Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Student Voice

Wikipedia defines student voice as "the individual and collective perspective and actions of young people within the context of learning and education."

There has been quite a discussion taking place lately in the blogging world about the lack of "student voice" at NECC and everywhere else.

Karl Fisch noted that, although there were some students present at NECC, "overall, it was a bunch of adults talking about what’s best for students". Acknowledging the difficulty - and expense - that bringing some of his own students to the conference next year would entail, Mr. Fisch is working to implement changes in his home district, encouraging teachers and administrators to include students in lesson planning and professional development opportunities.

Clay Burell thought his classroom assignments were connecting his students to the "real world" but realized that "it was still just homework. Nothing WorldChanging, nothing that taught them that they have the potential to affect this world for the better. Nothing that encouraged their empowerment. Nothing that gave them the opportunity to apply their learning to something that mattered to them, or to discover that, if only schools would let them, they could learn about the limits of their own power to make change in the world." In comments to Scott Schwister, Burell also points out the lack of true collaboration between adults and students.

In response, Schwister lists some suggestions for "elevating student voices", ranging from reading and responding to student blogs, to participating in forums like Students Speak Out.

Carolyn Foote offers a number of potentially empowering policy changes and concludes by asserting "When we seek first to understand our students and the meaningful contributions they can make, that conversation can transform our campuses into much deeper learning communities."

All of these conversations have led me to reconsider some of my plans and strategies for next school year. I had intended to encourage students in my class to share their projects with our Board of Education, both to demonstrate what they've accomplished and to advocate for more technology tools being made available in the district. But if I, as teacher, choose what they present, is this truly "student voice"? Should I let them decide what to request and how to do so?

Jean Piaget said that "The principle goal of education in the schools should be creating men and women who are capable of doing new things, not simply repeating what other generations have done; men and women who are creative, inventive and discoverers, who can be critical and verify, and not accept, everything they are offered."

Our students need to find their voice, and we need to learn how to listen to it.


Carolyn Foote said...

I think it's a very empowering idea to have students help make the decision about what to present to the board.

What a learning experience it would be for them to negotiate that discussion and help make those decisions.

And that discussion could even become part of the presentation.

Thanks for the inspiration!

CB said...

Ah, a new, relevant voice in the edublogosphere :)

What jumps out at me in your post are, first, the inclusion of the word actions in the Wikipedia definition of "student voice." I'm currently ambivalent about creating more blog-talkers as the ultimate goal of this initiative. Talking and writing aren't enough, though schools typically seem to think so. No wonder citizenship is dead. We have to change that.

The second thing is your closing quote by Piaget. The next generation, which we're teaching now to be replicants of our own problematic lifestyles, are damned if they're not equipped - or even conscious of - the world of their future. It's been said a million times: "Our past is not their future."

The one wrinkle I see in letting students decide what to present is this: they are only aware of what their community - parents, teachers, preachers - make them aware of. And that community is generally not cognizant of the shape of the future, busy as it is with its own daily round and daily diet of soft news.

So I still see a role for adult educators to serve as sort of "futurist guides" to the next generation of adults.

Karl Fisch is already an example of someone playing that role, however unintentionally, by virtue of the viral reach of his "Did You Know?" video. According to that vision, largely a condensation of Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat, the future to prepare for is one of economic competition with China and India.

But there's more to our young people's future than economics - especially when most of those economic practices are unsustainable. All this talk about "21st century workplace skills" disturbs me to no end for its trancelike oblivion to the unsustainability of that workplace.

Friedman actually mentions "green innovation" as one of those skills, incidentally, but that's not mentioned in "Did You Know?", so educators are largely not thinking of it. This isn't Karl's fault, since that video wasn't intended to be anything more than a district edtech professional development presentation. But it's taken a life of its own, and educators are so wowed by the flash of the animation they don't seem to think beyond it to what else awaits in the future.

There are other futures we need to alert this generation to that are more fundamental, in my view. Global Warming and Climate Change, combined with the Peak Oil situation, top the list.

If we adults don't use our capacity for being more informed, beyond the media, about the future we're creating for our young, they have nobody to educate them in what is relevant to their future. We've surrendered our role to the larger forces of culture and media that are stuck in the status quo.

Thanks for the post and for extending my thinking :)

diane said...
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diane said...

