I recently had an administrator ask me what I meant by student voice? I was taken aback by the question because it is one of those terms that I just know what it means. I had to pause and really think about how I could best explain this to a potential supervisor. My first thought was, “you have got to be kidding me!” But, as I reflect back upon the question, I now realize that not everyone is well versed in the lingo and research that is presented daily via twitter, blog posts, and other social media venues. Most of the world thinks of social media as just that, social. Whereas I have used social media to grow as an individual and to learn from leaders in the field of education and educational technology.
So how did I answer the question about student voice? I said, “student voice means letting kids explore things they are passionate about, and reflecting via audio, video, or writing to a global audience. If we have 400 students in a grade level and only their teachers are reading what they have to say, then those students are not getting the richness that a global audience can provide.”
As I sit here reflecting, I realize that in today’s world I would literally be robbing my kids of a fuller educational experience if I were the only person who saw and gave feedback to what they produced in class. Also, I do not want my students to be writing for me. I want my students reflecting for the sheer joy of looking back on their accomplishments or giving voice to their thoughts and ideas while having someone more important than me giving them feedback and constructive criticism.
Since voice and choice seem to go hand in hand, I would like to state that kids should have choice over what they learn and how they want to learn it. Gasp, you want the kids to have that kind of control? YES I DO! I am I teacher which means that I am a powerful influence in the life of kids. What I want my kids to do is become life-long EXCITED learners who can learn on their own about the things they are curious about.
Choice, to me, implies inquiry based learning. I know that many of my peers in secondary education out there think that they have too many students to be able to do this with. Well, I don’t believe them. I truly think that even if I see 130 students a day, that I can stay abreast of what the kids are inquiring about. Am I encouraging a free-for-all throw my hands in the air style of teaching? Not at all. But I see my role of teacher more as that of a Sherpa or guide. If I allow my students time to pursue their passions and have choice in what they learn and how they learn it, then I am helping them to become better learners and we can begin to have a different type of discussion. A discussion about how to learn versus you have to learn this and I’m the expert on this.
A Room Full of Experts
Many of the students we see every day know things that surprise us, or surprise us that shouldn’t surprise us. Our students are experts on something they are passionate about. I consider myself an expert teacher and an expert on pedagogy and coaching. Am I an expert on video games? No, but I know I have students that have studied video games and by high school have developed more expertise than I have. Every year I have at least one girl who loves horses, owns a horse, and knows everything about horses. I am not a horse person. I see horses as hay burners and accidents waiting to happen. From whom would you rather learn about horses? Some of my former student’s passions include; programming, skateboarding, medieval literature and fashion, raising and showing Belted Galloways (cows that are black with a white belt around the middle), dirt bikes, ham radio, civil air patrol, military history, computer history, Harry Potter, LEGOS, art, baseball, the Salem Witch Trials, Samuel Adams, Civil War reenactment, fishing, hunting, and the list goes on. I have seen kids in the news lately that have found a way for the government to save hundreds of millions of dollars by switching to a different font type, to students having an impact on cancer research, and some teens who attended a start-up weekend and pitched solid ideas to venture capitalists and their only qualm was that they would have liked coffee to have been served!
If we let them, kids will enjoy learning and do wondrous things.