MAKEing Student Voice Heard through Political Art

“Children should be seen not heard.”

How many of us feel like this was the mantra when growing up?

Meyers_PoliticalArt

Created by Jarred Meyer

In education, we can’t afford for learners to remain passive consumers of knowledge. We know that today’s employers demand being able to process, respond to, and create plausible solutions to pressing issues. This cannot happen if learning experiences are not more engaging and interactive.

Larva_Political_Art

Created by Daniel Larva

Thank goodness, we are learning how to leverage learner interest and talents to empower youth to articulate informed opinions on significant causes. Initiatives like Letters to the Next President create opportunities for students to create various media and share their ideas on campaign issues. Partners like National Writing Project, Youth Radio, Mozilla Foundation, Hypothis.Is, KQED Education, and many more collaborate to design activities that invite people to participate. First, this summer, educators will experience Media Makes and Make Cycles in order to prepare for what it will be like to do such work with their students. Next, educators will incorporate lessons, which will be developed over the summer, this coming fall to encourage learners to make multimedia letters to the next president.

Biju_PoliticalArt

Created by Anika Biju

Let’s examine one of the KQED Media Makes. For the Letters to Next President Media Make #2, we were invited to make our political art. Learners viewed an engaging video about famous political artists complete with 5 Tips to creating their own. They were able to work independently or with partners. They chose one of the nine campaign issues that speaks to them. They created and published their political art.

It’s important for me to focus on media-making as a process similar to the Writing Process. It’s iterative, and learners must seek and respond to feedback to hone their messages. Here are some guidelines I included in the activity description.

Agency (20 points):

  • Completed on time?
  • Connected to an election issue from resource above?
  • Received feedback from Mrs. Bence and revised accordingly?
  • Received feedback from Mrs. Boyd and revised accordingly?
  • Demonstrates original, creative thought
  • Art is memorable and powerful
  • Art is completed in near professional manner
  • Directions were followed

Oral Communication (10 Points):

  • able to articulate type of feedback desired
  • able to justify choices
  • able to explain why this is an important issue
  • able to express inspirations
  • able to articulate process

Knowledge and Thinking (10 Points):

  • art reflects understanding of election issue
  • art reflects review and understanding of Do Now Art School resource
  • art reflects sound design theory
  • art connects clearly to perspective on election issue
  • art attempts to be inclusive AND tolerant instead of exclusive AND prejudicial (our driving question)

Written Communication (5 Points):

  • posts jpeg with catchy relevant tweet message using #MediaMakePoliticalArt #2NextPrez #YouthActionFF #boydbence
  • errorless spelling and punctuation on political poster
Fullwood_PoliticalArt

Created by Elizabeth Fullwood

We had an extra layer of authenticity to this activity. The most impactful political art, as chosen by the Youth Action Film Festival (YAFF) Student Advisory Board, will be selected and turned into buttons whose sale will benefit YAFF. Learners got really excited about that!

Raed_Political_Art

Created by Raed Ahmed

Williams_Political_Button

Created by Ethan and Evan Williams

Rogers_PoliticalArt

Created by Caitlin Rogers

Villarreal_Higher_education2

Created by Daniela Villarreal

It’s my sincere hope more educators take advantage of such meaningful learning opportunities as Media Makes for Letters to the Next President. It will ignite the political agency in our learners. During such experiences, I find them to be passionate, willing to become more informed on important issues, and eager to fine tune their media to best communicate their perspectives while remaining open to diverse perspectives.

Veda_Political_Art

Created by Veda Velamuri

Mind Dump: Youth in Participatory Politics?

Let’s get the conversation started. What’s the role  of  youth in the democratic process?

As an English teacher, I am aware of the literacy skills crucial to being a contributing member of the democratic process. In the United States, we have the privilege of voting for those who represent us in government,

  • But how does one make an informed decision?
  • How does one attempt to make changes if our representatives aren’t working in our best interest?
  • How do we inform and persuade others for the need for change?

Literacy skills. It’s all about being able to research, read critically, and compose effective, logical texts that will appeal to varied audiences for a specific purpose.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s first gain an understanding of what youth today feel about political action.

  • Is it important?
  • Are there ways to foster agency in youth today?
  • What are the roles of all stakeholders in such a process?

Please contribute your thoughtful reflections on this HackPad:

From Dreams to Details: Invitation to Lead

It’s a wonderfully synergistic day. One where I attempted to escape finding the baby in the King Cake but found it anyway. I literally went out of my way to cut the slightest sliver of the treat to avoid the baby, but I got it anyway. Lesson duly noted, Universe. I am ready for some luck and celebration for this coming year!

