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Section Five: Project-Based Learning How can a Family Project increase student voice in our classroom?

Who are we curious about? During Back to School Night, in September, five different families approached me and said their child had been adjusting to a recent divorce or separation. I wondered how my students voices were heard and understood during that difficult time. How did the ability to be heard in their families affect my students willingness to share their voices in class? I designed a family project to enable my students to express their voices to their families. During the initial stages of the family project, my students wrote freely about special experiences they had with family members. We talked about how special memories can include happy and sad ones. I read Lucy Calkinss Launching the Writing Workshop. Calkins states the goal of a writers workshop is to offer children the opportunity to bring their lives to school and to put their lives on the page (2003, p.1). I asked my students to choose one person in their family they wanted to write a special memory about, invite to exhibition, and interview. 14 out of 21 students chose their mom or dad. 3 out of 21 students chose their grandmother. 4 out of 21 students chose their cousin. Then we reflected and wrote curiosities we had about a family member. I found the following results and put them on our curiosity wall:
What are we curious about?
Dad, why did you move to San Diego and leave Mexico? Mom, why did you move to a different house? Grandma, why did you go to America? Mom, why did you leave Guam and come to San Diego? Mom, why did you go to Hawaii? Why did you come back? Why did you leave and go to college? What do you do at home? What day were you born?

What are you curious about within your family?


Why did they move to America, San Diego, or a different house? When were they born What do they do at home Why did they go to college

I wasnt surprised to find the majority of my students (17 out of 21 students) were curious about why their families moved to America, San Diego, or a different house because about 50.9% of our students in Audubon are English Language Learners. I also knew 9 out of my 21 students families had moved in with a grandparent due to economic struggle or marital separation. I was encouraged by the boldness in my students to ask their family members about why they moved. Although my students had their curiosities, I was curious about how this project would help me understand my students. More questions emerged for me during the family project around how my students voices were heard and understood in their families. Would this affect how my students chose to express their voices in class? Since my students expressed resistance to writing, would they feel motivated to write about their experiences within their families? What would they want to say to their families? What would feel good for them to write? What would they tell a family member at exhibition night? How would their families respond? What aspects of family were my students proud of and what were their hopes and dreams for their families? During this project I tapped into what intrinsically motivated my students to learn. Ryan and Deci state students have three basic psychological needs in order to be intrinsically motivated to learn: autonomy, belonging, and competence (2000). Autonomy is defined by Ryan and Deci as the freedom to make your own choices (2000). Pink goes further to state that our basic nature is to be curious and self directed (2009, p.87). Students experience autonomy when they make choices and explore what they are interested in. Autonomy may be the freedom for students to make their own choices, but this does not happen in isolation. Students want to belong to a community where they are respected and cared for. Belongingness is interacting, being connected to, and experiencing caring for others. Students not only want to be a part of something that matters to them, but they also want to get better at doing it. This is called

mastery or competence (Pink, 2009). I applied autonomy, competence, and belongingness in our family project in the following ways: Autonomy Choose a special family memory Competence Adding details like feelings, thoughts, and conversations in their memory books Write in a story sequence Belonging Ask our 5th grade buddies to help us edit our books

Choose pictures for their collage Choose a family member to interview Write their own interview questions

Ask our writing buddies in class to help us critique our books and presentations

Going through the writing process

My students began the family project by thinking about a special person in their family. We decided our final product would be a memory book and collage we presented to family members at exhibition. They thought about questions they were curious about asking their special family member during an interview. We posted the questions on our curiosity wall. They wrote their own interview questions. We thought about one special memory we had with our chosen family member. I told my students that a special memory can be a happy or even a sad one. Its special because it was important enough to remember. 16 out of 21 of my students decided to write about a special moment when one of their parents did something with them like playing football or going to a special place like the zoo. 4 students wrote about a family member who was not a parent, like a grandparent or sibling, who either played with them or taught them how to do something like ride a bike. After looking at my students chosen memories, I realized they were simple moments. What made them special was the simple act of kindness or time spent with their family member doing something that interested them. My students remembered what mattered to them. I wanted to use this insight to inform how I could reach my students in class. Asking my students what they thought and what was important to them would be vital in guiding how we would learn through this project and other learning experiences. Since this was our first project, my students needed plenty of writing support. I decided to ask my students what they needed to guide how I would support them. I was exhausted trying to meet all of my students various needs by myself. I decided to ask my students if it would be helpful to have writing buddies in class as we drafted our memory books. I explained that a writing buddy was someone who we felt safe sharing our work with and who could help us create beautiful work. I asked my students what they needed help with and what they felt they did well in their writing so

they could help another buddy do it too. Students wrote their responses on our curiosity wall so we could find someone to help us with what we needed and give help to someone who needed what we could do. The expert and help sections on our curiosity wall had the following responses: I am an expert at finding sight words writing sentences stretching out words remembering my capitals and periods

