Students Assessing Student Voice

Students showing me their research on their school during a statewide project I led in 2004.
I think that one of the dilemmas facing the student voice movement underway in the United States and worldwide today is that there is not a clear agreement on what student voice means. This has been the case since the earliest research specifically citing the term “student voice” was conducted in the late 1970s.

At that point, student voice meant one of three things:

  1. the distinct self-representation of students in classroom teaching practices;
  2. student representation in school governance activities, and;
  3. active student participation throughout the school environment.
In my early writing on student voice more than a decade ago, I sought to move towards embracing all the different research on student voice by saying that student voice is, “the distinct perspectives and actions of young people throughout schools focused on education.” Recently, I’ve made that more succinct by simply saying that student voice is any expression of any student anywhere related to education.
Tools
From that understanding, I have sought to identify related work since 2001. Building and maintaining SoundOut.org website since then, I compiled a number of tools that allow students and/or adults to assess the climate of their learning environment in general. I also found several tools that allowed them to assess their classrooms, schools, and activities as they pertain to student voice. 
  • The Government of South Australia designed the Student Voice Indicator Tool to measure several aspects of student voice throughout schools. The document was based on a study conducted by the Australian Council for Educational Research, and measured how students relate to others; whether they’re committed to community well-being; their interest in learning; conformity to rules and conventions; self confidence; and optimism for the future. 
  • Prof. Michael Fielding first published the Framework for Assessing Student Voice in 2001 based on research he’d conducted in UK schools over the previous decade. Projects across that nation have used it to evaluate their efforts.
  • Students at Lexington High School in Lexington, Massachusetts, created their own “Best Practices Club” to assess teachers’ classroom performance in 2006. Their Student-Designed & Delivered Classroom Observation Tool was a loose measurement to determine what they had to share with teachers. 
  • Consulting Pupils About Teaching and Learning is a spectacular tool series created by some of the UK’s most accomplished academics focused on student voice. Its absolutely essential for schools committed to engaging students as assessors of the learning environment, both in terms of preparedness and implementation. 
  • A private consulting firm in Kentucky called Roberts & Kay, Inc. created Turn Up the Volume: The Students Speak Toolkit for usage by Kentucky schools and published it in 2002. The Partnership for Kentucky Schools used it in hundreds of schools to promote student voice and integrate student voice into school improvement.
  • The Northwest Regional Education Lab, now called Education Northwest, published Listening to Student Voices in 2001. It provides a process for K-12 educational leaders and school-based teams to include students in continuous school improvement, and involves use of one or more of four Listening to Student Voices tools.
On a page called, Student-Led Research on Schools, I brought together a collection of student-written research studies focusing on school climate and performance. These studies were conducted by students in order to share their own and their peers’ perceptions of schools. On another page I identify examples of students as school evaluators, and on another, students as education researchers.
Challenges
All of these tools take different aims at identifying the culture necessary to foster student voice that benefits the school improvement process or improves the learning environment. After studying and using each of these tools over the last decade, I can say that they’re all missing a few things. 
While all of them examine student voice and make concessions for preparedness, few take into account the necessity of training students and adults in schools to support student voice. Few others talk about infusing student voice into the ongoing practice of school improvement; instead, they rely on a one-time gathering of student voice without mechanisms for sustaining activities. They also neglect to identify the need to integrate student voice throughout all school improvement activities. Thorough research conducted by Mitra (2002), Fielding (2005), and Levine (1999) all identify the necessity of this, along with others’ studies.
My hypothesis on Meaningful Student Involvement includes all of these characteristics, and more. I created a series of proprietary evaluation tools for SoundOut that includes these measures and others. I will detail them in a future post.
In the meantime, its important for schools, nonprofits, and others to know that much of this work has happened before. What needs to happen next?

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