This morning, I walked in hopeful yet unsure of what may unfold in my scheduled meeting with Heather Cato, Coppell ISD’s Director of Language and Literacy. We have been discussing using NWP’s CLMOOC as our district’s summer professional development. It was time to try out the idea on some of the district literacy coaches so we met to get an idea of what that may look like.

DreamBig!

Inevitably, we discussed this week’s Building New Pathways to Leadership retreat in Austin. We commiserated on how returning to the why is essential, how the questions aren’t only what learning is or why learning is happening but also where. We rallied behind how it’s important for people to feel safe to “fail miserably” and still be supported.

And the question, of course, reared its unavoidable head: How? How do we encourage other educators to take risks? How do we foster learning for learning’s sake? Learning that sprouts from their own interests? Learning that is collaborative in nature? Learning that extends beyond any four walls and across any time zone?

Yes, it was so NWP.

And rightfully so. Heather is also an NWP leader. She has been for some time, regardless of the many, many hats she has worn in her career as an educator.

And here’s the exciting part, the sweet spot every NWP advocate longs to hear. Heather pondered aloud, Heather, my boss, my leader, wondered, “How do we scale this? How do we make an entire district-wide site of NWP leaders?”

Oh, my goodness! Oh, my goodness, gracious! Beautiful cliched music to my ears! An incredible testament to putting it out there, connecting, collaborating, and receiving echoes of goodness and positivity and hopeful change in return.

We shared the common interest of finding new entry points for district teachers to do NWP work. We articulated being thought partners in this effort, and then, I was reminded of why I love this district so much. I was reminded of why I love NWP so much.

Right there, right in front of me, right there along side me in my own district, I had a leader who was in a position to make important decisions who spoke my language. She gets me. She gets us. She gets NWP. She is NWP. She and I are NWP, and we hope Coppell ISD can be NWP, too.

And when you hear things from your district leaders say, “I come to you because you dream big.” You feel really good.

I know. Later, I will feel the weight of her statement. I will surely feel the pressure and obligation and the overwhelming sense of accountability being a dreamer feels. Sometimes, the most tender of dreams become haunting nightmares… looming shadows of unfulfilled expectations. I know… but today, I’m going to enjoy it.

And when your leader has the capacity to make meaningful transformation happen and when she sets aside her own dreamer role to be the “details” person, you know something really great can happen. And yes, it will be loads of work, loads of incredibly important work. Just how I like it.

I’m going to take all the energy and passion from today’s soul-nurturing discussion, and I’m going to run with it because having a partner who is there not only in proximity but also in philosophy and pedagogy calls for celebration.

Maybe that King Cake baby had it right all along!

Reluctantly Leading, Eagerly Following

“I’m thinking about starting a National Writing Project site at UTA,” Jeannine started, “would you be co-director?”

“Sure,” I responded without hesitation because she had a knack of asking people to do things, and we just couldn’t refuse.

Did I know what NWP was? Heck, no. I was just dipping my toes in the shallow end of the infinity pool that is teaching.

Did I understand what being a co-director of an NWP site meant? Heck, no. How could I? Even if I had been a veteran TC or director at that point, I wouldn’t know. Roles are fluid and flexible in every NWP experience. Responsibilities are shared. Challenge and joy are waves that are parceled out across eager participants.

Did I expect anything to happen to this request made in passing? Heck, no. And that was just plain ignorant of me. It was as if I hadn’t been working with Jeannine for over a year. It was as if I had forgotten who she was, how I had found myself writing and analyzing and publishing under her mentorship. I should have known better.

IMG_6352

Fast forward.

“We got it!” she exclaimed over the phone, excitement rising from the the higher than normal trill in her voice.

“Got what?” I asked unsure of which endeavor she was speaking.

“NWP! We got the site funding!” she exclaimed giddily. “Get ready!”

What did that mean? How did it happen? What is NWP? 5 weeks in the summer? What?

And so it began, my journey with National Writing Project.

I had no idea what wealth this organization would add to my life, how it would nourish me and calm me and inspire me again and again. I had no idea this launch into NWP which had been planted in pretty nutrient-barren soil would repeatedly catapult me into reaching deep down and doing more than I thought I had in me. I don’t think anyone is quite prepared for the transformative process NWP carries with it.

All I know is every encounter with NWP is much like that time with Jeannine: clear vision, passion to do what’s best for learners, unquenchable thirst for learning, risk-taking, trusting, and above all, knowing where to go with the freedom of finding our own way of getting there.

