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Dear NYCWP Community,
Every November, the National Writing Project gathers for its Annual Meeting the week prior to Thanksgiving. This year, my travel was funded by HIVE Digital Media Learning Fund, for which I am very grateful. The Annual Meeting is wonderful; I always look forward to gathering with teachers from the WP community, speaking with other site directors, listening to the inspiring words of NWP leadership, and learning about the great work happening at each of the many Writing Project sites around the country. This year, however, was particularly exciting, because Paul Allison and I were able to share work done by teachers at International Community High School in collaboration with the NYCWP. This project began as a summer inquiry funded by HIVE DML, which was extended into a school-year component by a LRNG grant awarded at last year’s Annual Meeting. Paul and I participated in roundtables where we had the opportunity to discuss both the summer program and the school-year work.
As many of you know, the Youth Voices Inquiry Project has been an integral part of the NYCWP’s student-facing programming over the last few years. Prior to the LRNG grant, the Youth Voices Inquiry Project (YVIP), received funding from the New York Community Trust/Hive Digital Media Learning Fund, with matching funds from the National Writing Project, Lehman College, and BronxNet TV, to conduct activities with students using the Youth Voices platform, http://youthvoices.net. YVIP youth and teachers created blogs with various entries: media profiles, exploratory essays, video analyses, Hangouts, video journalism, Scratch and Powtoon projects, podcasts, Open Badges, and/or digital narratives. Goals of the Inquiry included:
- providing teens with an opportunity to explore interests through digital tools and connected-learning practices that link academic work with youth’s cultural, community, or peer identities;
- enabling teachers to re-think literacy pedagogy and learn alongside youth in a nonhierarchical environment;
- developing a model that combines youth education and teacher professional development in support of connected learning theory and practice.
The work of the LRNG grant, titled International Community Voices, stemmed from earlier YVIP iterations. The joint program of International Community High School (ICHS) and the NYCWP focused on developing interest-driven exploratory projects that build students’ English language capacities and deepen their academic learning. These projects were designed to launch a new channel for language learners on Youth Voices. ICHS, the school where this work took place, serves students who are recent immigrants to the US, and employs a successful model of language/academic learning developed in the Internationals Network. The students at ICHS, all of whom have been in the United States for fewer than four years, enter with a range of literacy proficiencies in both English and their home languages. Access to computers and internet at home is limited for many of these students. The students at ICHS, many of whom live in poverty, are at risk of being shut out of the dynamic, language-intensive online environment that most teens (as well as the rest of us) inhabit. It is an issue of access and equity that language learners have the opportunity to learn the tools and practices that will enable them to engage in academic play and claim a space in online communities that require reading and writing in English.
We proposed an after-school program at ICHS where teens have ready access to computers in order explore questions about themselves and the broader world, and ultimately deepen their academic language proficiency and content knowledge. Our project developed new modes of support outside the classroom for language learners of varying literacy levels to read, write, comment, create media, and research in a safe space. Teachers and students completed a six-week, after-school Youth Voices workshop in which students, with the support of their teachers, extended their class work with informal research and authentic writing on the platform. All of the regular student participants are excited to continue to use Youth Voices both independently and in the classroom going forward, and the teacher participants have set goals to continue this work and support student use of the platform within the context of the school day. Most importantly, students who might not otherwise have had access to technology have found a space for themselves in the virtual sphere.
In the roundtable Paul and I facilitated at NWPAM, we shared our work from the cross-generational project, starting with the YVIP, which began as a pilot program in 2013 with support from the National Writing Project’s Educator Innovator, and leading to the most recent phase of the work at ICHS. With the added support of the New York Community Trust/New York City Hive Learning Network, the YVIP expanded into a full-year inquiry, engaging youth and teachers as co-learners with the ultimate goal of fostering a peer-supported and making/writing-centered classroom. It was exciting for all of us at the NYCWP to help this program evolve over the last few years, and it was even more exciting to share the work we did with other Project sites and receive feedback from those engaged in other LRNG projects.
I know I’ve spoken at length about NYCWP programming, but I feel that it’s important to stress that one of the best things about the roundtables Paul and I attended at NWPAM was the opportunity to learn how other sites and their partner teachers created programs. I was especially taken by the varied interpretations of “out of school time” and how that affected student learning. While we interpreted “out of school” as living in a digital sphere, other sites took advantage of physical spaces outside of the school building and day. I loved hearing about those projects and imagining the inspired work that teachers in NYC could do with students. I wish that every teacher in the country had the opportunity to participate in these roundtables and to learn about all the different projects. The level of dedication to this work—from teachers, from kids, from members of different WP sites, and of course from the funders—was really remarkable. I know I’m already thinking about all of the different ideas, applications and approaches I learned in the Roundtable, and the ways that similar work or work inspired by these projects could be done at our NYCWP site.
I am consistently inspired by the work other sites do with teachers and students, and never stop feeling encouraged by my colleagues. I am grateful to be part of the NWP and to have access to such a large network of phenomenal, dedicated teachers and teacher consultants. I’m certain I’ve forgotten to include a million things in this post. There’s just no way that I could encompass such an experience in a single blog post (despite my attempt to do so)! I’m grateful to the NWP for this experience, their support, and their ongoing dedication to education; to HIVE DML for supporting my attendance and participation; to John Legend and the Show Me Campaign, Educator Innovator, the MacArthur Foundation and other LRNG supporters for their inspiration, passion for student learning, and funding; and to all of the teachers at ICHS and NYCWP teacher consultants who made this work possible.
All my best,