Now that I am at the end of Introduction to Youth Voices, I can go back to the beginning and reflect on what first attracted me, what I experienced along the way, and how I plan to incorporate Youth Voices into my curriculum during the next school year.
I remember that while reviewing the invitation to join the Youth Voices Study Group, the icon of the young boy on a stage, with microphone in hand, evidently wooing the crowd, whose arms were waving and voices seemingly cheering on their peer, stood out to me, and I immediately wanted in. My teaching eyes viewed the icon as a representation of student-centered, engaged learning. It depicted, for me, educational success, because of the enjoyment, confidence, and engagement I saw on the young people's faces. I envisioned that by participating in Youth Voices, I could create a 21st century classroom community of learners, students who would utilize technology to further develop their educational lives in an authentic, purposeful and engaging manner.
During my initial interactions with YV, I was awed by the layout, structure, and resources available with one click. However, although I was excited about the possibilities, I had a simultaneous feeling of apprehension. Would my students be able to participate in this arena? Will my students take this seriously? With further exploration of the site, my concerns were quickly allayed as I noticed the authenticity of the conversations had by teens, the seriousness with which the site's community engaged each other, and the respect with which matters regarding personal lives and/or global issues were explored and discussed. Also, because newcomers to the site (including teachers) first create a biography and questions about self and the world, the potential for community can be fostered, since as soon as biographies and questions are posted, interaction with others can occur—either with peers in the same class or with participants from around the country.
During the process of becoming acclimated with Youth Voices, I have been stretched, faced some of my professional insecurities, and fought the urge to remain in my comfort zone. I was initially uncomfortable with working on a site that would be public, where whatever I wrote could be read by my students, other students that I did not know and teachers whom I had not met. It is not that my writing has never been made public, but this felt different, somehow. Now that the Study Group period is over, many of my professional (and personal) limitations have been transcended, and I have been transformed into a teacher who is more in the world--of technology, of education, of collaborating with teachers and students alike; a teacher who is not only consumed with my own process of teaching and what I am doing wrong or right, but a teacher who could invite students into this process of learning, of inquiry, of interrogating the world with each other.
Next year, I plan to introduce my new group of students to the world of Youth Voices; to have them interact with their peers in a safe, accessible environment that feeds their curiosity about topics that interest them, while at the same time fulfill my concurrent goal of improving students’ literacy skills. My hope is that by participating in this educational online community, readers and writers of all abilities can flex their literary muscles and join in on the “authentic conversations” facilitated by others, along with creating their own avenues for exploration.