by Sara B. Kajder
Why Classroom Stories?
I carry the stories of the English classrooms in which I have learned and failed and triumphed. I have been formed by the students who taught me what it truly meant to put the right book into someone’s hands or to evoke the piece of writing that was necessary and impactful. And, most importantly, I have been marked by the children who have struggled and who have thrived, both inside and outside of our classroom. When I share the stories of what we have learned alongside one another, our story can start to do work. It might evoke questions that lead to greater shared understanding. It might persuade decision makers to band together to create a change. It might open thinking about what is possible in high-need public schools. It might invite someone to want to teach.
We teach in a time that is marked by unstable and often disquieting decisions, rhetoric, and policies. As a teacher educator working alongside students looking to join our field, I’m increasingly fielding their urgent questions about the systemic issues learners in high-poverty schools face, about what it means to teach in public schools, and about what it is that teachers can do to create real change. In almost every case, I find myself offering up the same response – we need to share our stories in ways that bring us together and which bring others to us.
Together, our collective stories allow us not just to shape our classrooms for next year’s students but to help share a different narrative about what learning or struggle or success means in our classrooms. That requires that we share, but it also requires that we share those stories with audiences beyond our communities of practice in ways that evoke response, excite imagination, and incite action.
Sharing Our Stories through Video
I’ll confess – I’m a Flipgrid early adopter and have found abundant classroom uses for the tool since its early releases several years ago. So, this is a tool for literacy learning, for a kind of multimodal writing, for community building, and, as we’re experiencing here, advocacy.
In its most basic form, Flipgrid is a tool for collecting short video posts (90 seconds in length) into a single grid. The video posts are made in response to a single prompt. Contributions are made by following a URL (or link) shared by whomever created the grid.
The affordances of using a tool like Flipgrid for this work start with the use of video to share story. Video allows us to see and hear the story offered, to consider setting/context or shared artifacts, and to pair voice and expression, motion, and even camera positioning – all in doing narrative work. These videos appear in a grid, which allows for reading or viewing stories collectively and in dialogue with one another. When multiple stories intersect, impact changes and strengthens. In effect, the grid grows to serve as a collective and collaborative composition.
Creating and curating stories is an important part of our advocacy work as teachers, but those stories can only lead to change when they find authentic audiences beyond our schools, communities of practice, and shared echo chambers. Part of the elegance of Flipgrid in this work comes in the ability to share a single link/URL to invite posts – and also to “publish” the emerging grid of posts. Audience members can be participants in adding to the grid or can be invited to post responses, “like” or rate posts. Or, once a community has developed and interacted around a grid, the product can be shared as a static, finished tool for viewing – and persuading.
The Reach of One Classroom’s Story
As much as this is work that we engage in collectively as teachers, it is also an opportunity to mobilize our students. For example, I recently worked with a group of students who collaborated to create a Flipgrid to collect local stories about homelessness. We started with what students felt was a simple but important question, asking, “What does it mean to be homeless – and how do we help?” In gathering the 60-90 second video responses from a wide range of folks (e.g., shelter workers, families, pastors, community volunteers, and even children in their school), it became evident that this was a far more nuanced and complicated question than the students had expected. Our students composed the prompt and then read (i.e., viewed and then re-viewed repeatedly) the responses in order to generate their own arguments for what we as a community needed to do better and do next.
Where most classroom projects would have stopped there, our students were quick to call our attention to the reality that our grid could be used beyond our classrooms. So, as a next (and unexpected) phase of our work, we shared the grid as an invitation to classrooms who were situated in similar communities in states in different geographical areas of the country. They, too, gathered video responses and, again, our students viewed and re-viewed and wrote. In that sharing, our students’ world views grew, as did the impact of what they shared.
Audience matters. Grids can expand to include students, parents, policy makers, community leaders – as many points of view as you invite. And, the grid becomes a text that can persuade, invite, and excite. In our case, we shared the Flipgrid with elected leaders in each of the four participating communities to broaden the conversation for how we collectively could better support homeless families. For our students and for us as teachers, this was bold work. We were not just pointing out where we hoped our communities could grow; we were using the videos of citizens directly touched by homelessness to make our cases. What started as an activity meant to engage students in a community-focused inquiry task grew into writing and speaking and, as our students would argue, serving. As such, this became more than a project where students wrote for their teacher. Instead, these were opportunities for students to help compose our future.
Advocacy for change requires community, patience and persistence. Change won’t come tomorrow simply because we post a one minute video to a grid. But, it can come when that grid grows and is shared. It can come when we come together within it to listen closely to the stories shared for common ideas, themes, and ways of collectively moving forward.
In recognition of the work of advocates in literacy education from the National Council of Teachers of English and the National Writing Project, Writers Who Care invites you to view and contribute to our Flipgrid in response to the question, “How do you use writing as a tool for literacy advocacy?” We hope that you will consider this collection a starting point of inquiry with your own students, helping it to grow, inspire change, and collectively move us forward in literacy education.
Sara B. Kajder, Ph.D. is an English Education faculty member in the Department of Language and Literacy Education at the University of Georgia. She currently serves with Dr. Shelbie WItte as co-editor of the NCTE journal Voices from the Middle.