We write the stories of our lives one page at a time, and our journeys with NWP are no different. Some of us take detours, others direct routes. Some of us hitch rides, Whatever our chosen or thrust-upon-us methods of movement, we know we will get there… together.

Retreat? Never!!!

It’s a cool winter day in Texas: dry and crisp, demanding a vest not a heavy coat.

The trip from the DFW metroplex to Austin Hill Country is its expected “How is this just 3 and a half hours away?” sentiment. The concrete highway slowly gave way to hidden couloirs punctuated by succulents and groves of mesquite trees. It’s a welcome change from barren suburbia.

FullSizeRender-1

Earlier that morning, I quasi-hyperventilated as I read the lineup of extraordinary educators on Yammer. People casually bouncing hellos and can’t-wait-to-see-yous in the private group. The list read as a Who’s Who in literacy education, and I sunk deeper into my sheets, trying desperately to be swallowed up by the white duvet and the white king-size pillow.

No luck.

How in the world did I get myself into this? Why did they invite me? How in the world could I have anything to offer this richly talented, passionate group?

I was overwhelmed.

Still, deeper down, I knew that I would gain more than imaginable at National Writing Project’s Building New Pathways to Leadership Working Retreat. I knew that as with everything else with NWP, I would dig down, step out of my comfort zone, find my edge, and get it done. Because it’s not about fears or residing in trepidation. When it comes to any of my work with this network, it’s about trust, empowerment, and risk-taking.

And I lay in my lavish bedding, having been catered to as every teacher should be, with open arms, an open mind, and an open heart: poised to eagerly accept the invitation to make, reflect, and articulate what it is to be a part of NWP.

It is a privilege. It is a calling. It is a part of me and everyone else in the Lone Star room tonight.

It is our responsibility to ponder how NWP has become such a powerful catalyst in the journeys of so many who have made such a difference one classroom at a time. It is our duty to sort through the seemingly charmed experiences of our NWP lives to find patterns and differences that will give way to more lucky souls who are fortunate enough to associate with NWP.

So, no. No, I will not retreat back into the safety of my bed. I will not hide and listen passively to other stories when I have one of my own to share and make sense of. I will not question my being here.

Instead, I will soak up the rugged breathtaking scenery. I will listen for hints of my own experiences with NWP in the stories of others. I will write and revise and scrap and rethink and write and revisit and make and question how NWP has managed to get so much more out of me than anyone else.

I am ready to, as Elyse put it, “blow the lid off!”

 

10 Tips for Engaging Students in Social Media Discussions

Part of my goal is being very transparent and open about sharing the work my learners do. I feel this is the best way to scale the types of learning experiences I feel make a real difference to my learners. Clearly, this is what works in my particular context, but I invite educators to hack and remix these practices to meet the needs of your learning landscape.

In an effort to collaborate, here is a KQED EdSpace blog post co-created by myself and some of my rockstar learners. Enjoy!

Where’s the “More Perfect Union” for Ahmed Mohamed?

It’s Constitution Day. A day declared by the United States Senate in 2004 to commemorate the adoption of the Constitution. In celebration, my co-teacher Danae Boyd asked us to highlight a phrase that means the most to us from the Preamble and Tweet it out.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

Now, I reflect,  what does it mean to be “more perfect”? What does it mean to be a “union”?

An image of “perfect”  speaks of liberty and peace and compassion but at the center before all of that, there should be safety.

And certainly, the notion of “union” means to be inclusive, resisting the urge to exclude or marginalize others.

Yesterday’s newsfeed was riddled with headlines about Ahmed Mohamed, a 14-year-old freshman at Irving ISD’s MacArthur High School. Dallas’ local ABC affiliate WFAA News 8 reported, Irving ISD student detained for ‘suspicious device’ in reference to Ahmed who brought a clock he had created to show his engineering teacher. When he plugged in his creation during English class, it began making noise. Ahmed was pulled out of class by the campus principal and school resource officer for questioning. The home-engineered clock appeared to them to be a “hoax bomb”, and Ahmed was arrested for the Class A misdemeanor of being in possession at school for what was assumed a fake bomb.

Ahmed Mohamed

Later, yesterday’s Dallas Morning News reported Ahmed Mohamed swept up ‘hoax bomb’ charges swept away as Irving teen’s story floods social media. Ahmed’s story gained international momentum as many cite this incident as a case of racial profiling. Ahmed’s story for many is yet another injustice carried out by officials motivated by what some regard as racial discrimination. It is not, therefore, surprising this incident attracted media attention. The social media campaign #IStandWithAhmed propelled Ahmed’s cause resulting in an invitation to visit the White House from Barack Obama as well as encouraging words to continue his innovating.

