Friday, 29 July 2016

5 Steps to Amplify Student Voice

You might not know this but the international reality TV vocal talent show "The Voice" has iterations in over 50 countries.  That means that one quarter of the countries in the world have their own version of it.  In Afghanistan it is called آواز افغانستان , in Turkey it is O Ses Türkiye, in Viet Nam it is called Giọng hát Việt. The concept is hugely popular and beats out other reality shows time and time and time and time again.

What is this preoccupation with the voice?  And what is it about a voice that makes us just want to drop down on the couch and listen?

We hear it in schools: give students a voice.  But what does that mean? What does that look like?  And is it as important as we think?

Let's think about our own experience.  How do we feel when we believe we've been heard?  How we feel when our opinion mattered?  When our words become crucial?  When our ideas change the course of an event, an organization, a life?

And how do we feel when our voice isn't heard?  When our opinion wasn't really considered?  When, despite what we say, nothing seems to make any difference?

Voice matters.

There is something that resonates deep in our core about being heard.  It is connected with being known.  We see it when a colleague shares "Well my thing is. . ." or "I have been working on. . .".  We see it when someone starts to blog.  They are so excited to share out their ideas.  And the ideas are so good.  Time and time again I see first blogs shared out to so many.  The voice resonates throughout the world getting retweeted, liked and plus one'd.  That new voice is refreshing.  Its passion renews our own.  Being heard doesn't just matter to the speaker, it matters for all the listeners.

So how do we get that in our classrooms?  Here are 5 steps to amplify student voice.


The first step is to believe that our students' voices are important.  That they must be heard.  That our job as educators is to make sure that happens.  Our beliefs pour out of us, and as I have said about many things educational, the importance of voice is 'better caught than taught'.

This belief plays out in how we teach.

Are we co-constructing learning goals with our students?  
Do students have a voice in how they are evaluated?
Are students empowered to control the direction of the class?


Getting connected: Finding Experts

A voice is nothing if it isn't heard.  I believe our job as educators is to be the linchpin for student connection.  Can we connect our students with experts in a certain field? This is not just to hear from the expert, but reciprocate.  Give opportunities for your students to help the expert, through awareness, through testing out something for them, through offering feedback.

Can we connect our classes with other students across the globe? Can we open the world for our students by introducing them to another viewpoint, culture, way of living?

Are we giving opportunities for students to connect outside the class and school walls?
Are we connecting with other educators ourselves?
Are we giving students opportunities for their voices to be heard far and wide?


Digital Portfolios: where to start?

Students need a platform to share their voice.  This is why I am so big on digital portfolios.  Is there any other way that students can share their ideas in an educational framework?  (this isn't a rhetorical question.  I'd love to hear other ways that educators are facilitating a platform to share.  Possibly leveraging students own already existing platforms?)

Do our students have a place to share out not only their learning but their thoughts?
Do our students consider these platforms as their own?
Are we demonstrating voice sharing ourselves?


Meaningful Comments: Why?

It isn't enough for students to share out.  We as educators need to visit where student voices are spoken, and interact with what they've said.  It is not enough to let them know that we came.  We have to engage with their ideas, and facilitate others' engagement as well: other students, parents, other teachers, experts.

Do we visit student portfolios regularly?
Do we take time to offer meaningful feedback to our students?
Do we consider meaningful feedback crucial to learning?


This is where the rubber meets the road.  The plumb line on the meaningfulness of student voice to us is whether we are sharing it out or not.  Blogging, tweeting, Flipboarding, Google Hangouts: all these platforms can propel student voice.

Do we have ways of sharing out our students' creations, ideas, and opinions?
Is sharing out part of the classroom routines?
Do the activities we do in the class meet our own standards such that we welcome them shared?

We all know that voices are important.  Are our students' voices being heard?