I’ve got kids who are concerned about their world. Some fourth graders started a wiki about endangered animals last year. The year before, some different kids in the same age group had begun one called the “Earth Protection Club.” Another group this year (also in fourth grade) started one about the destruction of rainforests, and they even have a campaign going to write to the president of Brazil to get him to stop its destruction. Our fourth grade teachers do a geography unit that apparently brings global issues to the forefront of kids’ minds. I think that’s pretty cool.
Kids think about making a difference. India has blogged about being humane to animals, despite her uneasiness sometimes. Noa has made a wiki page about her confidence in changing the world. Nicolas, 2 years after he left my school, is still thinking about the need to reform school. And, I can’t even begin to cite the number of verbal conversations I’ve had with kids who care about different issues and worry about them.
Several weeks ago I began something called “Conversation Calendars” with my literacy group. I had found the idea online, and knew it came from a book by Cris Tovani, Do I Really Have to Teach Reading(106-110). I was really interested in the kids reflecting each day on their participation, and it’s not been a great success for that. However, many folks who have implemented this strategy talk about the relationship building it allows and I have found that to be true. I’ve gotten comments from kids that hardly ever speak out in class, and that’s been pretty cool.
My group is made up of advanced readers–kids who are motivated, highly engaged with books and passionate about their book interests. They also, for the most part, like to talk. They have lots to say and often are seeking an audience. So, for several kids, the conversation calendars have been a godsend–they have a direct pipeline to the teacher, and since they’ve been taught since Kindergarten (birth probably) that that’s their audience in school, they want more. So I have two young ladies who asked if I could make the box bigger–or if I could give them more room to write. One of them said, “We have a lot to say to you,” and the other one was standing by her side nodding. I thought about it and decided I would provide small notebooks for them and let them go–and see if I could possibly nudge them to move what they say to their blogs or wikis and go for a more global audience. So yesterday, I provided them their small notebooks, which they were thrilled to get, immediately put their names on and I had to chuckle as they almost skipped out of my room, they were so excited.
My kids have strong opinions about their rights and beliefs, but they also recognize they are usually not empowered to act. Today I got an email from a former student who continues to follow what I do with kids. Here’s his email:
“I decided to look over the discussion your current students are having, when I came across stuff from my former neighbor Ricky. I looked at the discussion between you two (not all of it), and I realized that there are obstacles that stop us from reaching our dreams, and that one of Ricky’s obstacles is being a kid. It doesn’t matter how old you are, your age should not stop you from doing things.”
I agree, age should not be a barrier to doing what you want to do.
We’ve simply got to find ways to give kids voice in ways that matter and that they feel heard. We’ve simply got to stop making them feel squashed, and like we steal their dreams.
We’ve simply got to find ways to validate their feelings, empower them to act, and not just listen to what they say.