Spacer. Mauricio Gonzalez, poet.

Honoring Student Voices: Global WRITeS & Video Conferencing in Schools

Classroom video conferencing helps young poets improve performance

By Maria Fico & John Ellrodt

On screen, a 13 year old boy steps up from his chair and shakes out his hands, his arms and his legs. He closes his eyes, tips his head back, and takes a deep breath. Suddenly, he squares his head, stares straight out, smiles, and with a clear strong voice says: "My name is Mauricio Gonzalez, and the title of my poem is I Thank Poetry for That." He launches into a personal inventory of the pleasures and pains of writing from the heart, of the anxiety and joys of being in the spotlight, at the microphone, on camera and before a crowd. It is his ode to the art of performance poetry, to the exhilaration of the slam; and it is his heartfelt thank you for how it has changed his life. As he finishes, there are cheers from the students around him, and applause, heard through the monitor, from the remote audiences and the judges in this video conference poetry slam.

In his performance, there was no hint of the stutter that Mauricio has labored with throughout his childhood, only an intentional mention of its absence. Gone too is the shame and frustration of being misunderstood, even ignored by teachers and peers. They've been supplanted by a clear and confident voice, an honest and articulate hand. Now there is pride in his accomplishment, anticipation as he waits for the judges' scores, and finally elation as they hold up five perfect 10s.

Mauricio is part of Bronx WRITeS, an innovative program that integrates digital technology—in particular, video conferencing—with literacy instruction and the arts. The students write original poetry in workshops led collaboratively by their classroom or literacy teacher and a teaching artist.

It was created nearly ten years ago by a team of educators that we were part of, and that included Geri Hayes of the NYC Department of Education, and Jason Duchin of DreamYard.

Kujegi, poet.

Bronx WRITeS—Global WRITeS—HSV

Honoring Student Voices is based on a 10-year-old model developed by Maria Fico, then Regional Instructional Technology Specialist for Region 1 schools, and John Ellrodt, Director of the RETC at Fordham University.

Bronx WRITeS is a poetry writing and performance project that culminates with a District-wide Poetry Slam competition via video conferencing. This project began in 1996 with 4 middle schools and today serves a total of 25 schools and over 30 classes grade 4 through 12, in the Bronx, NY. The project combines original poetry writing with the art of performance and video conferencing technology. The use of this technology promotes standards-based literacy, communication, and collaboration of original poetry writing among students across the district. The success of this project lies in its ability to engage students in writing and performing works of original poetry to authentic audiences, receiving immediate feedback from students and teachers.

The program has grown tremendously in popularity since its inception in 1997, and has been shared through video conferenced student performances with students in Alaska, Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, and Wisconsin. The project is a collaboration with Region one and DreamYard, a nonprofit arts organization. Jason Duchin, co-president of Dreamyard, recruits and trains professional poets to work with students and teachers on poetry writing and performance twice each week for ten weeks. A third session each week is dedicated to planning time for both the poet and classroom teacher. Since its inception, the program model has been replicated in schools in Queens, NYC, Newark, NJ and Nyack Middle School in Rockland County.

The program incorporates a blend of technology usage including video conferencing, digital video photography for performance practice, and simple word processing skills to document the writing process. Slam teams of five members from each represented school engage in Poetry slam competitions, through video conferencing, with other schools across the Region twice a year for a 2 week period. Geri Hayes, the region's cultural arts director, coordinates the scheduling of the program.

The students, teachers and poets of this program have full ownership of it, from devising the 'slam rules' to developing the rubric to be used for judging the competition. Students have a clear understanding of the judging process because they receive these rubrics prior to the slam competition.

The impartial judging occurs at a remote location. Judging teams consist of three adult and two student judges from each of the schools, and student judges cannot be a member of the slam team.

The words of Vincent, a sixth grader, who so eloquently explains that being in front of a camera when he recites poetry is so much more effective in providing feedback than being directly in front of his audience. According to Vincent," when you perform in front of people you tend to look at only the front row of the audience and will only be able to pick up on the feedback that just a few people can give you through their body language". "When you share your work from a different location, through a video conference, you are able to focus more on your entire audience, see the room from a much wider perspective and can receive feedback about your work from everyone ".

