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?


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.


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.


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

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!


Created by Raed Ahmed


Created by Ethan and Evan Williams


Created by Caitlin Rogers


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.


Created by Veda Velamuri


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.


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!

More than a Number: Barry Lane’s Musical Response to Students and High Stakes Testing

Wow! I have been doing so much thinking about the effects of too much emphasis on testing on students. I know. So many people have discussed it. So many more people will discuss it. But, it doesn’t hurt to continue this important discourse. These important discussions coupled with action are the only way to transform education into what our students deserve.

Please listen to Barry Lane’s tune. Share it. Discuss it. Keep the dreams alive.


Deprogramming: How can I encourage change and reflection on gender issues in my classroom?

(Response to Romance in the Classroom: Inviting Discourse on Gender and Power

by Diane Waff)


I could not agree more with the need for discussing and responding to gender dynamics in the classroom. I’ve known for a long time about the disproportionate amount of time spent on male students due to classroom management issues. I understand how in this respect female students are losing out on attention from the teacher. This may lead to female students feeling less invested in school.


I also understand how the language and actions of teenage boys can make females feel harassed, inferior, objectified. I appreciated the journal-writing approach coupled with literature to open up discussion.


In my own classroom, we read House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros. The Red Clowns vignette is particularly powerful. Some students do not even catch the rape, but when they do, the reactions are mixed. I remember one discussion quite well. We were talking about why more sexual assault victims were female vs. male. One boy, we will call him J, said something to the effect of boys always wanting sex so a girl wouldn’t have to rape him. I asked J questions like, “What if the person is too young to understand exactly what the abuser is doing? What if the victim doesn’t understand the ramifications of being forced to have intercourse? What if the victim was your sister?” All of these questions were responded to by J with something like, “At least, he’s getting some” or “It would never be against a boy’s will to have sex.” When I asked J if he ever thought of the abuser being male vs. female, he quickly changed his tune. He said, “That’s just wrong!” I responded, “Any time someone is forced to have sex without his or her consent and any time someone is too young to fully understand everything that goes along with having sex (consensual or not), that is wrong.” J continued to disagree. Everyone else in the group disagreed with J, but his persistence, his unyielding, his unwavering commitment to portraying teenage boys as being primarily motivated by sex was shocking. A girl in the group just looked at him with disdain. Some of the other boys laughed. Others looked surprised at his point of view. But, I wonder what the students took home with them that day? Do they find elements of truth in J’s beliefs? Do they understand what that means to them? To their peers? Are teenage boys at the mercy of their hormones? What does that mean for other teenage boys? What about to teenage girls? Unfortunately, I only had this group for a couple of weeks, and that was one of our last sessions.


Then, my next wondering is how to get my female students who have been surrounded by this type of behavior their whole lives to speak against it. Currently, if a boy whistles at a girl, and I ask them not to since it is disrespectful, I do get the occasional responses from some of my female students, “Miss, he is just showing he likes her. It’s a compliment.” How do I combat that? How do I speak against behavior they have witnessed their whole lives from friends, brothers, and maybe, even fathers? How can I get them to see this type of behavior should not be tolerated when it may still be welcomed by friends, sisters, and maybe, even mothers?


I’m imagining steps like those taken by the author of this article would help. I have always found journal writing to be cathartic. I’d like to include literature and articles to boost open discussion as well. Perhaps, guest speakers could shed light on the subject.


Still, I wonder. I don’t want to be disrespectful, yet I do not want female students to continue to feel objectified or powerless. I especially do not want male students to leave high school thinking it is okay to act as many of them do in the wider world.


Have any of you experienced the same sorts of reactions as I have? How did you address this behavior? What changes were you able to make, if any?


Digital Learning Day: A Call to Action

Sitting at a district meeting yesterday, I heard more of an all too widespread and alarming discussion. “Our students aren’t interested in learning like we were.” “The kids today are distracted by gadgets. They would rather text than talk.” “Our kids don’t have a long attention span.”

All of these rumblings have a common thread. Yes, our students for the most part, are quite different than us, their educators. They are interested in technology. They do like to communicate digitally. They do multitask.

I felt so uncomfortable hearing our district leaders finding so many shortcomings in our students—especially since what these teachers were critical of can be such assets. What people were complaining about are very important skills in the 21st century.

Don’t get me wrong. I, too, have been frustrated by a student slyly texting a friend to socialize instead of completing the class project. I, too, have wondered why I constantly have to switch gears in a single class to engage students. I, too, have wondered how someone can spend hours and hours playing a game and not ten minutes on a journal assignment.

