Looking for resources on conversations with high school students?
Want a great website and podcast on teen discussions, with authentic, engaging topics?
Teaching Traveling: Let’s welcome an expert in the field, the creator of “This Teenage Life!” Molly, tell us about your background.
Molly: Hi! My name is Molly Josephs and I’m an educator based in New York City. Upon graduating college, I taught fifth, seventh, and ninth grade science and biology for five years at an independent school in NYC. During that time, I learned from international educational organizations by spending summers working primarily abroad.
One summer, I worked at Seeds of Peace (SOP), a camp that brings together youth and educators from regions of conflict. I was so inspired by my experience there, that I wanted to start a school that felt more like a camp. This led me to spend years joining a team working to start Powderhouse Studios, a new kind of project-based, in-district high school. When this project ended, I moved to San Diego to work at High Tech High.
That’s where I started This Teenage Life. Through This Teenage Life, teenagers come together to have authentic, vulnerable conversations about issues that are personally meaningful. They record these conversations, edit the audio, compose and record music, make web-art, create conversation and activity guides that go with each episode, and ultimately release a podcast that’s heard in 49 states and over 90 countries.
TT: Tell us more about “This Teenage Life!”
Molly: This Teenage Life’s podcast — found on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and wherever else podcasts are heard — formed out of a shared interest that a group of teens from High Tech High and I had. It started as an after school club where teens could speak authentically to make a podcast that would help other teenagers feel less alone. Unlike classroom conversations, our dialogues would not be directed towards a certain goal and the teens would come up with the topics.
We began recording the conversations in-person and would put a microphone in the middle of a circle of us. The mic served as an ad-hoc facilitator, preventing interruptions, since the audio doesn’t sound good when people interrupt each other. Here’s a video that gives a sense of how we started.
The warm, collaborative culture we created in-person adapted beautifully to Zoom when we began working remotely due to the pandemic. Throughout quarantine, This Teenage Life has met at least once per week on video chat. It has been a social and creative lifeline for the teens involved, and it has been one of the most meaningful experiences I’ve ever had as an educator.
This Teenage Life wants to support more teens and educators to engage in the kinds of conversations that have helped us develop such a supportive, tight-knit community. To that end, we’ve created conversation guides that schools in Boston, Cambridge, California, and NYC are using. We’re also working with some schools whose students are starting This Teenage Life clubs of their own. Some English teachers are using this kind of dialogue/podcasting to do personal storytelling in their classes.
If you might be interested in doing something similar to any of these things with your students, please reach out to us at [email protected].
TT: What advice do you have for people looking to do meaningful work with teens in education?
M: This Teenage Life has helped to further my belief that meaningful educational experiences often start not with specific content but rather with individual young people. Great projects often grow from their tastes, interests, identities, and relationships and the ways in which they see familiar things in new ways.
When doing projects with young people, I now think less in terms of information transmission and more in terms of the medium I can use to enable collaboration and individualization and divergence. My goal is for individuals to do things that matter to them which help them express their identities.
For me, digital storytelling has been an incredible medium because the internet allows for a real, authentic audience and impact. I love storytelling because it is a universal, human form of expression that enables empathy and connection.
TT: Thanks so much, Molly! Readers, what questions or comments do you have about “This Teenage Life” and deep discussion with teens?
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English from Boston who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched TeachingTraveling.com in 2010 to share expert global education resources, and over 1.6 million readers have visited over the past decade. Lillie also runs AroundTheWorld L.com Travel and Life Blog, and DrawingsOf.com for educational cartoons. Do stay in touch via subscribing to her monthly newsletter, and following @WorldLillie on social media!