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Pros: Puts student writing up front. Focuses on both writing and commenting.
Cons: Navigation is very confusing; high school writers sometimes submit provocative content.
Bottom Line: With some patience and understanding, this could be a good space for supporting healthy student expression.
Teachers may need to spend a significant amount of time exploring Youth Voices to understand what it does, how it works, and how it can fit with their students. It's a site that admirably puts student writing front and center, but it has an aging layout with little guidance, some outdated resources, and poor organization. The community of other educators and curriculum guides offer some help. The collective networking and thinking among the Youth Voices educators has resulted in usable classroom resources for you, including a series of writing challenges, discussions grouped along various themes, integration of art and writing, and curriculum-based documents that validate how online writing communities meet the needs of students across subject-area classrooms. Because students can post whatever is on their minds, teachers will likely want to keep a close eye on what they're posting.
Youth Voices is a home for young writers seeking an authentic audience and a space to publish writing across a wide range of genres. The site is essentially a blog, so students can easily align their interests and make meaningful connections with other young writers. Students touch on issues ranging from the environment and politics to personal narrative stories and video gaming. Some students also add multimedia components like video. Contributions can earn students badges.
Students will need to create their own accounts and set up a profile. Once they have their own space, students can begin writing blog posts, which are designated to certain areas (such as argument, stories and poems, video conversations, etc.). A convenient place to start is to look at the Guides tab, which gives suggestions for using Youth Voices for a variety of writing exercises such as assessment and reflection, poems and stories, and multimedia response.
It's clear that the teachers behind Youth Voices have a lot of passion for student expression. There are lots of prompts and ideas for inspiring students to contribute something meaningful. And the site is full of posts on hot button topics, students making impassioned arguments, and lots of positive feedback. The comments open up a range of discussions, and writing on the site can be powerful. Schools can also choose to create private groups so that all the sharing happens within the school rather than the community at large.
The major downside is that the site isn't at all user friendly, and both teachers and students may not have the patience to figure it all out. It's also showing its age, both in terms of aesthetics and just general usability. There are a few resources that don't seem to exist anymore, and no clear onboarding flow to showcase the best stuff. That said, the site is free and remains flexible for the needs of teachers and their students. And if teachers help guide students (or vice versa!), they may find the exercise rewarding. It's important to note that many of the writers on the site are high school students, so the content and subject matter can walk the line of appropriateness at times.