Before anyone got into groups or picked topics for their Adobe Youth Voices project, this is what Deana Thai asked her students to do: “I really wanted them to want to work on the topic,” she said, “and not just be in the group because their friends were.”
A teacher at Lincoln High School in San Jose, California, she has in the past assigned students to groups and assigned topics. But with Adobe Youth Voices, she wanted it to be different. So she asked students to brainstorm individually then write down 5 topics or questions that they wanted to talk about and share with others.
To find out who else was interested in the same topics, students put their ideas up on the board. They brought up global warming, the importance of education, learning disabilities, and more. They wanted to talk about teen stress, teen depression, and the truth about health care. They’re concerned about body image, bullying, and drunk driving. Of the twenty to thirty different topics, they would focus on between eight and ten – to suit the size of the group.
““It worked out really well – everyone in the group was serious about the topic, because they cared about it,” said Deana.
Students subsequently formed groups based on common interests. In this way, most students joined with different peers than usual, and, Deana notes, the students who ended up with a friend “later told me that it was a mistake to try to assist their friend because they didn’t help with the project or even come to class.” She reflects, “they didn’t know where to draw the line” with a friend who was not participating.
Identifying what’s important to the students “was important for the success of the groups and projects,” Deana says. Moreover, she asserts that the educator needs to be enthusiastic in order to get student buy-in: “You can have all the tools you need, but if you don’t care for the topic or what you’re teaching, students will pick up on it.”
Whether an educator or youth, the common denominator in this formula for success is caring about what you do.
Deana Thai is a teacher at Lincoln High School in San Jose, California. As part of Adobe Youth Voices, she teaches an elective Digital Multimedia class for 11th and 12th grade students.
To view an animation entitled “Anorexia” by Lincoln High School student Ryanne Zertuche, visit our Youth Media Gallery.