Monday, October 19, 2009

This I Believe Goes Global - We Want You!

(This post is written by Anne Smith and cross-posted on Learning and Laptops. So the "I" in this post is referring to Anne.)

For the past three 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
Wiki 09-10

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 invite you in the blog-o-sphere to join us again. 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. Maybe you can challenge your principal, your school board members, your local politicians, heck, maybe your entire school. Maybe we can even get our President to write his own “This I Believe.”

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 again, 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, please complete this Google Form with some basic information (your name, your email address, school name, location, grade level(s)/ages, how many classes, number of students in each class, 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 13th for their essay. 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 Thanksgiving 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 opportunity to engage students not only in writing for a purpose, writing for an authentic audience, but also to engage in collaboration. What a great way to demonstrate the power of writing, the power of words. It is also timely, since tomorrow is the first National Day on Writing!

    I've been doing the "This I Believe" essay with my 10th grade students for the past three years. It is one of the most powerful projects we complete. This year, I recorded and live streamed their speeches so parents could watch and comment. The students and I were surprised by the all the positive feedback we received. I look forward to joining this project with current 10th grade students.

  2. Hello Anne,

    I'm a frequent reader of The Fischbowl and have shared it with my gr.11 sociology students. I also teach gr.10 English and gr.11 Philosophy for Teens, a class very close to my heart. I work in a private school in Montreal, Quebec, Canada and I'm sure that any of my three classes would love to participate in "This I believe". They recently have begun blogging and podcasting is my next goal. Would you like to hear Canadian voices?
    Daryl Bambic

  3. @Daryl - Definitely, unless Canada seceded from the globe and we missed it. Please fill out the Google Form linked in the post.

  4. I'm writing from Reading Memorial High School in Reading, MA. We're in our third year of having all seniors write a This I Believe essay as the culminating piece to their English experience at our school. I'll talk with teachers in my department about the possibility of linking in with your kids.
    Last year was the first time we posted podcasts of those essays that students rated as the best. You can find them at:

    Mike McSweeney

  5. I think it is a good idea to learn their personal beliefs.
    10th grade student

  6. I think the "This I Believe" essay is the way I can learn something about the personal beliefs. I think this is a good essay.
    11th grade student.

  7. I think this is a great way to connect with people from all over the world. I really like this topic because we can share our ideas and what are we believe in to show others who can relate with us. Writing is something that we can share our emotions.
    10th grade student.