Thursday, October 30, 2008

This I Believe Goes Global

[cross-posted on Learning and Laptops - the "I" in this post is Anne Smith]

For the past two years, I have had my classes write their versions of National Public Radio’s “This I Believe” segment. I was introduced to this idea by a colleague and have been always impressed by what my students hold as their personal values and beliefs. Writing these essays has allowed for them to do something they don’t get to do all that often at school - express their heartfelt beliefs. After writing the essays the first year, we submitted them to NPR, but we also decided to podcast them ourselves – no need to wait to see if NPR might choose to broadcast them. The writing was good at expressing their values, but once their voice was added to their written expression, WOW, it simply transformed that personal essay. Instead of the words simply being words, the words conveyed deeply held emotions. Now, this is the standard.

Previous class examples:

Period 2 06-07
Period 5 06-07
Period 3 06-07
Period 2 07-08
Period 5 07-08
Period 3 07-08

We are approaching that time of year, when I am going to start the kids on this writing adventure, but this year I wanted to add a little twist with the help of you out there in the blog-o-sphere. I want “This I Believe” to go global. I want my students to benefit not only from knowing what their peers believe, or what the other AHS classes believe, but to hear and see what the world values. What do kids elsewhere in the U.S. believe in? What do kids elsewhere in the world believe in? What do some of the learned professionals that I know believe in? I want my students to walk away from this experience realizing the power they have as professional writers as well as connecting to other teenagers and adults from around the world. I want to see them exchange ideas, foster relationships, and appreciate the variety of perspectives.

So, how do we accomplish this? Karl Fisch, of course, is willing to be my master facilitator. He has set up a wiki (still a work in progress) that will provide the guidelines for the classes to follow. I am making Maura Moritz’s classes join us in this experience, too, so there will be four classes (ninth grade, 14 and 15 years old) from AHS writing and podcasting their essays: Moritz 3, Moritz 4, Smith 2, and Smith 5. We are hoping to attract at least three other classes from around the world, one each to pair up with each of our four classes. If we get more than four classes that are interested, then we will try to pair up any additional classes with another class somewhere in the world. If your class(es) are interested, email Karl with some basic information (your name, school name, location, grade level(s)/ages, how many classes, and time frame that you’d like to do this) so we can setup those partnerships. (Our thinking is that pairing one class with one class will keep this from becoming too overwhelming for the students, although of course anyone can read/listen/comment to any of the essays on any of the wiki pages).

We will create a wiki page for each set of paired classes and each student will upload their written essay as well as their podcast (the podcast can either be uploaded directly to the wiki, or you can use a variety of other services for that and then link to them). Each pair of classes will be in charge of their own wiki page and we’ll use the discussion tabs on each page to give feedback to the students. If you are an adult interested in writing a piece yourself, simply add them to the “adults” page on the wiki. I am hoping to get some notable edubloggers as well as my superintendent, CIO, and others to participate. It would also be helpful to include a brief bio so the kids can know who they are reading about.

Obviously you don’t have to do this with us or on our wiki, you can create your own. But we thought it might be interesting and helpful to have one wiki that aggregated all these essays/podcasts, one place that students (and others) could visit to learn about beliefs all over the world.

Wondering where to start? NPR has a number of education friendly links to help you along the process:

For Educators
For Students
Essay writing tips
How to contribute an essay to NPR

Timeline: For our classes we are going to start writing our essays, November 6th with a final due date of November 14th. The following week they will begin podcasting their essays. The paired classes don’t have to match this timeline exactly (although that would be great), but we’re hoping they can have theirs completed by the first week of December so that the students can start commenting on each other’s essays/podcasts.

But for other pairings you can set whatever time frame works best for you – that’s the beauty of the wiki, it’s a living document with no “end” to the assignment (although that’s why we need you to include your time frame when you email us so that we can try to match folks up). We would really appreciate any feedback (now or as this progresses) to make this an experience that is truly relevant and meaningful for these kids.


  1. This is a wonderful idea. I hope you get others to join you.

    I'm in the midst of hunting for global collaborators myself for a voicethread project on Chopin's novel, The Awakening. To read about the project, check out my recent blog post. I'd love any interested teachers or adults to join me.

  2. Karl-
    What a fantastic project. I have an English teacher who does this in the spring as a reflective project for Seniors during the senior project season. We would LOVE to find a partner school who would work with us starting in March...preferably seniors getting ready for a new start to reflect on what they believe about the world based on their HS experience~would be great if we could buddy up with someone in a different part of the country or the world. Will be linking back to you when we make our request on my blog;-) but anyone interested in planning with us can contact me
    kristin.hokanson (at)
    Thanks to Anne & the Crew for putting it out there

  3. This is a fantastic idea, while I am not currently in the classroom, simply getting my masters while at home with my kids, I am excited to try something similar when I return to the classroom in a year or two. Teaching writing has always been very important to me, and this assignment, the topic, the technology, and the sharing of their work would really encourage every student to give their best effort. I will be anxious to hear the results of your work.

  4. @tilford - Feel free to participate yourself by adding your essay/podcast to the Adult TIB page on the wiki.