I need help with spelling words writing a sentence thinking about what to write

After receiving the lists, I paired my students with a writing buddy based on their stated need and expertise. At the beginning of each writing session, I would have my students meet with their writing buddy to read each others drafts and ask each other questions that they needed help with. I noticed my students were beginning to ask other students for help besides me. My students were not only telling their writing buddy what to write or spell but how to look for a word in our room and how to sound out a word that wasnt in the room. Instead of giving their buddy the answer they empowered each other to be resourceful and built skills so that eventually each student could be independent. At the end of our writing sessions, my students reread their drafts to each other and gave each other warm feedback (what they did well) and cool feedback (how to make their writing more aligned to our co-created rubric). While we drafted our memories, we began to collect pictures for our collages. My students brought pictures from home that included their special family member. I also brought magazines so that my students could choose pictures and words that captured their hopes and dreams for their family. Before they planned how they wanted their collages to look, we sat in a community meeting to talk about what their hopes and dreams were for their families. Five of my students stated they wanted their parents to stop yelling and to be together again. Their responses confirmed that my students were aware of their family struggles. I hoped that this project would enable my students to share what they wanted for their families in a safe and creative way so that their families would listen. After our conversation, I wondered what my other students would reveal through their collage. Revealing Personal Stories through the Project Process

While students created their family project collages Jake walked up to me and said, My dad is in jail. I was taken aback by his vulnerability because Jake doesnt talk openly about his family. He was having difficulty getting along with the other students in our class and yelled at others out of frustration. He and his twin brother, Charlie, couldnt bring any family photos because their mother was in a drug rehabilitation program. Jake said he wanted to be with his dad. His grandmother, who took care of both Charlie and Jake, along with two older brothers, told me she did not tell the boys about their parents but suspected they knew due to older siblings telling them. She was right. Jake cut out a magazine picture of a dad with his son on his shoulders, but he dedicated his memory book to his grandmother.

To my Grandma with love. My grandma gave me some presents too. I gave her a big hug because I love her.

I noticed my students, like Jake, wrote simple memories they remembered with a family member, but talked openly about their hopes and dreams for their families during debriefing conversations about the project process. And like Jake, these students also revealed more of their hopes and dreams through one-on-one conversations I had with them while creating their art work, like with Jake. I suspected since my first graders were beginning to learn how to write, they were limited in articulating their hopes and dreams through their memory books. The family projects process helped me reach and understand my hardest to reach students. They truly opened up through this project. They shared their thoughts and feelings through the combination of their artwork, memory books, and in partner and whole class discussions. During one morning meeting before exhibition, I asked the students what they hoped their families would say after hearing them talk about their memory books and collages on exhibition night. All 18 students said they wanted their families to say, You did a great job or I am proud of you. I thought, Isnt that what we all want?! My students shared what they needed and hoped for simply and profoundly. When these pieces were completed, I asked them how theyd like to get ready for our exhibition so we could get those kinds of responses from their families and feel proud of their work. Kohn argues that enacting student voice is not merely asking for their opinion, but much of the process of validating the worth of student voice is engaging in active conversations with students over these issues, coming to a consensus, and by implementing co-constructed plan of actions (1993). I wanted to coconstruct the exhibition with my students, and help them understand the process. We co-generated a to-do list with the following: Practice reading our memory books with our writing buddies Practice talking about the pictures on our collages Get the room ready according to a co-created map Clean our room

Before our exhibition, I asked my 21 students to write in their journals what they were most proud of during this project. I categorized all of my students responses under autonomy (choice), competence (mastery of a skill), and belongingness (part of a community of learners) to see if students experienced these through our project. I found the following: 41% of the responses had characteristics of autonomy

Kira: We cut the pictures of whatever we want and we glue it on the paper ourselves. Hooray! Hooray! We did it! 50% of the responses had characteristics of competence Isaac: I love the hard work I have done with my collage. I love drawing my family project because I love writing. Samantha: I am proud of our family project because it is beautiful. I like the pictures. I am proud of myself and I am smart. I love being smart and my family is smart. 9% of the responses had characteristics of belonging Lillys response I love my collage. It makes me proud. I love my writing because I put spaces and my fifth grade buddy helped me spell my word. I love my fifth grade buddy. I love my daddy (He was brutally murdered when she was a baby). I love writing because I am proud I can read more

I was struck by the value in autonomy and competence my students had in this family project. It was important for my first graders to have choices and experience mastery. I also was struck by how proud my students were of the work they created. They valued being able to have choices with how they created their collages and memory books.

