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

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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!

Digital Learning Day? What does it all mean?

Anyone who knows me knows about my fascination and commitment to revisit my practice. They know about my desire to understand the affordances of technology and media-making in literacy instruction. They know about my dedication to helping my learners become global citizens.

Global Issues Summit
Now, make no mistake, I understand “I turned out completely fine” with a more traditional education, but then again, that’s all we really had. And, I was fortunate to love school and have engaging educational experiences throughout my entire life.

As I continue to teach, however, my awareness of the ever-evolving literacy landscape is constantly raised. My eyes are opened to this new world my high school learners are trying so hard to make sense of, and complexity is added when we realize that it’s changing at a mind-boggling pace.

It’s one thing to say, “When I was your age, I had to walk to and from school uphill both ways in the snow and rain and heat and whatever other extreme weather condition that may prove my point.” It’s quite another to say, “When I was your age, we didn’t have the internet.” To my learners, and perhaps even to myself, the second remark seems to be much more of a hardship.

“What?” “How can that be?” “What was that like?” Just some of the inquiries emoting the disbelief of my students.

And truthfully, there are parts of me that cannot remember because I have chosen to examine what these types of changes mean to not only to my students but also to myself. This reflection has put the spotlight on trying to be responsive instead of doing what I know or what’s familiar. I’ve had to distance myself somewhat from that more traditional context. It’s tough to recall bits and pieces of teaching before I had the tools but more importantly, the courage to enter an arena where I am more of a visitor than someone truly at home.

At times, it’s scary. I don’t know how to do half the things I ask my learners to try. And when I begin to learn a program, there’s another skill set to try to sink my teeth into because our learners today like variety. They are bombarded with onslaughts of information, some more useful than others, some more reliable than others, but still, they have a deluge of information presented in various media genres.

But if I don’t help them understand why a piece of media and its content is or is not effective and purposeful, my learners might never understand how such media can manipulate for good or for bad. Furthermore, they may not understand how to design such media to further the causes and purposes they call their own.

Learner-Created Marketing Piece for Romeo and Juliet

Digital Learning Day, March 13, 2015 is fast approaching. Each year, I take time to ask my learners what sense they can make of how technology impacts education, how consumption and creation of media both influences and reflects learning. Unfortunately, this year, Digital Learning Day falls during spring break. I feel like I’ve tried to compensate by asking learners to create more digital artifacts.

Wanted Poster Condemning Friar Lawrence

Wanted Poster Condemning Friar Lawrence

Recently, I’ve asked my students to design marketing pieces where they decide to position Romeo and Juliet either as a “Timeless Love Story” or as a “Cautionary Tale”. They’ve also produced digital Wanted Posters and Sainthood Petitions communicating whether or not they felt Friar Lawrence was a sinner or a saint. Each product required text analysis and evidence from the play. Each piece forced them to wrestle with over simplified decisions, and yes, they were frustrated. Many of them have voiced the desire to create something that reflected both sides, and I see this as a byproduct of other learning we have experienced this year.

All year, my learners participate in KQED Do Now discussions. (Yes, I do understand this is nothing new to those of you who have read previous posts. Indulge me.) KQED’s EdSpace poses civic questions every week with articles, videos, podcasts, etc. that informs on that particular topic. Learners learn about the topic and post on the blog and Tweet their responses to provocative questions. Some recent topics include Vaccinations, Ebola, Ferguson, etc. The challenge for my learners is not only to articulate their informed positions on the topics but to also engage in discourse with other people from all over the country (world). I am constantly asking them, “How can you continue the discussion to deepen understanding— not just try to prove your point?”

I strongly believe in the essential skill of being able to approach tough potentially polarizing concepts in such a way where all opinions are able to be heard, where participants are able to have their own informed opinions but also the understanding that others, too, have the right to their own. Without such discourse, tough discussions do not happen. Topics are avoided. Difficult, seemingly unanswerable questions are not explored. And even more disheartening, if such discourse isn’t taking place, possible necessary and plausible compromises are not being made that could help reform unjust, inhumane practices around the world.

When my learners ask me if they can create products that express both sides of the problem, products that express a third or fourth perspective, I believe it is a result of months of grappling with messy topics such as those offered in KQED’s EdSpace Do Now.

This is the type of analysis and understanding my learners have gained from practices that include participating in civic discourse using social media, deconstructing and producing media, and critically researching online. But we don’t get that from doing this once. We don’t get there from observing Digital Learning Day a single day in a year.

No, this learning must happen every day because this is where our learners are at home. They are awakened by devices. They are informed by feeds they can customize. They are influenced by media that either arrives via their chosen outlets or on demand.

I will say this. What Digital Learning achieves, not only on this day with its powerful reminder but on any other, is the invitation to educators on all levels to question their practice. Digital Learning Day calls upon us to reexamine how we do things and why we might want to try something different.

