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Empowering and inspiring today's learners to be engaged, caring, confident leaders, writers and citizens.

Photo of Thomas Leyba
10 31

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Last summer these three boys (pictured above) rode up on their longboards to a rocky spot along the Carlsbad shoreline. They each found a large stone upon which to sit and write in silence. Not on their phones or tablets, but in their journals. I was moved to capture the sight because this type of grounded reflection, hand to paper, wireless and present, quiet and real, is largely gone from the curriculum. 

The goal today is to keep them engaged with what they know--technology. 

However, without slowing our students down and creating a space for them to reflect intentionally on pages they can burn rather than in traceable code, we keep them from writing real and from the heart. 

There is great power in telling our stories and having them heard. My grandfather taught me that. Engaging us on a journey through his past validated his struggles and gave meaning to the work he did with his hands. It honored his soul, which is important because a neglected soul tends to express itself painfully, appearing symptomatically in obsessions, addictions, and violence. Deny students their stories as our culture does, and they eventually turn to the language of violence. 

As teachers in the humanities, we encourage students to explore the inner life. But at school they interface with computers and in a variety of learning labs where they are plugged in and turned on. At what point do they stumble on an inner life? 

When do they discover the questions of the heart? 

The first goal of education—if we think it has anything at all to do with values and empowerment—is to bring students to a knowledge of the world within. We do that by inviting them to go truly wireless, put pencil to paper and write in their journals. A journal is a room of one’s own, that private quiet place where the past and the present become sacred.

From there, students can transform their personal musings into peer-reviewed digital projects, papers and essays that are interesting, real, polished, and thoughtful.

Intentional, in life and online.

Share research or student experiences that informed your idea!

Attached is a paper I presented at a recent ASU language and literacy conference where I shared my student experiences as well as a review of the research that argues for more journal-based writing. Attached is an article that argues for story in academic writing as well. Other attachments include two full lesson plans and worksheets I use to help students turn their sacred writings into powerful arguments that include text-based evidence. An attached powerpoint offers guidance in their use.
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Attachments (9)

The Art of Persuasion.pdf

Lesson plan for developing powerful voice in students by engaging them with today's media and propaganda and providing opportunities for them to journal toward vulnerability and to finally create a digital production that conveys true soul and a keen awareness of others.

Word Choice & Imagery.pdf

Lesson plan for building a community of caring writers and storytellers, through journaling, with the goal of producing work, digitally or with crayons, that honors their citizenship, both here and online. Includes my own family crest as an example.

ATI Grading Conference.pptx

Education conference slides with instruction on how to help develop powerful literacy in students by helping them to formulate arguments that can be sustained with text-based evidence. Features Webb's DoK and ideas for engaging even reticent learners in higher-order activities.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kevin Day

Hey there, friend...!
What a pleasure -- and I mean, a deep, teachable PLEASURE -- to read through this and your attachments more carefully today. I sketchnoted my way through your idea, and it led me towards the following:
- How might we use social media to power/produce/evoke/iterate/sustain our writing way inward?
- How might we use social media to amplify our written way outward?
The first of these occurred to me as I reflected upon how social media might invite writers to share snapshots of their way "inward" -- not the complete, completed journey, but the mile under their feet. In this way, I think your idea invites our students (and their teachers!) to re-imagine how Twitter and Instagram might help us turn aside to figure out what matters to us..., and turn aside again to share an early peek at where we find ourselves going -- all in a way that propels us into our journal for the REAL journey of wrestling true words to a true story.
The second of these occurred to me as I thought about your point of sharing our finished stories with the world. After all of that invisible, world-rounding work of finding and telling our story, now let's let our story be HEARD -- and, in that way, made real.
Anyhow, I'm eager to hear how you see your ideas here coalescing. And I'll be glad to share the sketchnote if you fire an email my way:

Photo of Kevin Day

This honors me.
When Elijah (our 8 month old) gives me some time today, I’ll happily tuck into this goodness.
Besides connecting here, holler anytime:

Photo of Clint

Thank you Thomas. I appreciate your gesture. I will try to follow up on progress of the project and would be happy to contribute to the project as much and far as I can.

