Create Change by Building Voice

Students working on collaborative writing with their teacher to create change.

  

I have the best-worst job ever. I’m a middle school writing teacher, so I get to read a lot of essays! Yay! Go me! I always have a bag of student work with me: Son’s soccer practice—I’m in the car checking research notecards; family movie night—I’m in the wingback chair with a light on, much to the rest of the family’s dismay, reading narratives; Sunday nights—I’m preparing for the week ahead. Although this can often be a tough job, I have the unique privilege of working with my students from sixth through eighth grade. It is amazing to watch them blossom as writers and find their voices. My passion is to foster those voices to create change.

We begin each class with “Sacred Writing Time.” This concept (and name) comes from Corbett Harrison, an inspirational writing teacher. My students spend 10 minutes a day writing on any topic they choose to build fluency and creativity. Students explore topics and writing genres (recipes, poems, prose, comics, lists, etc.). Harrison’s website is full of ideas and lessons to support this activity. The first 10 minutes of class are spent exercising our writing muscles, recording our thoughts and developing our voices. This ritual continues throughout middle school.

Create Change by Building Voice: Sixth to Seventh Grade

As students move from sixth to seventh grade, our focus on voice grows as well. We begin to use our writer’s voice to think deeply about issues students can relate to and those that connect them to the world at large. One issue everyone can relate to is food! Having students think critically about the food they eat, and more important,the food they waste, has been one steppingstone I’ve used to encourage my students to begin to think globally. We research the problem and its solutions using a unit I found on the website ReadWriteThink. The unit, Finding Solutions To Food Waste: Persuasion in a Digital World, is ready to go with links to websites, Ted Talk videos, and handouts to support your students’ research—a busy teacher’s dream! I’ve added some additional print sources I’ve come across over the years as well. This unit opens my students’ eyes to a global issue that impacts so many people. The community I teach in is rather conservative. This unit allows me to develop my students as global thinkers and activists without delving into issues that may be too controversial. My students blog about their solutions and post them for our community to read and respond. Students are responsible for monitoring their blogs and answering readers’ concerns and questions. This experience allows them to write for a real-world audience about a global issue. They begin to see their writers’ voices as a way to positively impact their world.

 

Teacher working with students to build their voices to create change.

 

Create Change by Building Voice: Eighth Grade

This leads us to our culminating project in eighth grade—using our voices as create change in the world as "change-makers." When I stumbled upon the Rock Your World curriculum, I was so inspired and excited to embark on this journey with my students. As their teacher for the past three years, taking them through this process where they would use a variety of communication skills to learn about the many global issues they will face would be my final gift. For my students, coming from a small rural community in northwest New Jersey, this project can be extremely eye-opening. Broadening their worldview can be challenging, but I remind myself that baby steps are still steps!

We use so many of the resources on the website. I love the flexibility of the curriculum. I am able to pick and choose the activities that suit my students’ needs and my time frame. To begin, students explore the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and create their own imaginative interpretation of one of the articles. We then spend weeks exploring topics as they “find their spark.” I’ve linked my Google Slides presentation here, which includes short videos on some issues we explore. I supplement this with print resources from Scope magazine on human trafficking, access to water, and girls’ education. We also watch the fabulous documentary Living on One Dollar. After we find our spark, we continue using many of the curriculum resources on the Rock Your World website as students explore their issue. They conduct research, design informational brochures and posters, and film public service announcements to share with an audience of peers and community members. By writing about real-world issues and engaging in relevant work toward a goal of making positive change, changes my students care about, they begin to express their unique voices in writing, film and art. Rock Your World encourages them to use their communication skills to shine a light on their issue and to be a positive change-maker in their world—to be a voice for good.

Create Change by Building Voice: Graduation

Graduation is just around the corner for my eighth-grade students. I’ve nurtured them for three years. I am proud of each. They have grown as students, writers, and as young men and women. As I get ready to say goodbye, I am confident that many have found their voices. They have embraced our journey through the RYW curriculum and have created unique public service announcements with strong original concepts. They’ve embraced their potential to create change. A few may still be struggling to figure out what to say and how to say it, but they are finding their way. Some had difficulty moving beyond Google photos and glorified PowerPoints despite my encouragement. Some struggled to connect as global citizens. I remind myself: baby steps; I pushed them as far as I could—as far as they were willing to go. And now, I send them off, hoping that the next educator will continue to fan that spark, and that my students’ voices will burn brightly as beacons of hope to create change in their world.

Kelly Salerno has been teaching for the past 15 years at Lafayette Township Elementary School. She began her career as the gifted and talented teacher where she incorporated some projects with a global focus such as a cultural exchange with an international school in Taiwan and The Square of Life project. Both of these experiences had students connecting with peers across the globe to share research and experiences. As she moved on to her current position as the middle school language arts teacher, she discovered a passion for connecting students with the world and issues beyond the classroom walls. Finding issues that students care about gives them a real-world forum for their writing.

 

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Kelly Salerno has been teaching for the past 15 years at Lafayette Township Elementary School. She began her career as the gifted and talented teacher where she incorporated some projects with a global focus such as a cultural exchange with an international school in Taiwan and The Square of Life project. Both of these experiences had students connecting with peers across the globe to share research and experiences. As she moved on to her current position as the middle school language arts teacher, she discovered a passion for connecting students with the world and issues beyond the classroom walls. Finding issues that students care about gives them a real-world forum for their writing.