Over the past 10 years, we have witnessed many A-HA moments in our use of video conferencing with learners young and old. The sparks in the eyes of children when they suddenly find themselves in front of the camera talking to an authentic audience. Stories of those unengaged adolescents who used to hide in the classroom in an attempt to blend in with the furniture, suddenly finding their voices for all to hear. Middle school students who freely tell their stories about how they feel about war, politics, terrorism and the trials and tribulations of their daily lives in a large urban city. Stories about rape, about when dads leave home, the death of a beloved family member, and the peer pressure that these students experience daily on the streets of the Bronx, are all freely verbalized.

These are only a few of the testimonials that have inspired two educators, John Ellrodt and Maria Fico from the Bronx in NYC to start a nonprofit organization called Global WRITeS, Inc. Global WRITeS, Inc. (Writers and Readers Incorporating Technology in Society) is a non profit organization, started in August 2005, whose mission is to promote literacy through the integration of performing arts and use of innovative technology resources. The organization will develop projects with local and national school districts and other non-profit groups and bridge them together to collaborate from distance geographic locations via video conferencing.

The nonprofit's mission is to foster programs that will provide opportunities for increased motivation for learning, foster communication and collaboration among people and further student achievement for "at risk" student populations all over the world. The organization was recently awarded a US DOE AEMDD grant award in the summer of 2006 to spearhead the organizations first project called Honoring Student Voices. Honoring Student Voices is a collaboration of Global WRITeS, Inc. and two LEA's, the NYCDOE and the Chicago Public Schools. The project will combine literacy instruction, theatre performance and technology within the framework of a scientifically based research project, to determine the impact on student academic achievement of arts integration with the core curriculum.

The project will serve over seven hundred at risk students in six middle schools in the Bronx, New York and Chicago, Illinois. Using random assignment, the schools will be selected from among those that meet or exceed the cut-off for Title I eligibility, and have been designated as underperforming based on state standards in English Language Arts performance. Participating students will be followed for three consecutive years from grade six, in the fall of 2007, through grade eight, in the fall of 2009.

The research data will be analyzed to identify student/teacher outcomes and to validate the replicability of the original model. This project is supported by IVCi (www.ivci.com) through the acquisition of video conferencing equipment for the schools participating in the program.

Jonathon, poet.

Documented Student Outcomes

The limited research on this subject has found that the use of this new technology tool for teaching and learning has many benefits for today's digital natives.

Constructivist learning occurs when learners actively construct meaningful mental representations from presented information. (Mayer 1999). Video conferencing as a tool naturally provides this type of learning because it is real interaction in real time with an authentic audience that can provide immediate feedback.

Through classroom observations, surveys and data collection over the past 5 years, we have documented the following student learning outcomes found in classrooms engaged in the Bronx WRITeS video conferencing activities on a regular basis:

  • It motivates students who would not normally write or perform to improve their literacy skills. A review of standardized test score data in several schools reveals a significant increase in the number of students performing at proficiency levels3 and 4 in ELA as apposed to their nonparticipating counterparts found in simlar classrooms in similar schools.
  • Students write about issues that have real meaning for them; developing ability to express feelings.
  • English language learners can express their thoughts by writing poetry in their native language. A documented 50% of students designated as ELL's were able to test out of bilingual programs after 3 years of participation in Bronx WRITeS as evidenced by NYSESLAT data.
  • Students develop collaboration skills and increased confidence in their communication skills as they are engaged in accountable talk. Documented evidence shows that student participants have been able to carry over their newly found confidence in verbal communication to other subjects such as public debating.
  • Students experience an increase in their use of technology to document the writing process and develop an electronic portfolio of their work including the development of blogs and web spaces to publish their writing in text and audio format.
  • Teachers in the program have also documented: decreases in student disciplinary actions as well as increased student attendance (up to 6 percentage points in some schools when compared with nonparticipating classes);

In summary, when asked, "why video conferencing?", it is harder to validate why classrooms would want to be without this rich resource. It expands the walls of the classroom to allow both teachers and students to discover new resources of knowledge and share and collaborate all over the world just by making a call. It allows us to be a community of global learners and has revolutionized educational practice. Global WRITeS Inc. plans to continue to research the benefits of video conferencing technology and its power in bringing students, teachers and adults together by creating additional projects like Honoring Students Voices in cities throughout the world.

