Ethos Community

There should never, ever be a grade, score, or test for student voice.

Reading over a recent report, the researchers suggested a measurement for student voice that accounted for participation and engagement, as well as depth and awareness. I was appalled, if only because of the asinine assumption that there is any student ever who hasn't shared their voice about schools. That is simply not true.

ANY and EVERY expression of a student about school, learning, or education is student voice. That includes:

  • Students who speak up in class and verbally express their responses to teachers' questions are no more valid than students who never speak up. They are different, but they're not better than other students at sharing student voice. 
  • Students who get into fights, pass notes, or text answers to tests under their desks are no less valid than students who wear suits and ties to share grandiose visions for education reform with adults. They are different, but they're not worse at sharing student voice.

The reason for both of these is that both of them are examples of student voice. So are emails sent anonymously to schools, student government, research conducted, gossip, art murals, students presenting at school board meetings, graffiti on lockers, student leadership programs, student/teacher designed curriculum, students skipping class, and any other expression of students focused on schools, learning, or education. 

The Problem of Praise

Adults tend to fetishize students who answer the right questions in the right ways at the right times. We put them on pedestals, place them in positions of authority over other students, and subject them to the utmost pressure to stay on the "right track" in adult-pleasing ways.

The problem with praising student voice is that it reinforces for students that there is a right way and a wrong way for students to express themselves about schools. There isn't. Instead, there are alternative ways, each of which has a consequence. Currently, we don't act that way because of adults' fetishizing "good" student voice.

We do this for familiarity and consistency, because developmentally in the minds and hearts of adults, we yearn for consistency. Unfortunately, this goes against the grain of young peoples' development, because, while they yearn for the acceptance of adults, they are seeking freedom and independence more.

Alternatives to Praising Student Voice

There is a different way.

The best position for student voice is to be unfettered and actively engaged throughout the school environment. This means that students should have a voice in how curriculum is developed; where schools are built; how teachers are evaluated; where education is evolving towards; when classes happen; why education is relevant; when they graduate; why teachers fail; where they learn most effectively; and so forth. There are so many places on the highest level of education.

However, there are more opportunities, chances for every student voice to be actively engaged throughout their days in school and throughout their lives outside of school, too. Students can share their experiences and ideas throughout classroom curriculum as a matter of good teaching practice, and student voice can be infused throughout classroom management activities, processes, and outcomes too. Building leaders can create particular opportunities for students to teach teachers about technology and culture in ways that position student voice as especially vital for teachers. Teacher coaches can help teachers understand the frameworks for meaningful student involvement that I've developed, and parents can engage their children in critical conversations about learning, teaching, and leading education, as well as voting and politics. Youth leaders can teach students about the importance of learning while learning from students themselves, while politicians can actually engage young people about education.

The opportunities for student voice are limitless because student voice itself is limitless. Are we ready to stop praising student voice, and to start engaging student voice in genuine and authentic ways instead?

You can learn more about student voice at my SoundOut website. Check out my blog for more; I'm also on FacebookPintrest, and Twitter.

Views: 84

Add a Comment

You need to be a member of Ethos Community to add comments!

Join Ethos Community

Comment by Hazel Owen on December 11, 2013 at 11:22

I love a post that makes me nod in agreement in places, and in others has me a bit riled and asking...'but what about?' - and this is one of those posts! :-)

Not sure where to start so that my comment doesn't come across as fragmented ramblings from a crazed mind. I was certainly nodding in recognition when you raised the point that praising certain kinds of student voice that, as adults, we deem acceptable, is pretty insidious. I put my hand up and say that, absolutely, this is something I've done. The thing I am grappling with is - as a student at school (bullied, cowed, obedient and polite) I said little about the school (except for when I had to do domestic science rather than woodwork and metalwork because I was a girl!). If there had been an 'acceptable' way to speak out - indicated by tacit approval from the teachers and school - I may have spoken out. That's one pondering, which links to another, which is - I don't see how my silence was my voice. It wasn't passive aggression, it was getting on and surviving. I'm trying to think back...and I really can't remember wanting to express an opinion. However, and this is a big, however - that could be symptomatic of an over-bearing school system focussed on turning out young adults who fit the mould of 'good citizens'.

The final thing I am thinking through (and also considering what you shared about your own background - thank you so much for doing that! :-) ) is challenging - certainly for most adults - to respond to youth voice that appears to be 'negative' or destructive. On the other hand, when I think of some of the major movements for equal rights, viewed through a certain lens, some events might be interpreted as negative or destructive, and yet they were part of the extreme lengths that had to be gone to to be heard

Lots to continue to think about - thank you, Adam :-)

© 2019   Created by Hazel Owen.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service