This morning I dropped my daughter off at day school, and I was reminded of an important lesson I’ve learned about student voice. A friend of Hannah’s came over and started immediately telling her how excited she was to be learning about plaster casts today. As they went back and forth I listened to the tone of my daughter’s voice change, and saw on her face as she became more excited about a Monday morning.
I’m reminded that in one of its more commonly recognized forms, student voice is always a force for changing the climate of a learning environment, good or otherwise. Students go back and forth on a regular basis, checking in about each others’ emotions and ideas, experiences and knowledge about school, learning, teaching, classrooms, curricula, behaviors, attitudes… the whole nine yards. That’s why it becomes vital for educators to embrace the voices of learners from the youngest ages, and to let students inform their pedagogy.
By starting young educators can empower students by teaching them about learning, about the process of education, and about the schooling that is done to them every single day, whether or not they are willing participants. In this way learners can at least have a common understanding of the individual and collective experiences they share. Anyone who has been in one of my more recent workshops can attest to the conversations we’ve had about what type of learning our schools could foster if only students had this basic understanding of their days.
Topics that students can and should learn about include:
- Curriculum: What is it, what does it do, why is it used and who does it serve?
- Management: What is classroom management, how does it affect me and how can it change?
- Design: Who designs schooling, from the building to the agenda to the budget to the hiring process?
- Assessment: What is the purpose of assessment, what are the ways it happens, and what are the outcomes from assessment?
And of course, let’s teach students about student voice! Students should have a basic understanding of their identity, their skills and their knowledge, and be able to apply those understandings in and to the course of their daily experiences in school. Embracing student voice in this way takes a lot of different forms. Check out my Cycle of Student Voice for ideas about what that looks like specifically.
In a really simplistic way, building student voice is a constructivist perspective for embracing the power of schooling, which could potentially be a positive experience for all learners. It is our responsibility as ethical educators to do exactly that.