Writing for Change
“The world changes according to the way people see it, and if you can alter, even by a millimeter, the way people look at reality, then you can change the world.”
~ James Baldwin, American novelist, writer, and civil rights activist
One year to set the dream. 54 days to staff and plan. 40 hours of instruction in a two-week summer academy. We changed lives. Through the use of digital media, students discovered their own style, voice, and potential. On the last day, one father – four months new to our country – came up and asked us how he could get a computer for his daughter. “She must have this tool; I can see that now.” Writing for Change was a concept created by the San Diego Area Writing Project. Margit Boyesen and Janet Ilko, co-directors of Writing For Change, brought teachers, students and technology together to create a writing experience that integrated technology and the overarching belief that words create and inspire social justice.
26 students and five teacher spent two weeks of their summer writing about important issues in their lives and using a variety of technology (podcasting, video, glogster, etc.) to create digital storytelling projects.
Rationale and Implications: When we first came up with the concept of Writing for Change, our focus was on social justice and the empowerment of students to have a voice. The value of using the technology available at the site allowed us to focus on using it in new and meaningful ways, rather than introducing new technology that students wouldn’t have access to in the fall. Our question at the end of this program was, “Would students and teachers continue to use these tools and strategies into the school year, and what form might that take?” Teachers have found creative ways to incorporate this work within the constraints of district-mandated pacing guides, assessments and core curriculum. Assessments now provide a variety of options that include the use of technology to demonstrate mastery or respond to a writing prompt. Students now tell their stories digitally, use technology to research facts and create visual maps of their thinking. Departments and teams are feeling the ripple effect of the work, intentionally and exponentially growing across the site. At Cajon Valley Middle School there is now a “Writing for Change” after school club. Students and teachers are working together to continue the creative work from the summer. There are three teachers volunteering their time and talents to come to the lab and work with students on their self-selected projects two to three days per week. The motivation is not remediation or extra credit, but simply the value of the work that students and teachers want to do.
So what are implications for the future?
It feels like the real work, the type of writing instruction and learning that we value currently needs to occur after the “required and mandated” work is done. Yet, students and teachers seem to be willing to take that extra time and space because they recognize and value the importance of the “real work”, which if you stop by the lab on any afternoon, doesn’t seem like work at all.
How can we as teacher leaders move our school systems to provide the autonomy to create these creative and socially responsible environments that both teachers and students create freely on their own time? Isn’t that what we want for the future of education?
“Raised By Samoan Women” by Christiana, based on “Raised by Women” by Kelly Norman Ellis
(CLICK TO PLAY)
(Snapshot of a Glogster Page)
Components of the Academy:
Daily Schedule: 9-12noon
Quick Writes: Every day, students began and ended the academy with reflective writing. The opening writing was always student generated. At the end of the day, students were offered prompts to spark ideas for reflection.
Mini-lessons: There were mini-lessons both in writing and technology every day. For example, the writing lesson based on the “Raised By Poem” lent itself to a mini-lesson on image selection as part of iMovie.
Writing Response Groups: Students were broken into 6 groups (4 per teacher) to share their writing process and get feedback from their peers as they developed their project.
Project Collaboration: Although students each completed a project independently, there was constant collaboration among students and staff. Students worked to support each other in learning iMovie, downloading images, the writing, and just about everything.
Publishing: Students published a W4C DVD, and the work was stored on the Writing For Change website. On the last day of the academy, we hosted a Digital Author’s Share, where parents, community members and district leaders were invited to view student work.
Here’s what some of the students think and below you’ll find examples of their work (See “Raised By Samoan Women”)
What students and parents are saying…
“The writing program last summer was very fun and I learned how to make a podcast. By taking the writing program my writing skills really improved…I use to not like writing but now after the program I really like writing. They made me learn to put all of my thoughts on paper and I am doing really well in my classes in middle school.” ~ Student
“Raised By was my favorite because in my poem I am honoring the women that raised me.” ~ Student
“Reflections were my favorite because I got to express myself” ~ Student
“I liked the ‘I Am poem’ because you could write about what you were passionate about.” ~ Student
“He really enjoyed the class and wished it was longer. He is excited about using technology in writing. I believe it was a good experience for him.” ~ Parent
“Dream BIG, Think BIG, Go BIG!” ~ Co-directors: Janet Ilko and Margit Boyesen