Change Writers – The Journey Continues

The Communications Director for my school district contacted me last week. She had Googled my name (while writing a press release for the superintendent) and was very intrigued by a link that appeared from the Digital Is website: On Becoming Change Writers, a reflective piece I co-authored on engaging students, teachers, and community activists in thinking deeply about their world and in using writing as a tool for change.   She wanted to know if I was currently facilitating any “change writers” types of projects.

I had to think back a bit before responding to her question. The Change Writers Project is rooted in the beginnings of the Digital Is community. Five years ago, Pam Bodnar (NCWP and co-author of On Becoming Change Writers) and I were invited to a 2-day NWP retreat in Berkeley to start envisioning how the Digital Is website could promote the teaching of writing in a digital age. Pam and I met the previous year through NWP’s Holocaust Educators Network (HEN) Summer Seminar, a life-changing experience that inspired us think about the importance of students understanding how historical events of the past connect to the present and how, whether across history or within school yards, it is small things that allow bigger things to happen – for good or for ill.

In coming to Berkeley and participating in two days of thought-provoking questions and whole group/small group shared conversations, a seed was planted. As Pam and I headed back to Sacramento, we knew we wanted to use technology and writing to connect her 8th grade peer mediators to several Title 1 fourth grade classrooms I was working with through an EETT grant. We wanted to use technology and writing as a tool for leveling the socio-economic playing field and empowering our students to speak out on issues of exclusion, intolerance, and social justice. We wanted to use technology and writing to promote a culture of change writers. The fact that the Letters from the Internment Camps VoiceThread, one of the 4th grade student products that emerged from the Change Writers venture, has had close to 80,000 hits and includes comments from a worldwide audience illustrates the impact and trickle-down effect of the Berkeley meeting.

Last year, I posted The Power of Two, a piece about Natalie Bernasconi’s (CCWP) and my collaborative digital citizenship project and wiki: Digital ID. Like the Change Writers Project, the Digital ID project is the type of dynamic project that results when you bring two NWP teachers together and provide them with some dedicated time to envision expanding teaching and learning through the intentional integration of technology.

Yet, until the Communication’s Director’s question, I had not realized the Digital ID project is also a “change writers type of project.’ For example, in support of the California Writing Project and Common Sense Media’s promotion of May California Digital Citizenship Month, Natalie and I have created the Upstanders, Not Bystanders VoiceThread (shown below). When students reflect on the stories of people who have crossed the line from bystander to upstander and then step up to a global microphone to share their stories, they are, indeed, acting as change writers.


As I listened again this morning to the Upstanders, Not Bystanders VoiceThread, and heard Pam Bodnar’s thread, I was transported back five years to the Berkeley meeting rooms, the drafting boards for this rich NWP Digital Is community. Once again I stand in awe of the impact of the NWP and its ability to build sustainable networks and to support change writers – and upstanders – across generational,  geographic, and economic boundaries.

What “change writer types of projects” are you and your students undertaking?


Note: To add a comment to the VoiceThread:

1. Go to the Upstanders, Not Bystanders thread:

2. Create your own login / registration. It’s fast and it’s free. The only hard part might be deciding on the icon you will want to represent yourself. Or you can just go with the generic icon.

3. You can listen to the posts already on the slides to get an idea of the length and style. You can hear a few of Natalie’s La Paz students’ stories on the middle school page. Oh, and for a real heart-string tug, listen to the 6 precious kindergartners’ stories on the elementary page.

4. Write your paragraph on someone who was an upstander.

5. Click on “Comment” on the first slide (for adult voices).  Choose how you want to record it: phone it in, webcam, record with a microphone into your computer, or type it in.

6. Record and review. Save it when satisfied. You can be sure we’ll approve it and publish it as soon as we see it come through! (We have the comments set up to be moderated.)

7. Share this thread with anyone else you know who can celebrate upstanders with us!