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Empowering Student Voice

Why do I write? A powerful question with so many possible answers. Ms. Gillian Schneider, an English teacher at our school, asked her Creative Writing students this question to start class. A display case in front of the B wing at our school includes her students' responses to this critical question:

To relax when stressed
To be creative
To understand myself
Because no one will listen
To express myself
To think deeper
To organize my thoughts
Because it's fun
My writing doesn't get annoyed when I rant
To look at the world in a different way
To inspire others
To escape from the world's problems

See....a powerful question with so many unique, personal responses.

I continuously tell my students that they will write, in one form or another, for their rest of their lives. As an English teacher, writing instruction is something I do on a consistent basis; however, the struggle has always been student motivation and ownership. There are so many benefits to writing, but it can be hard for students to understand unless they have experienced the value of it. In addition, they are not always being asked to write for different purposes, across multiple platforms. Luckily, educational trends are moving towards expanding student voice beyond the teacher and classroom, and there are various ways that teachers can incorporate writing, but in a reflective and meaningful way. As I visit the English department this week, I am motivated by my colleagues to keep fighting the good fight when it comes to student writing, and I am energized by the awesome ways they are incorporating writing and promoting student voice in their classrooms. Here are a few examples:

I am excited to report that numerous students at our school are blogging. As I reflect on why I write, I think of this blog and how it serves the purpose of educating others about the awesome things happening at our school. I have learned so much from this process, and this blog serves as my reflective outlet for everything I see, hear, feel, and experience during my visits; I am so excited that our students are given the opportunity to experience something similar.

Ms. Karen Lawson and Ms. Stacey Welton ask their students to blog as part of their work during a choice novel unit. Students are given limited expectations, as the teachers' goal is to just get them to write about what they are reading in a reflective way. Students created accounts using Blogger, since they are already part of their Google accounts, and are given time in class each week to post on their blogs. While prompt ideas are provided, the students have choice on what they write. According to Ms. Lawson, the students' writing is enjoyable and refreshing to read because it shows their emotion and personality. She has learned so much about her students from reading their posts and values this opportunity for them to voice their values, opinions, thoughts, and ideas. This year, she is challenging her students by also asking them to read each others' blogs and comment on what they are reading. Comments are not meant to just agree or disagree; they are asked to provide meaningful commentary based on what they read and their interpretation. She explained to me that the students' responses to one another were rich, thorough, and powerful. With these activities, she has expanded the students' audience and also asked them to write in various ways, for different purposes. Providing choice and asking for student voice will enhance any class, as evidenced by our students' work over the past few weeks.

Creating Websites
We all know that students are able to articulate their thoughts verbally in more effective ways after they are given time to ponder a question, talk about it, and write about it. We want our students to be great thinkers, writers, and speakers, so we need to give them the opportunity to do so. Mr. Mike Phelan and Ms. Pat Andreas' students are currently working in lit circles in order to discuss a novel. Instead of asking students to answer a set of questions, their students had options to create some sort of shared space in order to complete various tasks, write their part, and collaborate with their group members. Many groups chose to create a shared website - using Google Sites or Weebly -  that included various pages, per assigned role in the lit circle. From there, as students read the novel, they are writing throughout the process and also sharing/learning from their group members. When I looked at students' sites during their discussions, it was amazing to see the amount of writing, in various forms, visible on the site. In addition, the discussions were thorough because they had time to write and reflect before coming to the group. Lastly, since students share this site with their group members, the audience moves past the teacher and in turn, increases student accountability and quality. What a great artifact of learning!

Google +
Similar to creating websites, teachers can utilize social media platforms like Google + in order to increase student ownership and promote student voice. Google + provides options for users to create Communities or Collections, which both provide outlets for writing and sharing. Some of Mr. Phelan's students decided to utilize Google + Communities instead of sites for their lit circle assignment. Their communities provided a collaborative environment where students could read, post, and comment with their group members. In addition, the groups could set up different categories in order to make it organized and efficient. In Ms. Julie Hanson's English II classes, she has her students utilize Google + to discuss their choice novels. Each group has its own Google + community, and students are asked to complete various tasks - in written form - in the community. From there, she has an artifact from each group, and they are writing in a different format suitable for social media. Google + also gives the option to include links, images, and videos connected to your writing, which opens up so many other creative outlets. In my classes, I've also incorporated Google + Collections to have the students write and share with others following their Collections. Similar to blogs and websites, students can voice their thoughts, opinions, ideas, and questions for a different audience, in a different format. They tend to write more without even planning to do so. It is awesome!

Why do I write? Why do you write? As evidenced by the words of our students, the power of writing is endless. Click here to see why people all over the world decide to write.  #whatsup


  1. Love how this post connects "Why Write" to "Where to Write". Great share. Keep up the good work!


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