As an educator and as a mother of a son attending public school, my initial response to what happened to Ahmed Mohamed is anger and disappointment.

I am so tired of fear driving everything in education.

Fear:
We’re frightened our diverse kids are getting inconsistent instruction.

Response:
Here’s a standardized test to which we must direct most of our resources so every learner can pass.

Fear:
Our students are in danger of being cyber bullied and cyber stalked.

Response:
Let’s implement filters for the internet completely inconsistent with anything they would encounter anywhere else, thereby leaving them without the skills to self-monitor and become a responsible digital citizen.

Fear:
Someone will threaten the safety of our school by building a fake bomb.

Response:
Arrest a student gifted in engineering for doing something challenging and honestly telling several authorities it was a clock.

Don’t get me wrong. I want my students to be safe.

This incident hits very close to home. I work in a district just down the road from Irving ISD. My son attends a school in my district. Two of my older siblings graduated from MacArthur High School, and that would have been my alma mater  had I not attended private school instead. All of this to point out that safety, and safety in this particular context, is very near and dear to my heart.

I want my students to feel like they can attend school without being threatened. I want them to know that school is a place where learning can happen and where they can feel comfortable and secure.

I understand the fear of possible security breaches, but Ahmed explained to them it was a clock. When asked what it was by the English teacher, he said is was a clock. When he was asked by the police, he said it was a clock.

I wasn’t there. I do not presume to know every detail surrounding the event, but I do know this. Part of building a safe environment where people feel like they can take risks, which is necessary for any real learning to occur, is building trust. And when students are being interrogated without representation, when authorities are not believing what their students are telling them without any cause to be suspicious, when students are finally excited to share one of their creations only to be arrested as a result, I know that trust is not happening. I know that Ahmed no longer feels safe and secure. I know there won’t be much learning happening for him in that context. I also know the same is probably true for other students on that campus.

When a school makes choices that divide a community and is not willing to admit wrongdoing or the need to revisit practices, certain members of said community are left feeling excluded.

There’s no union in that. There’s no strength in that.

There’s no perfection in that.

I understand the need to fight such injustices and misconceptions. As an educator, it is my responsibility to set conditions where learners can explore diverse perspectives surrounding pivotal events. I purposefully design projects that teach about real tensions around the world. I invite learners to research and weigh in on meaningful potentially polarizing events. It is crucial to be able to participate in civic discourse similar to what happens on KQED’s Do Now. We need to learn how to interact respectfully, embracing diversity with the common purpose of upholding tolerance. By learning how to engage in such discussions and appreciating different points of view rather than fearing it or silencing it, learners can make progress in addressing significant issues.

Perhaps, Ahmed’s story is an ideal counterpoint to Constitution Day. It’s a poignant reminder that on this day just as any, we must not allow fear to guide our decisions. We must remain vigilant and continue to advocate to do just as our nation sought to do on September 17, 1787:

…form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.

 

Last Day of National Poetry Month Post #4

We also offered the opportunity to compose a poetic response to learner choice novels. What a fantastic way to encourage readers to engage with the text! The connections are so much more authentic and impactful than reading a more traditional book report or even book review.

Kerosene Soaked World (SoundCloud) by Rebecca Carroll, a poetic response to Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury from the perspective of Guy Montag.

Trauma (SoundCloud) by Emily White and Lupeny Garza, a poetic response to A Soldier’s Secret by Marissa Moss.

Last Day of National Poetry Month Post #3

We were very fortunate to have a visiting Lost Boy from Sudan, Mark Narikan, visit our class. He spoke of events in Sudan and the journey to safety.

Learners were invited to respond to his visit in poetry.

Don’t Get Caught by Rebecca Carroll and Eliza McElroy

Sudan by Brianna Lee and Katrina Fisher

Reflection by Nimisha Jain and Maria Benavides

 

 

Last Day of National Poetry Month Post #2

We hosted a Slamming for a Cause event in December 2014. Each group chose an issue from a particular culture region to focus on. They wanted to call their audience to action.

New Tech High @ Coppell (NTH@C) Rookies hosted the event: chose the cause and charity that benefited from the night, competed to perform, contacted sponsors for dontations, held a silent auction, and had a bake sale. The event raised $2,000 for UNICEF and their efforts to end human trafficking.

This piece entitled Welcome by Travis Sadler and Eliza McElroy discussed immigration to the United States from Latin America.