Despite the work being hard they said they loved it. The ability to have choices and express their voices also translated into competency for them. Exhibition Night: Families Sharing Hopes and Dreams On the day of our Family Project Exhibition Night, Andy said, Im excited for exhibition! He even said he wanted more pages in his book. I asked him why because he usually hates writing. He said he liked writing books. During the day we practiced reading our memory books and talked about why we chose certain pictures about our families for our collages with our writing buddies. Caleb and Anna practiced the suggestions given to them from the other students during one of our critique sessions. The class advised Caleb and Anna to take turns reading a sentence with his partner Anna. He even told her, You can do it. Good job! But at exhibition night, he didnt want to read, he wanted to play on the blue bars. He said his mom was mean because she wouldnt let him play. Mom said this was too overwhelming for him. I asked him if he would feel safe reading to his mom on Monday at school. He said he was ok with it. They then left at dinner. Ivan was another student who didnt want to read his work because he was tired. I realized that sharing our work with an audience, even as familiar as family, was overwhelming to some of my students. Despite practicing and implementing their feedback during the project, some students needed more time and experience to get used to exhibiting their work. It was crucial for me to provide many opportunities for my students to practice sharing their work and thoughts throughout the school year. I needed to invite students like Caleb and Ivan to help me plan the next project exhibition in a way that felt safer and still challenged them to take steps of growth in this area. Apple and Bean state that democratic classrooms provide equitable learning environments where a wide range of voices and views are heard (2007). Even though my other students enjoyed the exhibition as it was, we would not to have an equitable learning environment if I ignored Caleb and Ivans needs when designing our next exhibition.

Students share their project work with their families.

Families brought food they enjoyed eating together for our exhibition. Later at exhibition night Andys mom approached me to tell me she told him that she wasnt sure if they would be able to go to exhibition because they couldnt afford to b ring food. Andy had responded, Mrs. Han said that it doesnt matter if we cant bring food. The most important thing is that families come because we are celebrating family. She said she cried when he said that to her. Their family had just recently lost their home. They were homeless under the description for our district, but were living near our school in an RV. Annas dad wasnt going to come until I called him the Sunday before our exhibition. He was glad that he came and asked if there would be more moments like this. Anna was one of my focus students. She was hard to reach because she hesitated sharing in class unless she shared what a partner said. Her parents usually told her what to say when I saw them. But that evening her family listened as she read her proudest memory with her mom and talked about her collage. 17 out of 19 families (2 students moved during the project) came to our first exhibition night. One of the children said they forgot and the other said his mom went to a club instead. My students families were hesitant to come to exhibition night because they thought it would be like the typical Open House night where students show parents around the room, glance at their work, and go home. Our exhibition was a new experience for parents too. My students counted down the days until exhibition, asked their parents to come and shared what the exhibition was about. My students cocreated our family project and couldnt wait to share their work with their families as their audience.

Later that night, parents were asked to write their child a letter telling them how they were proud of them and what their hopes and dreams were for their family. My hope was that after reading these letters, my students would feel that their most important audience, their families, would hear and understand their voices through their work. The following are a few of the letters that were written that evening:
Families wrote they were proud of their childs hard work on the products and presentations. A common hope for their family was to learn together and find success in life.

The next day I helped read the letters to my students and asked them how they felt about exhibition night. For the most part students were excited and enthusiastic. The following are some of their responses: Veronica: I am happy because my mom said that she is proud of me. (This was the majority of student responses.) Samantha: I liked seeing my family eat with my friends family. Caleb: Its overwhelming because there were too many people. I loved how Caleb said this exhibition was too much for him and he felt safe to say that exhibition was uncomfortable for him. This meant he was beginning to trust me. We used project-based learning to enable my students to know themselves as learners and voice what they needed, even to their families. Through this project, I realized it was important to create a safe place for my students to share what they thought and felt. The purpose was not just being heard but to be understood through how others responded to them. Although my students were feeling more comfortable with me, they

werent relying enough on each other. Unless an activity specifically called for a partner, my students wouldnt naturally go to each other. My students needed an additional audience. I needed to create another opportunity for my students to practice having autonomy, competence, and belonging but collaboratively so they could begin to trust each other too. At the young age of six and seven, my students love pleasing the teacher (most of the time). At every turn, Id hear, Teacher! Teacher! I was worried that this was preventing my students from collaborating effectively with each other. Mc Quillan states there is a need for ongoing, collaborative reflection so that people understand one anothers perspectives and have opportunities to balance each others power (2005). Did my students turn to me because I still had the predominate voice in our classroom? Cummins states that in order for student empowerment to occur the required changes involve personal redefinitions of the way classroom teachers interact with the children and communities they serve (Zimmerman & Pons, 1986). Implementing change is dependent upon the extent to which educators redefine their roles. I had to become a co-creator of our learning environment with my students. I wondered how I could turn my students towards each other. Would they gain confidence in using their voices if they did a project as a team? If I gave them choices on what they wanted to learn, would they share with each other?