I often find myself discussing “Giving students a voice” in the classroom with people who wonder what I exactly mean. Sure, giving someone a voice sounds great, but how do I know that I am doing that? What can I do to do that? What does it look like? I am not an expert but here is what it looks like to me.
Curriculum; give them ownership. Even within the strictest of dictated curriculum we can still give ownership to our students, meaning the right to create something that they want to. If the format is predetermined then give them choice over the topic. If the topic is predetermined then give them choice in the format. Presentation, collaboration, and how it will be assessed are also area where you can give students a voice. You just have to find the time to ask them.
Ask yourself: Do my students have a say in what they are doing right now?
Classroom Routine. I don’t make the rules of our classroom my students and I do. We discuss them at the beginning of the year and then we modify them as we go. They have a voice and a right to decide how their classroom will run. We have non-negotiables such as respecting others and then go from there. Every year is different because every group is different.
Ask yourself: Who set the rules of the classroom?
Classroom setup. This is vital to giving students a voice and often overlooked. We can dicate our agenda just as easily through our setup as through our words. Where is your desk located How is it faced? Where is the main area of the room? Where is the focal point? Can they manipulate the physical classroom? Can they move desks, tables, areas? Do they decide where they work? Do they decide how they work? All of this gives them a voice.
Ask yourself: Where do my students work? What is the vibe of the room?
Assessment. I do not believe in the power of a report card or in the power of grades. So students and I discuss what a well-done product should look like. Students self-reflect a lot and set goals. They discuss goals with me, with their parents, and with each other. We strive for accountability and also a deeper understanding of what it means to create.
Ask yourself: Who determines the grade? Who establishes the guidelines?
Students must know that they have somewhere where they can always turn to speak to each other, to me, to the world. Our student blogs
do that for us and I encourage them to speak freely. Many of them do and I always grow from what they post. So find an outlet for their voice so that they know someone is listening.
Ask yourself: Where do I hear my students voice? Where does the world?
Face to face. When my students speak, I listen. I stop whatever I am doing and I lok at them. I listen, I respond, and things sometimes are fixed or changed. We meet as a group every Friday to discuss achievements, share advice, or just check in. We speak in the morning before the day really gets going so that students know what to expect, know what their day looks like, and what our expectations are. Students know that I will take the time to listen to them, even if they have complaints, they know I will take it to heart, they know that they can tell me their honest opinion without negative repercussions. I never hold a grudge and my actions show that.
Ask yourself: What do I do when students speak to me? How do I react?
Caring and accountability. When my students speak in their myriad of ways; I listen. I am held accountable to their words and they often see the direct effect of their words on our classroom, on my teaching, on their daily school lives. That accountability and caring piece is the most important factor of giving students a voice, fore if we encourage them to speak up then we must also be ready to listen, to change, to act. Everything else does not matter if they do not believe we actually care about their voice.
Ask yourself: Which actions show that I care? What have I changed based on student feedback?