Voices in Education

Helping Students Find their Voice

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As a high school English teacher, I encourage my students to find their voice and use it to express their thoughts and opinions. I firmly believe that the use of voice is a fundamental skill that will help to achieve any life goal. In our society today, now more than ever, students need to not only know what they want in life but be able to state it in the proper forum to the appropriate people to make that wish into a reality.

Digital media literacy is the key to voice in the classroom. Please don't misunderstand me; I love language. However, I struggled to help my students find their voice and express their thoughts and individuality through and beyond a text -- until  I discovered digital media.

Developing Individual Identity and Personal Expression in the Classroom

Just today in the classroom, I was inspired again by how digital media enables students to find and use their voice.  I am teaching Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe in my Sheltered World Literature course and introduced a blogging project to be completed in conjunction with reading the novel.  All of my students are learning English as a second language and struggle to express their thoughts in English. For the project, I broke up the class into groups and asked them to brainstorm topics for a blog under the general ideas umbrella of gender identity, cultural identity and response to trauma.  The novel deals with these issues but after telling my students that their blogs did not have to reference the novel, we had the most interesting conversations. A student asked me if we have “one gender” schools here in American and what they are called. She attended a single-gender school for three years in primary school in China and was interested in writing to explore if people who attended a one gender school are more successful than those who attend integrated schools. She also laughed about the fact that, in America, we call one gender schools “all boy” or “all girl” schools because she believed her translation was more linguistically complex -- a fact  I could not argue with. Another student asked me if I had heard about the fact that Japanese colleges that traditionally accepted students according to test scores and letters of recommendation, were now instituting a policy of gender recruitment. In Japan, girls would now receive preference over boys when applying to college and she wanted to write her blog about this topic. As I walked around the room and spoke to each of my students about their proposed topics, I saw a new side to each of them as individuals. Just the chance to brainstorm the question for their blogs gave my students the opportunity to use their voice, express personal interests and show their individuality in the classroom.

Creativity at Play

Teaching Romeo and Juliet took on a new dimension in my 9th Grade Literature and Writing I classes when I incorporated a creative writing project using Google Maps. Asking students to decide if the play should have a tragic or a happy ending, and allowing them to set the play anywhere they could place a pin in Google maps, tapped into a creativity and individuality I had not seen from my students in previous assignments. One of my students set her to play in her grandfather’s village in China and zoomed in to show me his house in such detail that I felt like he was going to invite us inside to visit. The assignment also asked students to rewrite five scenes from the play.  I vividly remember a captivating story from one of my students where it turns out that Juliet was one of a set of identical triplets. In this new version, Romeo and Juliet lived happily ever after because one of Juliet’s identical sisters married Paris. I discovered that one of my students was an amazing artist because she created original artwork for each of her Google map pins. Through the completion of this project, my students practiced their creative writing skills while making independent choices and expressing themselves as individuals.

Language combined with digital media enables students to connect to literature using real-world methodologies while showing their own personal identity. My students are able to express themselves in ways I have never seen before in my teaching. Through assignments that incorporate digital media, my students not only connect to the texts we read in class on deeper levels but also illustrate their knowledge and interests in technology, history and culture that reach outside of the classroom. Students submit assignments that are true reflections of their personal interests while also demonstrating mastery of the subject being studied. Through the incorporation of digital media into my curriculum, I am now able to teach my students how to express their own unique individuality in their work. Whether through written or spoken assignments, I will do my best to continue to learn more about digital media and incorporate it into my curriculum --  now I’m able to confidently help my students find and use their voice.

Stacey Cler

Stacey Cler English Teacher

Stacey Cler is an English teacher at Monta Vista High School in Cupertino, CA. Beginning her nineteenth year of teaching, Stacey is teaching 9th grade Literature and Writing I and Sheltered World Literature. Stacey credits KQED for catalyzing and fostering her love of digital media in the classroom. Having recently received the PBS Media Literacy Educator Certification by KQED , Stacey is excited to incorporate more digital media into her curriculum as a way for students to use their voice and illustrate their individuality.

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