Wednesday, May 26, 2010

This I Believe

I first shared This I Believe essays from National Public Radio (NPR) with my students a few months ago. We listened to pod casts of several essays, discussed their power and resonance, and then listened to a few more. I issued a set of guidelines and a rubric and off they went to create beautiful, heartfelt pieces that were a joy to read and comment upon.

So what is so special about these essays, broadcast over the radio in the authors’ own voices?

They are simple.

They are emotional.

They are profound.

While listening, my students were mesmerized, and often gasped at a surprise turn, or a particularly powerful experience as related by the authors. Using them in my classroom changed the way we wrote, and made everything more immediate and present. The writing we listened to, and the writing we did ourselves, took on new meaning and incredible intensity.

The history of the series is an interesting piece of writing itself. Here is this from the This I Believe website:

“This I Believe, Inc., was founded in 2004 as a not-for-profit organization that engages youth and adults from all walks of life in writing, sharing, and discussing brief essays about the core values that guide their daily lives.

“This I Believe is based on a 1950s radio program of the same name, hosted by acclaimed journalist Edward R. Murrow. Each day, Americans gathered by their radios to hear compelling essays from the likes of Eleanor Roosevelt, Jackie Robinson, Helen Keller, and Harry Truman as well as corporate leaders, cab drivers, scientists, and secretaries—anyone able to distill into a few minutes the guiding principles by which they lived. These essayists’ words brought comfort and inspiration to a country worried about the Cold War, McCarthyism, and racial division. (These essays are now featured in weekly broadcasts on
Bob Edwards‘ satellite and public radio shows.)

“In reviving This I Believe, executive producer Dan Gediman says, ‘The goal is not to persuade Americans to agree on the same beliefs. Rather, the hope is to encourage people to begin the much more difficult task of developing respect for beliefs different from their own…’

“Teachers around the country—and around the world—have embraced This I Believe as a powerful educational tool. They have downloaded our free educational curricula, posters, and brochures for using This I Believe in middle and high school classrooms and in college courses. These curricula help teachers guide students through exploring their beliefs and then composing personal essays about them. The students learn about themselves and their peers, and experience the delight of realizing their views and voices have value.”

The curriculum for the classroom is available here. The pod casts seemed to work better on the NPR website here. This I Believe also has a website where teachers can download and print the essays.

For great ideas for writing assignments, and powerful essays that will move students, This I Believe is an incredible tool for educating young writers.

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