Friday, November 11, 2011

We Have Authentic Voices

but we are still looking for authentic audiences...

Authentic Voices was launched slightly less than one year ago. It was inspired by a comment made by Cornelius Minor during a presentation for Teachers College Reading & Writing Project. When a teacher asked about how to keep kids motivated to write in a culture where writing isn’t “cool,” Cornelius replied, “You make it cool.” He talked about kids recording themselves reading their stories and posting it to YouTube. He described how kids were inspired by other kids who were willing to put their writing “out there” and how it motivated them to publish their writing too. Additionally, I had been reading Troy Hick's The Digital Writing Workshop and listening to Paul Allison and Chris Sloan's podcasts Teachers Teaching Teachers.  Discussing all of these influences with a few dedicated, talented teachers, we realized we could create a space to celebrate and publish student work. A space where students could feel their writing mattered and was important.

Wikispaces was still a relatively new content-creation tool for me but it seemed like it would fit my purposes: a site where we could upload student work of all formats (text, voice, and video) with a moderated space for comments about the students’ writing. There are probably hundreds of other ways we could have set up Authentic Voices but in the interest of avoiding analysis-paralysis, I went with a tool I found accessible and manageable. Thus, Authentic Voices was launched.

My Name was the first student piece added to Authentic Voices. Working with this student taught me so much about the potential online writing spaces have for developing student voice. After showing Deandre how to enter the text to his poem and how to record himself using Audacity, Deandre asked me, “Is it alright if I change my poem?” Well, as any Language Arts teacher will tell you, getting students to revise their work is often the most challenging part of teaching writing. I was thrilled that, given to opportunity to publish his work, Deandre was noticing that parts of his poem could be improved. But I played it cool to Deandre, “Yea, if you want to, you can change it.” Deandre edited his piece five, yes that’s right, five separate times. Much of Deandre’s revisions had to do with the interplay of reading his piece out loud and listening back to his recording. As he heard himself reading his poem, he could understand how words could be changed and moved around to improve his meaning. His writer’s voice got stronger. After about nine different attempts at recording, Deandre finally pronounced his work done. Listen to the results yourself. This young man embraced writing and his voice.

Since that time I have had the opportunity to work with a number of other young men and women as they took a piece of writing and breathed their voices into it. Not every student took as much time as Deandre to edit and revise. Some students improvised as they recorded their piece and never went back and changed the written words. Some students made one recording and declared it perfect. But one thing remains consistent. Students are empowered by having their writing taken seriously. Students would grab me in the hall and say “I wrote something else, can I put it on Authentic Voices?” I would write out the website on the back of my business cards (at least they are good for something) and students would grin shyly, put it in their pocket and tell me their grandmother might want to see it.

Authentic Voices has an Authentic Audience. According to our wiki statistics, we get thirty to forty hits every month from countries around the world. Students are amazed to think that someone in another country has read and listened to something they wrote and that is keeping them motivated to write for the time being.  But I am hungry for more. I know that the power of publishing your work to a public forum will fade without authentic feedback. We want to know what people think when they listen to our work. We want to know what connections they have with what we have written. We want to know what our work makes them wonder about.

This is why I will keep reaching out to global learning communities through groups like the Global Classroom Project, Global Education Collaborative, and through tweeting my heart out. I know that there is a classroom down the street or Down Under that will join us soon. I look forward to the day when I blog about the interactions between our students and students from another place and culture that make connections as writers, authentically.

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