Voice

As a 4th grade teacher, I taught writing. What comes to mind is grammar, syntax, and punctuation. You can also conjure up images of a beginning, middle, and end model that gives a struggling writer framework. There’s also the picture of students struggling and pushing back against the process of writing and the notion that writing is important. Tell them that they will need to write when they are older, both as an older student and as professional. Tell them all you want. While the mechanics are important — even essential — to crafting a piece of writing, what hooks us about a work of literature? What is so interesting within a book, an article, or a poem that focuses our attention and makes us wish it wouldn’t end? It certainly isn’t the judicious use of commas or the amazing way a sentence was ended without a preposition. It’s the story. I told my students that what makes their writing unique is the voice in it. I told them voice is being able to see ourselves in our writing (or however we express ourselves). Voice isn’t mechanical. It’s human, and we often struggle to find it or adequately express. Sometimes, we just need some guidance.

Telling a story verbally captures attention (if it’s told well), so a written story can do the same thing. What began as verbal transference centuries ago has transformed as our modes of delivery have. The alphabet and writing came about, so stories were written down. Moveable type was created with the printing press so that stories and information could be shared. What is different now lies solely in what type of technology we use to tell the story. Nothing more. Stories still appeal to our sense of curiosity and need for catharsis. Plots haven’t shifted much, but have been retold with the various moving parts in different positions. However, a key difference today is the ability we have to share what we do, have done, and will do. Telling a story to delight masses seems to be the work of a few — work to which we all aspire. But we can tell our story to create relevance for ourselves in our shrinking society. Technology isn’t about how amazing the gadget is, but what it allows us to do. Video games take people on quests and adventures, but they allow the player to have say in a world that he/she creates for him/herself. We can create avatars of ourselves, set characteristics that we find interesting or representative of who we truly are. New gaming consoles have latched onto the idea that people want to share what they are doing with others because it represents who they are. The new Playstation 4 and XBox One allow you to share video of what you are doing in a video game with others. This comes after previous consoles gave us the ability to chat in real time with other players. All of this to say that we want to be involved in a story, tell our own if possible, and share that with others. That is what today’s technology does, and it does so because we crave it as a society and as a culture.

George Couros (@gcouros) gave a TED Talk recently about voice. We all have one, and we want to share it and feel it is accepted and important. That is what drives us, and in education, that can often be what is missing. Our voice is our story. Students have voices, no matter how young or old, and they want to express them one way or another. As an educational community, we need to work diligently to help students express themselves and their voice. We need to model it and encourage it as often as possible. Some of our students will want to pick up a pencil and paper while others will want to create a video blog of their experiences. We as teachers may not be comfortable with video blogs, but safe ways of telling stories need to be provided to these learners. When we hear about change in education, we need to be thinking about the stories we are helping students to tell. It is about their story — as a learner, as a person — and not the technology. Help them to tell it. And check out George’s TED Talk below. Like the student’s tweet asks in the video, are we teaching for yesterday or tomorrow?

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