Student Voice

When I studied five successful STEM schools over three years in different parts of the United States in order to discover how innovative they were, I was surprised to find that one of the least innovative components was student voice.  Student voice, I  had thought, would be one of the components that would stand out in an innovative school.  However, during the process of collecting qualitative data related to the schools’ design and culture, I learned that barriers to innovation exist in even some of the more innovative schools.  Some of those barriers were the need to cover specific curriculum, follow a departmentalized approach to learning, teacher-centered learning, and local, state, and federal accountability. Sadly, these barriers were influenced the school design-school culture and reduced the degree of innovation.  Student voice was not an innovative component.

With that in mind, I chose to post this blog on student voice.  In this blog, I reference some of the greatest thinkers on student voice, including Yong Zhao.  My intent is to bring to the forefront, the importance of student voice, as well as how administrators and teachers can foster its development in learning organizations and to confront and challenge the traditional barriers that plague the majority of our schools, preventing them from evolving into innovative learning organizations.  Educational policy-makers, administrators, teachers, and students themselves must realize the significant impact a lack of student voice has on organizational learning.  With that in mind, I have collected thoughts on what student voice is, what it looks like and sounds like in the school, classroom, and community, and how administrators and teachers can provide students with–STUDENT VOICE!

Student Voice
When educators create opportunities to listen and honor student voices, they can co-construct relevant and authentic learning experiences and make the vision a reality (Couros, 2015). Student voice is one of the gateways to personalizing learning: forming more open and trustful relationships between staff and students (Hargreaves, 2004). Research has shown that student voice has a positive effect on the school culture, increased student engagement, and overall improvement in children’s well-being.  Students can point out structural and cultural obstacles in the school that may be overlooked by adult administrators and teachers. Thus students should be considered capable and valuable members of a school community who can help initiate and implement educational change (Mitra, 2008).  Student voice helps improve confidence and self-esteem and other crucial competencies for responsible and creative entrepreneurs and citizens (Savrock, 2008).  Students should be considered an integral part of the school leadership in the new educational paradigm (Zhao, 2012).

Student Voice: Governance and Environment 

Students have the right and opportunity to participate in school governance-constructing the physical, social, and cognitive environment (Zhao, 2012, p. 245).  The biggest difference between a rich environment in the traditional paradigm and the new paradigm is the degree to which the children actively participate in constructing the environment. The child-centered paradigm believes the school should fit the child and that means the school must involve children in the making of the environment. Students should become partners of their educational learning experiences through personalized learning (Zhao, 2012, p. 182).  Student voice goes beyond token representations of students on school committees. It requires deep reconsideration of the role of students in the school, not just as a place that transmits knowledge, but as a community of learners (Zhao, 2012, p.183).

Student Voice in the Innovative Learning Organization 

Students are always involved in the development of rules and regulations (Zhao, 2012, p. 245).  Students are always involved in selecting and evaluating staff (Zhao, 2012, p. 245).  Students are always involved in decisions about courses and other learning opportunities the school offers (Zhao, 2012, p. 245).  Students are always involved in decisions about equipment, library books, technology, and/or other similar items (Zhao, 2012, p. 245).

Strategies for School Administrators:  Student-led developments 

o Ambassadors

o Student-led learning walks

o Lead learners

o Student leaders

o Co-researchers

o Radical forms of student council

o Student observers

o Student interviewers

o Student board members

o Student focus groups

o Student surveys

o Student informants of accountability

The Learning Environment  

o Provides a broad spectrum of experiences

o Allow flexibility and exceptions

o Enables personalization of educational experiences

o Involves student as decision makers

Strategies and Tools for Teachers by Terry Heick

o Writing: Blogging

Tools: WordPress, Blogger and a variety of education-focused blogging platforms help students establish their own digital space to meet the world.

o Multimedia: Mash digital images and text to simple, accessible expressions that fluidly adapt to social and mobile consumption

Tools: Storify and Storehouse essentially allow students to collect media bits and pieces from across the web, and to socialize them.

o Speaking: Podcasting or VoiceThread

Tools: While podcasting and VoiceThread have fundamental differences, they boil down to the ability for students to express themselves verbally around an idea important to them.

o Performing and/or Directing:: Create and maintain a digital video channel to find voice, audience, and understanding of viewer habits

Tools: YouTube is the ultimate digital distribution channel.

o Artistic Expression: Photograph, paint, draw, or otherwise create compelling visuals to share with the world.

Tools: Behance is an iPad app meant to share the best artistic and design students create in a social, pinterest-like style. Other possibilities include Deviantart (a site to share drawings, paintings, and photography), Drawp (an app with a classroom-friendly workflow for painting), and flickr (a cloud-based photo hosting site whose latest updates have made it a bit more elegant to publish and share), as well as video games like Minecraft (design, architecture), GarageBand (music) or The Drum Machine


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