Youth Voice Matters More Than Ever: How to Get Students Sharing From a Distance

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In times of great change and uncertainty, making our voices heard is more important than ever. The same is true for our students. How will they add to the national discussion as our country responds to a global pandemic?

KQED’s Youth Media Challenge: Let’s Talk About Election 2020 launched in January before the world changed so much. Its focus on giving students a voice has never been more relevant.

The challenge asks middle and high school students to share their voice--literally--by making audio or video commentaries about an issue that matters to them. With support from a teacher, they then publish their commentary on KQED Learn.

But how can teachers support students in this election challenge while we are all learning remotely? Does it make sense to try?

Absolutely, according to high school history teacher Bob Kelly, whose students in rural O’Neals, CA, completed the Youth Media Challenge first semester. He plans to do it again with students this semester from a distance.

View the recording of a webinar with KQED and teacher Bob Kelly to learn more about the challenge and how to implement it.

“We need to help our students find their voices... We also need to help them raise their voices when they need to be heard, teach them how to be heard and then what to do when they are heard. This project reaches our students at each step in this process,” Kelly says.

Youth Media Challenge: Step-by-Step

"Make a plan from the start," Kelly says. Defining each project step and checking in with students as the steps are complete is key. We know that remote teaching circumstances are different for every educator, but the steps below and this example assignment sequence are a good place to start.

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Step 1: What is a commentary? What makes a good one? Analyze great student examples to get inspired. Peer examples often resonate most. Students can browse the nearly 100 commentaries already posted on the Media Challenge showcase! (This analyzing commentary graphic organizer may also come in handy.)

Step 2: Choose an issue. For the Let’s Talk About Election 2020 challenge, students find an issue that matters to them. Middle school social studies teacher Samantha McMillan, who created the assignment sequence, suggests starting with civics fundamentals.

“I would recommend that teachers start with defining civic action and what it looks like or can look like. Students could explore citizenship, learn about the difference between charity vs. justice or maybe a lesson on empathy?”

Some students already have issues they’re passionate about. Others need more guidance. Bob Kelly’ students take the Pew Research Center’s political typology quiz as a starting point. After researching, they share their top three issues using a Google form. Kelly uses the form to see what issues are “trending” in his class and how to support students remotely moving forward.

Step 3: Write a script. One of Kelly’s guiding questions is, What would you like to tell the presidential candidates about your issue? Both Kelly and McMillan used resources found on KQED Learn, including a script graphic organizer, peer feedback form and a how-to on citing evidence in a journalistic style. All of these resources can be accessed by students online.

Step 4: Hit record! Next, it’s time to create an audio or video. Often, the most powerful commentaries are the simplest. Students can use a phone or laptop to record their script or shoot a selfie-style video. Others may choose to add soundscape to audio or make their video more visual with photos or clips. It depends on your students’ level experience and access to tech tools.

“I would find a way to do it with lessened tech for my students who are struggling with connectivity issues,” says Nicki Pfaff, a high school English teacher.

Fortunately, almost anyone can create a recording studio at home. As a starting point, students can watch our tips for audio and video recording and check out how KQED reporters are using bedspreads, pillows and other household staples to record the news you hear on air!

Step 5: Publish to KQED’s Youth Media Challenge site! To publish your students’ commentaries on KQED, you’ll need to create a teacher account and invite your students to join the site using a class code. Follow these simple steps to sign on. Students publish their pieces on the site, but teachers get final approval before any commentaries post. All students in grades 6-12 are welcome to participate!

As always, being flexible with deadlines and staying connected to students through the process will build relationships and encourage learning. When we are apart, hearing each other’s voices is a way to make us feel closer. KQED’s Let’s Talk About Election 2020 challenge wasn’t specifically designed for this moment, but it can be one of the things that bring students together.