Student Voice-What are the Possibilities?

Note: This post is written by Dawn Imada Chan, Connected Coach and Consultant, and is cross posted with permission from the Inspired Learning Community.


My interest in student voice has been a serendipitous journey that started in my early years in the classroom, impacted my work as a school principal and has evolved into a bit of professional passion. So I have taken with great interest both the student-centered focus of Inspiring Education and Alberta’s Speak Out initiative. In particular, I have been reading the Speak Out blog where Alberta students post about the issues and questions that are currently on their minds. Over this school year alone there has been lively conversation around topics such as the impact of school sports, government funding for school buses, reflections on shorter school weeks and creating learning-styles based classrooms, among others. I found it insightful to see the wide variety of views presented and even the vast selection of issues presented by the student bloggers as a whole.

A few years ago, as I researched further into this concept of student voice, I found Robert Hart’s Ladder of Child Participation (see page 8 of this document). Over the years, I have found various organizations (including school boards) modify the ladder to their specific contexts for student voice, but the essence is the same. If you are new to Robert’s ladder, you may find the image below from Compasito or this explanation from Cornell Garden Based Learning helpful.

Since finding Hart’s Ladder, I use it for reflection and to assess my own actions, both in classroom and school settings, to determine where the choices I have or will make regarding student voice fall on this scale. The goal of course is to be in the range of active participation (4-8) versus the non-participatory range (1-3).

I’ve also read interesting steps various Canadian boards have taken to bring students to the table and engage in decision making. Here are some examples:

Revisiting Inspiring Education and given its focus on becoming more student focused, what does student voice look in our classrooms and schools? How can we further elevate student voice in these settings? What possibilities exist to integrate student voice province-wide with the Inspiring Education vision?

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One Response to Student Voice-What are the Possibilities?

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Dawn! My eyes lit up as I read your title, as student voice as a learner is what inspired me to become a teacher. 🙂

    The Calgary Board of Education has several fantastic advisory groups which give students (Junior and Senior) an opportunity to work with the various Superintendents in a reciprocal dialogue about the education system and learning. They also open that up to all students with a yearly Symposium where any students are invited and they can focus now on different areas (technology, health, assessment, etc.), as stakeholders/partners in learning – they get to work with teachers, specialists, and the other people directly moving the work in these areas forward. It becomes really powerful conversation, because it’s an eye-to-eye conversation. It’s so incredibly important that it is that two-way conversation – it’s not just listening, but it’s demonstrating that student voice is being heard by reflecting openly and by taking action.

    I truly believe student voice starts in the classroom, though! It’s great that you’ve attached this to Hart’s ladder as well, because I think the classroom is the best place to reach the top of the ladder. In my most recent “unofficial” practicum (in a participatory action research project, where I also got to be a student teacher), I’d reflect weekly with my students on how we learned, why was it important, and how we could learn better next time. That helped my partner teacher and I (who were teaming) make each week even better than the last – supporting organic learning, and also gave us a really good idea of where our students were in their learning. It also came through supporting students in HOW to learn and letting them, within a context, design and pursue their own inquiry questions (and working with them to discover how they actually meet curricular outcomes through them).

    Thanks again for sharing, great resource and as you’ve iterated, so many possibilities with where this can go!

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