There are many ways to both engage and empower students that lead to ownership of learning. Creating what I call a “free-range” experience that replicates real-world contexts and develops critical competencies while tapping into passions might be the holy grail, in my humble opinion. While there is a slew of strategies a teacher can use to accomplish this, a focus on high-agency elements is both powerful and realistic. These include voice, choice, path, pace, and place. They can be integrated into a holistic experience or leveraged individually to personalize learning. Of them all, voice might be the easiest to implement every day.
- Involves all kids in the learning process
- Fosters active participation
- Builds confidence leading to self-efficacy, especially when students can respond under cover of anonymity
- Promotes open reflection and collaboration
- Sets the stage for instant feedback
- Develops a sense of community
As you look above at all the many powerful outcomes of this high agency strategy, it is crucial to understand that there is no one right way to foster student voice. It could be as simple as all kids using an individual whiteboard or dry-erase surface to respond. Technology also provides an ever-growing selection of tools that involve kids in the learning process in ways that lead to greater empowerment. Think about how audio, video, or the ability to draw can help a child find their voice. At a macro level, open forums and surveys can be used to elicit ideas for improving school culture. The point is that voice takes on many faces, each with positive outcomes.
During my longitudinal work with the Corinth School District over the past couple of years, I have seen many teachers embrace student voice. For the most part, technology has been their pathway of choice where tools such as Blooket, Gimkit, Mentimeter, Padlet, Edpuzzle, and Kahoot have been integrated. During a recent visit, I saw something that completely blew my mind as it was simple yet highly effective. You will see this in the video below, as well as a textbook personalized classroom using sound blended pedagogies. The opening frame shows a choice board that students were able to access in Canvas along with standards-aligned learning targets. As the video progresses, see if you are able to identify the voice strategy this teacher developed.
Were you able to identify the strategy? At first, I didn’t catch it as I was so impressed with the choice board and observable evidence of how empowered the learners were. If you look closely, though, you will see that some computers had a green clothespin while the group at the end of the clip had red.
When a question or challenge arose, the students would clip the red one to their laptops. This signified to the teacher that a group needed help. At the end of the video, you see where some students were getting needed support. If everything was good, the green clip remained on the computer. Not only was this a fantastic way to foster student voice, but it also allowed the teacher to focus her time on the learners that needed it the most.
As you look to include or improve student voice in your classroom (or school), keep in mind the intended outcomes listed at the beginning of this post. Work backward from here and find the strategy that works best for your learners, and don’t be afraid to mix it up now and again. In the end, it is difficult for kids to own their learning if they don’t have a say.
I am always on the lookout for great ideas that educators around the world have implemented with fidelity. How have you effectively implemented voice in your classroom or school?