Student Voice I
- Posted by: Biju Ramakrishna Pillai
- Category: Blog
Do teachers really know what students go through while they are in the classroom? To find out, one teacher spends two days as a student and is shocked at what she learns. The Washington Post published an article on Alexis Wiggins, an American teacher, educator and the author of “The Best Class You Never Taught,” who spent two days in the classroom and was surprised to observe that many students “feel like a bit of a nuisance all day long.”
Ms. Wiggins observes that giving students an opportunity to some say over what happens in the class is one of the most powerful ways to impact achievement and to actively engage them in the life of the classroom. This is a student voice that not only promotes engagement and a strong sense of community also. It is true that our students’ contributions are vital to the learning process and we, the teachers, have the skill and capacity to change their experiences if we design lessons that prioritize student voice and participation.
Elevating student voice is important and vital for many reasons. As researchers observe, “The amount of talk that students do is correlated with their achievement.” There are strategies we can use to elevate student voice in order to strengthen relationships, foster a sense of belonging, increase engagement, and inform instruction.
Students come to class with their minds worried about low grades, homework assignments, and many other concerns. In order to help them clear these distractions from their minds, let them share ‘breaking news’ or ‘what is on the top of their mind?’ with peers or with their teachers. This welcoming ritual relieves them of their stressful thoughts and creates space for a new learning experience. Welcoming rituals like this make the classroom a place that accepts students not only for who they are but where they are or what they are.
Another important way to elevate student voice is to get periodic feedback from them which answers many of our questions regarding the effectiveness of our classes. Implementation of their suggestions conveys the message that we value their insight, and that their voices are at the centre of the work that we do. By listening to and honouring our students, we can show them that their voices can be powerful instruments of learning for themselves and others.
We need to intentionally interact with all our students and let them be aware of the fact that we value who they are and understand the complexities of their lives. These moments of listening and sharing with students reinforce belonging, and build relationships. When they realize that we value what they have to say, they are more likely to share their thoughts and insights. As great educators remind us, a positive, caring, respectful climate in the classroom helps to develop a strong teacher-student relationship.