Add Sylvia Martinez, of the Generation YES Blog,to the list of educational bloggers addressing the necessity of "student voice". Her posting for July 4 (Independence Day, appropriately enough) includes a related download: From Vision to Action: Including Student Leadership in Your Technology Plan (PDF).

Barry M said...

I've tried to implement Gen Yes programs into schools before and it's tough. Empowering students to take an active and responsible role in the professional development of the faculty is such a foreign concept to many administrators and teachers. Some of them looked at me as if I were speaking Uzbek.

But I agree with carolyn. Have your students pick a REAL community-related issue/problem they feel strongly about and then communicate their work to the community - including the school board.

Your guidance in this process would be priceless.

diane said...

Greg Farr has posted an Action Plan on Leader Talk
This is an invitation and a challenge to administrative leaders to become more effective agents for change in their educational systems.
I posted a comment asking his opinion on the question of "student voice" and look forward to any response he might tender.

Sylvia said...

Hi all,
Nice to find a new blog like this! It's SO great that people are talking about student voice, and thinking out loud about what it looks like.

Barry, sorry that the GenYES model didn't work for you -- as you point out, it's rarely the kids that let you down, though, it's almost always entrenched attitudes and adults who talk about change but really don't want it.

GenYES is simply a very structured way to implement one kind of student action - including students in technology integration and professional development. It's certainly not the only way, or is such a structured program always the best way to go. The PDF Diane linked to actually covers six models of student action related to technology and suggests ways to write them into technology plans so that it's someone's responsibility to make it happen. It's downloadable from our home page as well http://www.genyes.com

diane said...

Barry and Carolyn,

Doug's June 16, 2007 posting on his Borderland blog
expresses some of the same concepts you're raising: giving students the power of choice and involving them in "real" community issues.

Study the big picture, then fill in the details locally.

Anonymous said...

Diane, it's a pleasure to meet you. I like your idea of shifting the advocacy role to your students. Maybe you've coined a concept. . . authentic advocacy?

I'm always challenged by the ethical depth of Clay's thinking and have learned a lot in the past couple of days following his posts about student voice vs. action. Plenty to give one pause, but he's good at calls to action, too. Makes me stop to think before writing: Am I just talking, or is there a better action-oriented outlet for my energy? At any rate, I like what Clay says about teachers as futurist guides. That fits with a notion of authentic advocacy as something that's more than just speaking out---it's speaking out with responsibility and civility.

By the way, thanks for jumping in with your thoughtful response to my post about first Web 2.0 experiences. Putting the piece together has been a blast and a great learning experience, thanks to the collective wisdom and eloquence of everyone who contributed. We dive into the FridayLive session in about 15 minutes. Fingers crossed that it all makes sense. . .

Looking forward to reading and learning more from you.

Anonymous said...

I came across this blog today for the first time. I work on the Students Speak Out Web site mentioned in the original post. I also work at Education|Evolving on the student voices initiative and I think anyone interested in this topic will want to visit our Web site. There is a clearinghouse of student voices on the Web (on education policy topics) as well as publications with student voice (some by students themselves).

I respectfully disagree with Clay about students' sphere of influence. I think there spheres often include sources beyond what most adults access given their ability to use technology and their exposure to many forms of media. Students, I propose, could give us digital immigrants a clearer picture of the shape of the future than most adults could. The trouble is, few ask them to. And when students are asked, it is often the adults who ask the wrong questions based on their own limited sphere of influence and their own perceptions of how thoughful students are. This is especially the case with technology.

When we first started Students Speak Out some adults in the community suggested that students must first be educated about the issues in order to have anything significant to say on the site. If you visit the site, you'll see that students actually have a pretty good grasp of the issues and that they have plenty of thoughtful remarks and suggestions.

Anonymous said...

check out www.educationevolving.org/studentvoices



(Sorry I did not include these in my earlier post)

diane said...


Thank you for the links. I can visualize a number of interesting conversations occurring in my class as students view and discuss what their peers have written/said.

diane said...
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diane said...

Jennifer, at Life as I Know It
reminded me that there are other "student voices", post-graduate and distance learners, who would like to have their voices heard.

*Sorry for the deleted posts. I can't STAND spelling and grammatical errors (my own). This is a prejudice I'll have to overcome if I ever hope to live blog or skype!