My students continue to astound me. Not just because they are opening up more and more. Not just because they are working so hard. Not just because they are pushing themselves. While all of those things are wonderful to see, it is how they are speaking up, asking for change, and taking control of their learning journeys that really is getting me excited. Student voice is something we embrace in my district and it is something I believe in as well (Just see the books I have written). Sometimes we think student voice is a system or a huge change, but the reality is that it doesn’t have to be. It can be a s simple as trying some of these ideas.
1. Give them a blog.
My students have blogged since 2010 and nowhere do I see the global effects of them having a voice in a bigger way. Our blogs serve not just as a way to record our growth but as a way to start a dialogue with the world. And my students embrace it because we take the time to do so. They see the results in their commments. They see how people react. Blogging has changed the way I teach more than once.
2. Give them time.
Student voice takes time, at least the type of voice that will lead to changes. So invest the time in the beginning, model what your conversations will look like, and take the time to showcase the tools they will use. Student voice is something I come back to throughout the year because students often forget that we want to hear their opinions, simply because they are not used to someone asking (and listening). So make it a focus and keep it in focus all year.
3. Give them post-its.
Wondering how you will engage your shy students? Wondering how you are going to find time for this? Have them write down their idea on a post-it and hand it to you. Often some of my strongest students are the ones that have the hardest time speaking up, and yet, student voice does not necessarily mean the words have to be spoken. They have to be communicated and post-its count as that. In fact, this is something that I use throughout the year as a quick way to check opinion. Students can express their honesty without wondering about judgment from others.
4. Model constructive feedback.
Part of student voice is getting and giving constructive feedback. If students want to change the way things are done well then they need to know how to approach it. Often students can be overly blunt, which requires a thick skin, but take the time to discuss how to frame their words so they will be listened to. I teach my students that how they deliver their message sometimes matter more than the actual message, you can get so much further with kindness.
5. Give them whiteboards.
One of the easiest ways I have for including all student voices within the class (beside post-its) are 2-dollar whiteboards. Massive white shower walls cut into smaller sizes and accessible at any time. Sometimes students flash their answers to me while others are still working it through, sometimes they use them to brainstorm and walk around showing each other, other times they write on them and then leave them for me to read after class is over. Why not just use paper? There seems to be something about paper that often inhabits kids, the white board though with its quick erase capabilities allow kids to express even half-complete thoughts and take more risks.
6. Give them a chance.
Student voice is not something that develops as a class culture by itself. It has to be a focused approach to include all voices and there is bound to be not so stellar moments. Yes, your feelings will probably get hurt (mine still do), Yes, students will say cringe-worthy things. Yes, students may even hurt each other’s feelings or be misunderstood. But if you persist in it, working through any obstacles you will see the results.
7. Give them an audience.
While student voice kept within a classroom can be quite powerful in itself, find a way for students to connect with the world so that their voice can be amplified. Blog, tweet, Skype, use whatever tools you have available even if they don’t include tech, but give students the opportunity to make a difference to a larger crowd than their classroom. The give and take process that happens between an audience and the students is something that will teach them even bigger lessons about delivering a message and getting their point across.
8. Give them a starting point.
Sometimes my students are eager to share all of their opinions and ideas and other times they are not. So provide all students with a common starting point. I always start by asking questions specific to what we are doing and how they would like to change it. (Don’t forget to listen to it and change the things you can!). Then move forward from there making the issues deeper until students are sharing comfortably. A few months in I know I can start to ask my students more personal questions and have them share their answers because they have shown me they are ready.
9. Give them a purpose.
My students want to change the world. Well, at least some of them do. So I try to get out of their way. Whether I ask them to look for things they can change locally or globally or it grows naturally out of whatever we are doing, once that seed has been planted, it often does not take much for students to get involved. Even within our confined schedules there are many ways to tie our standards into service learning.
10. Give them trust.
I think we fear that students will say stupid things (they might). I think we fear that students will make a fool out of themselves (they wont). I think we have so many fears when it comes to giving students a voice that we often don’t even try it because we know all of the things that can go wrong. But what if we started in a place of hope rather than a place of fear? I hope my students will change the world. I hope my students will find their voice matters. I hope my students will have the courage to tell me how to be a better teacher for them. But I wont know unless they try. We are here to protect and guide them yes, but we are also here to watch them unfold their wings. At some point we have to let go, at some point we have to trust them.
I am a passionate teacher in Wisconsin, USA, who has taught 4th, 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” is out now from Corwin Press. Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.