So what does it all mean? Digital Learning means different things to so many different people, learners and educators alike. But, this day, this day gives us pause to reflect. It is a moment to deliberate on what works, what is needed, what can be transformed, what our learners really need, how we can relinquish some of what is known through careful design to gain a step closer to understanding. Understanding that this process should occur every day, after each interaction with our learners. Digital Learning Day is a chance to learn from other educators’ work. It is a time to revisit some of our biggest disasters in our classroom, taking comfort in the thought that at least, we tried.

Digital Learning DaySo take time. Recognize what it means to teach literacy in today’s world. Question. Always question. And ask a learner, what worked and what didn’t. That’s what Digital Learning Day means to me.

Twitter as a Connected Learning Tool

I believe in Social Media. I have borrowed some of my best ideas, have been inspired by some of the wonderings of others, and have been infuriated by the injustices shared on Twitter.

As the school year dives into its fourth week, I marvel at the careful implementation of Twitter in classrooms. I tried to understand why this is such a powerful tool in my current practice so I examined Twitter exchanges through a Connected Learning lens. (See previous post on Connected Learning. These principles supported by Twitter are bolded.)

My son’s teacher shares updates and snapshots of student work and activities. It’s a delight to receive snippets of Isaac’s progress. It gives me a better snapshot of his learning than the somewhat sketchy descriptions of a six-year-old. This social media share out makes their work more accessible to a wider audience. And even though I’m busily working at a high school a couple of streets down, I can discover how my child spends his day.

Sumrall's Class Twitter

Selfies with Six Year Olds

We have also restarted our KQED DoNow responses. What an incredible resource enabling our learners to connect to learners across the world. They are able to make their informed opinions transparent to the world. They can monitor how others view the event and take a pulse of which direction we are headed. They can see how their academic tasks can connect to platforms they use in other aspects of their lives. The first civic engagement topic was #DoNowFurguson asking how we could prevent future Michael Browns and the role of social media in activism. These boiled down thoughts are the result of revision of more extended responses to the questions. The effort entailed to crafting these tweets reflect the writing process to reach the wider audience of the Twittersphere. Plus, our learners are focused on the common goal of raising awareness and the importance of discussing such events with other youth on a wider scale.

#DoNowFurguson 1

#DoNOwFurguson2

This year has also been the year of using Twitter to form and shape community. The idea of having support from peers is key in any Connected Learning environment. As we publish our wonderings and Ah-Ha moments via Twitter, we see bonds of trust forming, further encouraging risk-taking and making learning transparent. Here is a Tweet from a couple of current sophomores appreciating work from our current Freshmen, or Rookies as we call them:

NTH@C Sophomores Give Props to Rookies

NTH@C Sophomores Give Props to Rookies

Knowing their work is being seen, knowing it is being retweeted, AND knowing that older learners appreciate their work is a critical piece to sustaining an ecosystem where learning is fostered across grade levels, where learning transcends traditional boundaries.

And we are only at the beginning of week 4. I look forward to seeing how my learners accept the challenge of publishing their media via Twitter. I’m anxious to see if they use it for real transformation as many of them cited this is social media’s potential.

Connected Learning… Global Learning for All!

I am reminded daily of the importance of personal learning networks to be introduced to a variety of resources. Let’s face it. We don’t have time to discover all the goodness that is out there on our own.

This link to Flat Connections was shared with me by Edna Phythian. Flat Connections is dedicated to Global Learning. Julie Lindsay, recipient of ISTE’s 2013 Making IT Happen Award and co-author of Flattening Classrooms, Engaging Minds, is at the helm of Flat Connections.

What is Flat Learning? According the site, “‘Flat’ learning is a multi-modal approach to learning with and from others in a global capacity. There is no hierarchy of learning as such – all voices are equal, there is no one dominant group delivering the information to another group. All learners, through the use of emerging technologies including Web 2.0 and mobile computing, develop a personal learning network, bring the world into their everyday teaching and learning, and learn about the world, with the world.”

This sounds to me a lot like Connected Learning, which is an approach that’s anchored on Six Principles. Learning is:

  • interest-driven
  • peer-supported
  • academically oriented
  • openly networked
  • production-centered
  • it has a shared purpose

Connected Learning

I have been interested in Connected Learning for over a year now, and not only does it remind me to refocus my practice on what really matters, it also affirms my natural instincts as an Educator Innovator with the National Writing Project. As an educator, more specifically an educator passionate about transforming education as a whole in order to grant access to ALL learners to relevant, meaningful learning experiences, I understand the importance of being able to state my beliefs, my values, and most importantly, discuss my practice in an open manner to help facilitate change.

So whatever you name it: Flat Learning, Global Learning, or my personal favorite, Connected Learning, just name it! Own your practice. Be informed. Find networks that constantly nurture your teaching. Discuss how education has evolved. Challenge others to advocate for necessary change in education.