As educators, we spend most of our professional careers looking for that one stroke of teaching genius that will change a child's life forever. It's all about that moment of "A-HA", when everything clicks into place. Looking back, long after our professional career is over, we want to be able to say, "I know I have made a difference."

About Global WRITeS

Global WRITeS, Inc. (www.globalwrites.org) is an innovative non-profit organization whose mission is to promote literacy through performing arts and technology resources such as videoconferencing and digital media. Our purpose is to provide opportunities for increased motivation for learning, foster communication and collaboration among people around the globe, and to further student achievement for high needs student populations in cities throughout the world. Global WRITeS provides planning, professional development, technical assistance and grant-writing capacity to develop its programs in schools districts and educational oriented organizations.

About IVCi

IVCi, LLC (http://www.ivci.com | http://audiovisual.ivci.com) is a leading integrator of managed enterprise collaboration solutions, including video conferencing, audio visual and managed conference services. From our headquarters in Long Island, New York, and branch offices throughout the country, IVCi makes conferencing and audio visual solutions easy to use, easy to manage, and easy to afford.


Nick Clooney and Global Nomads Group Use Polycom Video to Raise Awareness of Genocide in Sudan

Clooney to share international experiences with U.S. students through Global Nomads Group PULSE Program

Global Nomads Group (GNG), an organization dedicated to fostering cross-cultural dialogue and understanding among youth, and Polycom, the world's leading provider of unified collaborative communications solutions, have announced Nick Clooney, noted journalist and television host, will host the GNG PULSE Program on the genocide in Sudan, Tuesday, Dec. 12 at 1 p.m. ET for U.S. high school students.

Nick Clooney and his son, actor and activist George Clooney, made a recent trip to the Darfur region of Sudan to learn first hand about the genocide unfolding in this region. Clooney will lead an interactive videoconference with U.S. high school to share his personal experiences, answer questions from students, and encourage participants to take action.

"Students throughout the United States care about what is going on in Darfur and want the chance to learn more and do something about it," said Christopher Plutte, co-founder, Global Nomads Group. "We're honored that Nick Clooney has agreed to share his experience with us."

The live event with Clooney will take place in Cincinnati with an interactive connection to high school students in Magnolia, TX, St. Louis, Chicago, and Passaic Valley, N.J.  Other schools will also be connecting to the conference as passive participants to listen, view and learn from the interactive discussion.

The PULSE Program provides an important educational experience through the use of real-time video interaction and collaboration. With Polycom's video conferencing systems, students have access to information and experts to maximize their ability to learn about current events and world issues.  A live video communications session creates a unique educational experience that goes well beyond the traditional classroom.

"Polycom is proud to be working with the Global Nomads Group to bring important educational projects like the PULSE Program to life," said Bob Hagerty, chairman and CEO of Polycom. "We help this organization provide students with the ability to be a part of an interactive exchange of ideas and information on global issues.  By providing a truly collaborative environment, we are able to engage participants and help raise awareness for current issues that affect the world today."

For more information visit http://www.gng.org/pulse/genocide.html

Interested media outlets are welcome to cover the event from participating high schools. For more information, please contact David Macquart (david@gng.org) or Kendra Westerkamp (Kendra@VisiTechPR.com).

About Global Nomads Group

Global Nomads Group (www.gng.org) is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to fostering cross-cultural dialogue and understanding among youth. Using video conferencing and satellite communications technology, GNG moderates conferences between K-12 classes in different countries, organizes virtual lectures, and conducts remote broadcasts from the world's historical and cultural sites.

About Polycom

Polycom, Inc. (www.polycom.com) is the worldwide leader in unified collaborative communications (UCC) that maximize the efficiency and productivity of people and organizations by integrating the broadest array of video, voice, data and Web solutions to deliver the ultimate communications experience. Polycom's high quality, standards-based conferencing and collaboration solutions are easy to deploy and manage, as well as intuitive to use. Supported by an open architecture, they integrate seamlessly with leading telephony and presence-based networks. With its market-driving technologies, best-in-class products, alliance partnerships, and world-class service, Polycom is the smart choice for organizations seeking proven solutions and a competitive advantage in real-time communications and collaboration. For additional information call 1-800-224-7083.


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