But, after years of wondering and researching and collaborating and analyzing and experimenting, I know one thing. I have more questions. I also know that our students have a cultural wealth that demands our attention and respect. Their knowledge of building and sustaining community, creating and collaborating on multimedia projects, their hunger for information. All of this makes them candidates for being exceptional students.

Then, what’s the problem? Why is the United States lagging behind other countries in education? Why are some schools now being named “drop-out factories”? Why do some teachers perceive our students as being deficient learners rather than remarkable ones?


It’s not the fault of the teachers. It’s not the fault of the students. It’s not the parents. It’s not the media. It’s not the technology companies. It’s not the video games.

It’s the educational system in the United States. We operate in an antiquated context far removed from the realities of today’s society, its demands and its challenges. We want our students to fit into some educational paradigm that was conceived eons ago.

Well, in case you haven’t noticed, so much has happened to transform our landscape. Technology has developed. There are now so many digital advances making once impossible things everyday common occurrences. Every day, there is something new, something that ups the stakes, something that creates another challenge to our obsolete educational system. One thing, however, that is not changing, not transforming, not responding—fast enough anyway—is education.

Today’s learners are different. They learn differently from most of their teachers. All true. I get it.

When, then, do we respond to these differences? When do we take into account these inconsistencies and make systemic changes that embrace our learners and all their skills? When do we create an inclusive environment to fit their needs instead of forcing them into an educational box where they must abandon so much that is part of their culture? When will we demand an education that our students deserve, one where instead of failing, they will thrive?


Technology is not the enemy. It is not gadgets OR lessons. It is not cell phones OR learning. It is not social networks OR accountable talk.

On the contrary, we have the opportunity to use these powerful tools and many more to truly reform our classrooms. We have a chance to show our students how much we do respect and admire their skills by stepping out of our comfort zones to learn from them.

So for today, our first National Digital Learning Day, I ask what you can do to help these changes happen and happen sooner rather than later? Each day we do not advocate for our learners, each day we do not rally around this type of reform is another day where technology leaves education further behind.

Digital. Learning. Digital + Learning. Digital Learning. 


Changing Education Paradigms

So what have you all been doing during this week of professional development and teacher preparation? Well, I have to say this has been the best week of PD yet. It’s probably because it’s all about educational reform, why it’s necessary, and what needs to change. 

North Dallas High School has been awarded the TTIPS grant to transform the campus. This is a time for impact. This is a time to make a difference. This is a time where empowered educators with vision and discipline can be catalysts to reform education.

What a great time it is indeed. It’s time to turn talk into action!


Video from KarmaTube

Questioning Magnets

I have had the pleasure of working with almost half of our incoming Freshman class this week during our campus’ Early Start program. These kids were dynamite! So energetic. So enthusiastic. For the most part, they seemed to know that high school meant business.

It’s amazing how quickly kids can become friends. It’s fascinating how various combinations of students can really set the tone for the whole class. There were some really bright kids. You know the ones whose lights are clearly on and searching for more information. There were others who were less eager and sure of themselves, but they demonstrated great curiosity. Over all, there was a great deal of optimistic anticipation in the air.

At the end of today, the last day of the program, I learned that one of the kids was not going to attend my school. He had earned commended on all of his TAKS tests so of course, he was headed for the Science and Engineering Magnet. That was his explanation. As if to say, why would anyone who had received the highest scores on the state assessments attend a comprehensive high school? The brightest students (as decided by grades and tests) go to magnet schools in Dallas ISD. 

When I learned this, I was upset. Not just because this was a really neat kid who contributed so much to the class, but also because I realized the system was broken. How many other students were opting to go to a magnet school rather than mine? It wasn’t just our school and our students who are missing the opportunity to learn side by side these highly motivated and disciplined minds. The magnet kids are missing out as well. This student told me not to worry because he loved our school. He lives really close by, and he was going to join the clubs on our campus because they don’t have those types of organizations at the magnet schools. The magnet kids are missing out on activities that epitomize the high school experience: athletics, extracurriculars, working with all levels of learners.

Even the term “magnet” school suggests these campuses have programs much more attractive than comprehensive high schools. It just stinks of inequality. Is it worth sacrificing so many comprehensive campuses to have one magnet school that is the #1 public school in the country? Do the ends justify the means? What if everyone attended their home schools? What if everyone were on even ground learning in collaboration with one another? How would that transform education?

Shift Happens v5 – Iowa, Did You Know? [VIDEO] | Dangerously Irrelevant | Big Think


Does anyone know the stats for Texas? I bet we are in worse shape than Iowa. We need to RETHINK our schools. If not, we will be left behind. Watch this.
It’s not just about relationships with students. It’s about having relationships with students where they want to be challenged and will rise to our expectations, the expectations of their future employers. If we fail to do this, we fail our students.