The Importance of Student Voice

“The very idea of students deciding what they want to learn and how!  Preposterous!”, was said by:
a) a teacher in 1900
b) a teacher in 2013
c) both (a) and (c)

How much time do we take to consider the thoughts of students regarding school?  Do we assume that they will fit a certain stereotype and resist learning?  How many chances are they given to guide their school experiences?

I thoroughly enjoyed this insightful video after reading an article from the Washington Post:

Is it easier to teach if we group students together, teach them the same thing, and expect the same result?

Josh Stumpenhorst wrote about his students who participated in Innovation Day, and I loved the self-directed learning that was shared and celebrated at his school.  An excerpt from his post:

Today was the actual “Innovative Day” as students came to school with their supplies, resources, and an abundance of enthusiasm. We broke the students into working areas based on their topics of choice and the resources needed. There was a section for building, art, music, technology, videos, cooking, physical education, and more. Variety was the name of the game as there were over 200 different learning projects being worked on over the course of the day. Many students were working independently but there were plenty of learning groups that developed throughout the day as well. Students started helping each other with projects and ended up learning more than they even originally planned.

A surprising thing happened when my students created digital portfolios: they voiced their opinions about school!  Their thoughts have sometimes been so enlightening, and I can’t believe how exciting it is to read what they have to say.  I won’t lie: some of the posts are so honest that I have to take a moment to remain objective and try to identify a really important issue without taking it personally.
Part of the charm of sharing student work online is having the availability to share their thoughts with others and asking for feedback from colleagues.  When a student post is particularly thought-provoking, I have asked my co-workers to respond before I do so that I can see an issue from a variety of perspectives.

Take a moment to consider the thoughts of some of my students:

“.. there is one thing I find difficult to do in school, which is to stay focused. Teachers and due dates make me feel nervous, people make me mad and I wish I was somewhere else. Anywhere but, here.” (S)

“One thing i find very difficlut in school is to learn in the certain amount of class time. I end up getting the subject but i just have to ask more questions.” (A)

“Currently, I am at my school typing this writing piece in order to get a decent grade. This first post is supposed to be about my defintion of art. It’s an assignment. -insert sigh here- She wanted us to create a standard, professional art blog that should provide a personality for various of reasons, like reaching a broader audience to show my art, to create an online art portfoilo, to know another weirdo on the interwebs, etc. I would have to admit, that I like the fact she tries new ideas, and projects to provide a better understand of what this course is all about- visual arts, and how you can apply your artistic skills in the ‘real world’.” (S)

If we provide opportunities for students to have their voices heard, we have to realize that they’re not always going to tell us what we want to hear.  Honesty is vital if we are going to move forward — if students are willing to become the independent thinkers that we encourage them to be, we have to respect their thoughts as much as we expect them to respect ours.

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3 Responses to The Importance of Student Voice

  1. Nicole says:

    AH….a person who truly understands student voice! My newest questions about the claim that we are trying to make education authentic is…”authentic to whom? Whose voice is being reflect? The student or the teacher?? This leads us to a discussion about true student voice…is it really about planning a dance, or is it about revealing student thinking about what learning style works for them, how learning happens, and what we learn about?

    Such a powerful conversation…loved reading the blog as always – and the students in the video…their passion for learning – this is the same passion that we KNOW that students come to kindergarten with…so what happens? Is it that we beat this out of them by trying to get them to fit into our own vision of what it means to be a good student – and what is that vision based upon? Our personal experiences – so we come to the education realm with our own notion of what it should be, and then we (inadvertently) replicate that in our students with our expectations and the lens through which we present materials…human nature – but what about the world that the student comes from and their understanding of that world…..

    …schools are not about us…they are about the students – thus their VOICE matters….

  2. colleenkr says:

    Nicki, these are such powerful thoughts and so incredibly important if we are doing everything we can for our students. How do we change our habits? How is student voice heard, and when will it affect change in us? How do we help students realize that they have a voice? There are so many assumptions, so many traditions that are part of our routine every day… It is so important to question the relevance of everything we do.

  3. Pingback: March 1, 2013 | andrewkiddblog

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