Seeking Out Student Voice
One of my favorite parts about being an instructional coach and aspiring building leader is having the opportunity to visit classrooms from a non-evaluative perspective. Teachers (my friends) trust me and openly invite me into their classrooms. They always seem to be willing to discuss their successes and failures as well as provide honest insight about their reﬂections and positive adjustments in their practices. This is why I jumped at the chance in The Core Collaborative's Teacher Fellows program when I was asked to observe the students in my building for a minimum of three days to gain a snapshot of what student voice looked and sounded like.
Before I share successes, experiences, ideas or strategies, I must ﬁll you in on my thoughts around the growing statistic in my school. With over 46% English Language Learners this year- a whopping 9% increase since 2015-2016, I was curious how this might impact the amount of student voice that was present.
I began asking myself three questions:
1) Why is this even an important topic- especially for our EL population?
2) What was I going to see that would tell me student voice was a part of our culture?
3) How could teachers increase student voice and how could I help?
Why is student voice so important for learning?
According to edutopia.org, the term "Student Voice" describes how students provide their input about what happens within the school and classroom. This is important because student voice infuses all of our work collectively, from students participating in small group classroom conversations to students partnering in curriculum design or assisting in establishing school norms and policy.
Student motivation increases when students take ownership of their learning and have a choice in the way they show what they know. When I think about my original quandary of how many student voices I would see that were English Learners, I am energized thinking how much the use of student voice could help accelerate students ability to learn the English language. Effective classrooms contain routines where learners collaborate, engage in dialogue, and participate in group activities. Engaging multiple times in a given day with peers not only allows for practice of oral language but also sets up the classroom to be collaborative and a safe place to try out new skills.
I wanted to be able to support my fellow teachers in eliciting more English Learner student voice. But where could they start? Larry Ferlazzo gives us tips on what to do in order to promote student voice with the English Language Learner. What I discovered was the techniques suggested were just as important for other students too!
So, what did student voice look like currently in my school?
An interesting discovery as I went searching was WHERE student voice was the most apparent:
✦ Fourth Grade Student Council
✦ Classrooms with two teachers (ICT Classrooms)
✦ Self-Contained Classrooms where paraprofessionals were viewed & respected as another teacher
This leaves me wondering how something like student voice can become a priority across all classrooms, not just the ones with extra adult support in the room.
How were teachers engaging students' voice?
Here are some strategies I saw being used with students throughout the school:
1. Partner Work. Students were more likely to express their ideas or "wonderings" about a topic when they were chatting with a partner first. I saw this in the form of "Think, Pair, Share" but there are many techniques and strategies to engage students in dialogue and discussion.
2. Brainstorming Solutions. Students were identifying problems they faced as a class (behaviorally) or sometimes brainstorming to list topics they wanted to learn more about in science and social studies. Kids tended to talk more about topics that were meaningful and relevant to them.
3. Student Centered Settings. In classrooms where there was less teacher talk and more student centered group work appeared to have students who stayed focused, were more on task and generally seemed more conﬁdent verbalizing the steps needed to be successful on their academic tasks.
4. Looking at Exemplars. Teachers who had set up the time for students to discuss and ask questions around student exemplars or samples had students more engaged and participating in the learning.
What does this mean for educators in general?
Students who are assessment capable learners (meaning they can answer the following questions about their learning; "Where are they going? Where are they now? Where to next?") can accelerate their learning three times the amount in one year's time. Why wouldn't we start having discussions with our peers on how to plan for opportunities for more voices to be heard? Where can we seek out the opportunity for it to take hold and transform our culture?
This could mean that we need to take a step back and dig deeper into more strategies to incorporate student voice and participation in the classroom and then extend “the voice” building wide. If given the right conditions and support, the possibilities for student voices to be heard are endless.
Sharlene Velez is an aspiring administrator and is currently an instructional support specialist at P.S.20 in Staten Island. When she is not being Mom to three beautiful children, she participates in The Core Collaborative's Teacher Fellowship building her professional learning network with fellow educators and T.C.C. partners exploring how to increase student centered learning across systems through the formative assessment process.
Find out more about our Teacher Fellows and the work in schools at www.thercorecollaborative.com/teacher-fellowship