Updated: May 22, 2020
The Power of Student Voice; Empowering all Learners
When I think about student voice and what it means to me as an educator, I reflect on the ways in which my understanding of the concept has evolved over time and how in turn, it has shaped my practice as a teacher, and as an educational technology consultant. If I had been asked early in my career, “What is Student Voice?”, my answer would likely have focused around students participating during class discussions. Though I was on the right track, recognizing the importance of giving students the opportunity to speak out, to share their ideas and ask questions, I have come to realize that the answer to the question, “What is Student Voice?”, is far more complex and multifaceted. When we talk about student voice we are not only talking about hearing from each of our students in class, though that is a very important component, we are also referring to the ways students can express themselves and communicate or demonstrate their learning in multimodal ways, making choices that are informed by self-observation, reflection, and feedback from teachers, as well as peers. Through this deeper understanding, I began to appreciate the importance of student voice and the power that it has with regards to shaping learners and my learning environment.
For instance, I became more conscious of how student voice contributes to a growing sense of self-efficacy amongst students. According to Hattie, Fisher, and Frey “Learners’ self-efficacy contributes to their willingness to engage in academic risk taking…[and] is an important factor in self-regulation.” (Hattie, 2018, pp. 52-53) When students recognize they have a voice that matters and that their voice is actually taken into consideration, they feel empowered. We have begun to build their capacity for confidence in taking on a variety of learning challenges. Our students start to see themselves as having the skills needed to try to accomplish these learning tasks. I found that as I prioritized student voice in my lessons and learning activities, not only were students taking greater ownership of their learning, but they were becoming more observant and reflective of themselves as learners and how they were progressing on their learning journey.
I also found that by emphasizing the importance and value of student voice, together my students and I were able to build a safe space where all felt welcomed, able to take risks in learning, and openly express themselves. Not only were my students more actively engaged, we began to feel like a united community in which the students knew they had the support of their peers and myself, as their teacher. More and more students interacted with a wider range of their peers, exposing them to diverse perspectives. Through the power of student voice in our learning community, my students were becoming more open-minded, caring, and more empathetic.
So, considering the importance of student voice, how do we create a learning environment in which we foster student voice and empower all learners? Well for me it all began with prioritizing student voice in my instructional planning. I shifted my teaching practice to a model of cooperative learning in my classroom in order to boost engagement and interactivity amongst all students. This allowed me to intentionally build in opportunities for students to develop their communication and problem-solving skills. Students were also able to collaborate on the creation of multimodal products while engaging in providing and receiving peer and teacher feedback. I challenged students to be active participants in their learning by reflecting on their strengths and areas of growth; and, I encouraged them to use their observations and self-assessments in order to make informed choices about how they would demonstrate their learning on a wide variety of assessments. Possibly some of the greatest outcomes or impacts of my shift in practice were that I was finally hearing from every student, providing students opportunities for authentic voice and choice in their learning, and fostering a strong community in which all students felt valued and respected. When I reflect on my experiences in the classroom (now that I primarily work as a coach providing professional learning for teachers and administrators) I can honestly say I recognized the importance of student voice in learning, but I was just uncovering the power of student voice in a student’s life.
When we amplify a students’ voice, we not only empower them as a learner, but change their entire world. Let me introduce you to Liam, my six-year-old son. When Liam was three years old, he was nonverbal; he primarily communicated with gestures and sounds. Our family was very fortunate that he was accepted into a unique pre-kindergarten program, “100 Voices” in the school division in which I work. It was during his time in this program that Liam was diagnosed with a severe speech delay and was provided with the support of a speech language pathologist, as well as an iPad to serve as an AAC device (augmentative and alternative communication device) with the LAMP Words for Life app, which encouraged and supported his speech development. With the supports in place, we began to see a change in Liam as he was starting to make progress and was able to expand his world through verbal communication.
When Liam entered kindergarten, I was introduced to Flipgrid; an app that truly empowers all learners and amplifies student voice by giving students the opportunity to record responses to questions and provocations and demonstrate their learning in multimodal ways. In addition to working to bring Flipgrid to the educators in my division, I started building a grid with a variety of topics to give Liam the opportunity to share his emerging voice in creative ways. At the beginning of the school year, Liam’s speech development was assessed; it was determined that he would require his AAC device most of the time for communication as he was only understood by his teacher and peers 30% of the time. Throughout the year, with a wide variety of supports in place, including sharing his voice at home in Flipgrid videos in which he talked about everything from sight words to Minecraft builds, we began to see a dramatic change.
Liam was becoming more self-confident and determined to share his voice and communicate with others. He was recognizing that he was building the capacity to share his thinking and demonstrate his understanding. We witnessed him become more curious, empowered, and determined to find the words to inquire about the world around him. At the end of the school year, Liam’s speech development was reassessed. This time it was determined that he was now understood by his teacher and peers 70% of the time with minimal use of his AAC device. For our family, what was more powerful than the results of these assessments, was that our son was letting go of frustrations as he was finally finding his voice, and this was changing his world for the better.
Changing the World with your Voice!
When we prioritize fostering student voice, we are empowering our students to take ownership of their learning and chose creative ways to express themselves. We are not only supporting their development of communication and problem-solving skills we are also providing them with opportunities to experience diverse perspectives and are building their capacity for empathy. We are giving all learners, like my son, the power to change their world through their unique voices.
About the author
Christine McKee is a Consultant with the Emerging Technology team for Edmonton Catholic School Division. As a main part of her role, she supports professional learning and explores new technologies for 96 schools (serving approximately 43,000 students and 3700 teachers). Christine is the lead for the Microsoft, Flipgrid, Breakout Edu and PowerTeacher Pro portfolios; as such, she creates digital resources, provides training and support for administrators, teachers, and students, hosts, personalized professional development sessions, as well as develops, online professional learning resources. In addition to having been selected as an MIE Expert and MIE Fellow for 2019-2020, Christine is an MIE Trainer, a Flipgrid Student Voice Ambassador and a Flipgrid Certified Educator Level 3 Grid Guide. Christine is the developer, as well as content creator and curator for the EmTech Flipgrid Resource Center website (bit.ly/emtechflipgrid).