Photo of Clint

According to EF Schumacher, there are four fields of knowledge stemming from two worlds: inner world and outer world. Thus,1. my interior life,2. others interior lives, 3.external: me as others see me, 4 others as they are seen externally and by their actions, and the reste of the world ( nature etc).
We have direct access to our interrior and direct access to see others externally. We have indirect access (limited or no), to others´s interior world from the outside (tehy may or may not share it) and to how we are to others form the outside . The most important knowledege is that of self, (Know thyself as the Ancient Greek aphorism states). Being in nature, silence,keeping a journals can help one discover,observe and tune in with ones interior. Parents, teachers, and true friendship also helps discover knowledge of oneself ( strong points, and defects too). I like this idea.

Photo of Thomas Leyba

Thank you, Clint. Thanks for taking the time to read through and validating my idea here with words. Please accept my invitation to be on my team. Thanks!

Photo of Kevin Day


Are you able to check out the "expert chat" on digital citizenship on 4/5...?

Photo of Thomas Leyba

I'm sorry I missed it, brother. So much going on.

Photo of Paul Kim

Hi Thomas,

First of all, thanks for participating in this collaboration between the Teachers Guild and ISTE. We really appreciate your contributions!

We’re in the last week of the build phase of the challenge on digital citizenship so it’s time to fine tune your idea before final voting begins next week.

Here are some things to consider as you continue to build on your idea:
- is your idea clear and will it inspire action from other teachers?
- would it be easy for a teacher to incorporate your idea about digital citizenship in their classroom?
- does your idea include some component of research and are there shareable resources?
- is your idea student-centered and does it promote agency?


Photo of Kevin Day

I feel fortunate to have read this. I feel beckoned to slow down, check in... to live this example a bit more often in front of my students, so that I can try to teach them to do the same with some authenticity.

Your idea makes me wonder if there isn't a way to combine slower, empathy-driven work -- say, StoryCorps-style interviews with grandparents (to riff off of your lovely story) -- which students then listen to again, but sketchnote or draw or freewrite their reflections...? Or, some kind of vice-versa?

Might social media be leveraged to help them either quickly capture or quickly share a more vulnerable, slower-born moment of insight, which we can encourage them to uncover "by hand"...?

I don't know. For now, friend, lemme go back and read this thing again. Thanks for being awesome.

Photo of Thomas Leyba

Your note lights me up, my friend. Thank you for your soft eyes and kind words.

After one of my English classes a few semesters back, my middle school students set out with their spiral notebooks to interview their extended family members as homework. The goal was to capture the Chinese immigrant experience first-hand in America. Once students completed their interviews and reflected candidly in their journals on all they'd learned--the good, the bad, the ugly of it all--I invited them to choose four relatives who could join them in Phoenix to record a live session on NPR's StoryCorp. Together each family sat in a small JetStream studio trailer, owning their pain, their joy, and their hopes.

They walked away with a digital cd of that session and a trove of seeds for future stories and papers.

I start many of my classes by showing StoryCorp animated videos which magically transform the tales we hear each week. My young artists suddenly see themselves designing work with real meaning and contribution, and my writers can't write fast enough in their journals the ideas the animations inspire.

So yes, friend, programs like StoryCorp and many other digital programs, apps, and games are perfect for students to use for publishing their stories in fresh, innovative ways. Social media is already helping young students quickly capture and share vulnerable moments with one another, and it's helping them galvanize with eloquence and vim a movement for peace on campus, not guns.

They crave to be OPEN and REAL without BREAKING, and they're counting on us to show them how. For me it starts with a pencil, my journal, and me.

Let's stay connected, Kev,