Youth Voices: A Community of Conversations

Youth Voices is a community and a platform. It’s an openly networked social media site that was created and is maintained by secondary school teachers in the New York City Writing Project and other local sites of the National Writing Project. Beyond being just a blogging platform, Youth Voices is a place where real conversations happen. Members can write about any topic they want and build on those ideas by collaborating with others.

Youth Voices began a dozen years ago, when a group of teachers came together to create an online space for their students to voice their thoughts, explore their passions, explain things they understand well, wonder about things they have just begun to understand, and share discussion posts with others. Some of these teachers had class blogs; others had experimented with their students having individual blogs; and a few had exchange projects in which students were paired across classrooms via blogs.

Over time, these Youth Voices teachers have developed a model of blended learning that emphasizes self-directed, interest-based inquiry. Students in the community become social media “power users” by posting and commenting on discussions that grow deeper and gain more disciplinary insight as they become shared explorations among a trusted group of teachers, other adults, and students.

As they began to build this community, the teachers explored many questions: What happens to the work on a blog when the class ends? How can we open our students’ work up to the world while also giving real-world, supervised experience in a safe and constructive online environment? These teachers began to imagine: What if we made a site that anybody could join, that would exist independent of class or school schedules, and where the students’ work would be kept and be easy to access indefinitely? What if we became a community of teachers and students working together to build a place for conversations around digital media and writing?

In addition to writing about any topic students like, classes can choose to participate in more structured “missions” that offer invitations to create something with others around a theme. For example, recently, the community has been writing poems around the theme Black Lives Matter.

If you are asking similar questions, if you share a commitment to nurturing students’ voices and passions, perhaps you would be interested in joining this community of teachers and having your students start posting and commenting on this platform. Anyone can join Youth Voices, and you are invited to join as an educator or as a student.

By Paul Allison and Karen Fasimpaur