If you ever listen to me speak, whether in a podcast, at a conference, or just over tea here in Wisconsin, chances are at some point I will mention student voice. And then, if we continue discussing teaching, student choice will also pop up. I can’t help it. It is what I fervently believe in. It is what I live for in the classroom. Yet, sometimes when I bring it up, I get strange looks, like “Is she insane?” type of looks. Or just confused expressions, nonchalant shrugs, or even indifference. Sometimes though I get excitement, then confusion, then questions. Those are my favorite types of moment.
So what are some of the most common myths about student voice and choice?
That it is hard. Giving students a voice is not hard. Asking them for their opinion is not hard. Implementing it is. Listening to it without judgment is. But asking the first question, not hard, not even brave. Acting on what they tell you, now that takes courage.
That is a mess. Sure, students working on different things can be messy, but it is far from a mess. A mess would indicate no direction, no instructions, no real purpose. Messy can indicate a variety of things; creativity in progress, exploration at hand, failure and triumph all at the same time.
That it is utopian. Offering students a choice in what they are doing, even if it is a small one, is not an unrealistic expectations for students to have. After all, as adults (which I believe children will be some day) we are given choices all of the time. Sure, certain things are determined by things outside of our control, but so many things can be handed over to students to decide. We just have to look for them.
That it stands in the way of learning. Often choice is seen as a hindrance to cover what we need to cover, yet, in my experience the opposite is true. Giving students choices and a voice in the world will help you cover more curriculum. You can have students unpack the standards with you and come up with ways to cover multiple ones in projects. Plus student engagement inevitably goes up when they are engaged in the learning progress.
That it will breed negativity. Often the assumption is that if you give students a voice all they will do is complain, but that is simply not true. Sure, there will be complaints, but there will also be constructive criticism, braistorming, ideas, questions, and hope. We will not know what we get without asking first.
That it is the answer to everything. I love student choice and voice, but there is more than this to creating a successful learning journey. You can add it, but it won’t fix everything. To do that you have to figure out whether you would want to be a student in your own classroom and then start fixing what you wouldn’t like. Student choice and voice are just parts of the solution.
I am a passionate teacher in Wisconsin, USA, who has taught 4, 5th, and 7th grade. Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day. First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press. Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” can be pre-ordered from Corwin Press now. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.