph writing in our curriculum and the idea of using their emerging persuasive skills for an authentic audience on a global stage made sense to them.
But students wanted to take it even farther. Throughout the year, we engaged in various podcasting projects as we talked about the use of “voice” of the writer to engage readers and listeners on different levels. After going through the research, planning, drafting and revision stages of writing their persuasive paragraphs, we moved to recording them reading their own compositions as podcasts. Grouped together as a class, the collective power of their voices lent another dimension to their pleas to government officials to do something to end the violence.
Still others began to create Powerpoint presentations with the information they had gathered during their research stage. They used visuals to bring home the fact that people were suffering and that it had to stop.
And then, there was our music video. We were inspired by a video by the group Mettafix, which wrote a song about the Darfur refugees and created a touching video that amazed my students. I suggested we could do the same. After students and I collectively brainstorming lyrics that would provide the framework for our views on the crisis in Darfur, I created music using an online music composition tool (called JamStudio) and recorded the lead vocals, with all four of my classes of sixth graders mixing in their voices as back-up on the chorus (with Audacity software). We then gathered images and created our own music video that we shared with the Many Voices for Darfur projects.
All of these mediums of media then came together on the day of the Many Voices for Darfur initiative, as my students went online and transformed into multimedia bloggers – posting not only their persuasive writing, but also their voices and for some, their collected images. By the end of the project, there were more than 650 different students writing on the same topic and calling for social justice in the Sudan.
As a school, we felt part of something larger than our small school. Posts on the blog came from all over the world as young people from various countries joined in the call for peace and the end of violence. As a class, we discussed common themes and wondered whether the writing would have any real impact on politicians who could make as difference. The violence in Darfur unfortunately continues to this day, but I would not call the work of my students wasted as I know that most of them, and their parents, still follow the developments in Africa closer than they had prior to the project and that may yet transform the world into something more positive
Ryan’s Voice: Podcasting to the World
(Note: This is one sample of student writing that became a podcast for the Darfur Project)
The genocide in Darfur is sickening to me. It is sickening that the Sudan government is neglecting Darfur and supporting the Janjaweed army. It is sickening that 400,000 lives where destroyed and over 2.5 million people lost their homes. This genocide must stop. We should bring in the United Nations to help the Darfur people. We should disarm the Janjaweed army to reduce the killing. We should also raise global awareness to help make a great plan to stop the genocide, to help defeat the Janjaweed army, and to help the people in Darfur. With your help and support we can save many lives. — Ryan, sixth grade
Anna’s Voice: Podcasting to the World
(Note: this is a student sample of writing that became a podcast for the Darfur Project.)
The Genocide in Darfur has to stop! Genocide has nothing good to give to the world. Some ways to help this region of Sudan is to donate to the refugee camps and raise global awareness. Other things that we can do to help are bringing in the United Nations or disarm the Jangaweed army. It will take time but this war needs to stop. A person getting killed for no reason is stupid. I think we need to fight back and stop the Jangaweed army. No one should have to suffer from something that can be stopped. — Anna, sixth grade
The Collaborative Song
Inspired by a music video about Darfur by the band, Mettafix, my students and I worked on collaborating to write a song together. They then helped me sing the chorus.
The Many Voices for Darfur project would never have had the same effect in the pre-digital age. I’m convinced that the ability to not only gather research as news unfolded in the Sudan but also to engage in social action on an important global issue gave my young writers incentive and room to engage themselves as learners at a level that would not have been equaled with a traditional research paper. The use of multiple mediums to get their message across – from writing to podcasting to images to music –collectively tapped into their roles of composers of information and mirrored the worlds in which they live. The construction of their ideas was shaped by the media and when they blogged with hundreds of other students on the same issue, they experienced the sense of being part of something much larger than themselves – they were players on the global stage and aware of the possibilities for action.
That said, I have periodically experienced some discomfort with the music video we made (see the resource a few links back) and when I talked about the Darfur project at a professional development gathering and showed the video, one teacher complained that we had exploited the situation for a classroom project that seemed to minimize the horrendous situation. She may have had a point, although it was not intentional. I still believe that my students learned more about the world than they would have without this project, but I would aim to be more sensitive in the future about the ways we use media for learning when it deals with an issue on such a significant scale of human catastrophe.
Open Many Voices Teacher Reflection.mp3