Why is student voice important in schools? Well, you know that feeling when no one seems to be listening to what you’re trying to say? Most of us have experienced that feeling from time to time. And likely, we brush it off. But what if you felt like this for a whole day? Every day? For years?
For students in public schools, this may be their reality. Of course, students talk to each other, answer questions, and make comments in class. But is their voice really heard in schools?
What is ‘Student Voice’, Exactly?
You’ve probably hear the term, ‘student voice and choice,’ in reference to personalized learning. The Glossary of Education Reform offers this definition; “student voice refers to the values, opinions, beliefs, perspectives, and cultural backgrounds of individual students and groups of students in a school, and to instructional approaches and techniques that are based on student choices, interests, passions, and ambitions.”
Let’s break down this definition. First, student voice involves ‘the values, opinions, beliefs, perspective, and cultural backgrounds’ of all students. So this is more than simply listening to our students in class. Listening to the collective student voice means that we listen to and respond to what really matters to students. Are their opinions being heard? Are their values and beliefs being respected? Are their varying cultural backgrounds freely expressed?
Next, student voice should affect instructional approaches. Here is where the student choice piece comes in. To truly let student voice be heard, does the way you are teaching reflect that you’re actually letting students make choices about how they learn? Does the way something is being taught offer students opportunities to express their personal beliefs and opinions? Can they share or learn about their own culture, feel comfortable to let their values be known?
Does your school have an activity period, or flex block? Perhaps you could use this time for students to pursue projects of their choice or meet with groups of students to share some of the things they care about. Could you dedicate time just for students to explore and celebrate their culture? Could students presents their projects, big ideas, opinions, etc. to their class? To the whole school?
Why Does Student Voice Matter?
Just like the example at the outset – it can be frustrating, and confidence draining, when you feel like your voice is not being heard. It makes you feel as if others don’t value you. This isn’t how we want students to feel! For students that are struggling with finding their place, or feel like they don’t fit in, knowing that their voice is being heard can help them to see that they’re not alone.
To truly personalize learning, student voice is essential. It’s really not possible to have personalized learning without it. How will you know how to best provide instruction for your students if you don’t know what they care about, or how they learn? Make student voices heard in your school!