“Listen to the mustn’ts, child. Listen to the don’ts. Listen to the shouldn’ts, the impossibles, the won’ts. Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me… Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.” Shel Silverstein (1930 –1999)
Are we listening ?
To make sane and informed changes in our systems and practice, we need to gather detailed, and ongoing feedback from those most affected ; our students, our teachers, our parents, our wider community. If you want accurate and current information about our weather – step outside. If you want accurate and current information about our learning, and teaching practices – step into our own classrooms, listen to the parents, listen to the teachers and for goodness sake – listen to the students.
While there’s no doubt (in my mind) that it’s beneficial to gather student insight about teaching and learning, gathering student voice is a relatively newish concept, and it’s important to reflect on how well we do it. Consider what we usually do when we want to find out information about student’s thoughts and feelings – we tend to ask the adults around them. And when we want to find out student’s thoughts and feelings about their schooling experiences – we ask the student leaders ie. those that are succeeding brilliantly at school, and presumably enjoying the experience. We seldom hear directly from the muttering masses, as Adam Fletcher explains in his blog.
However, providing opportunities for as many as possible to offer their thoughts, observations, suggestions, opinions and experiences etc about a process whilst they’re immersed in it must be regarded as beneficial to both those intending to improve the process, and to those experiencing it .
How can we fail to gather this wealth of rich and authentic information – and act on it ?
Let’s acknowledge that;
1.) Students have their own unique and valuable perspectives on learning and teaching (and school in general),
2.) Acknowledging, evaluating and acting on student insights and suggestions is beneficial to the process, and
3.) Students benefit from the opportunity to become more actively involved in shaping their learning environment – they have more ownership of it and therefore should become more engaged with it.
Over the years plenty of student voice has been gathered worldwide (just check out You Tube). All information is useful, but being parochial creatures, we tend to pay more attention to information affecting us by the immediacy of it’s location eg. A close-up shot of water lapping against our french doors has more of an emotional impact than an aerial shot of the flooded plains we’re living on – and it tends to provoke a more immediate response.
“Crikey !” We think. “Time to roll our sleeves up and move about with some urgency!”
Our Student Voice Project (Some of the nitty-gritty details)
With the above thoughts in mind (and after an insightful cafe conversation with Dr Sharon Friesen – who affirmed thoughts about student voice and shared some work senior Canadian students had done), I proposed a project to the Principal’s group in our Learning Community. Over the course of a week in May I worked with 27 students representing the local College, the Intermediate and four contributing Primary schools (14 students from Years 9 –13, and 13 from Years 6 –8).
We’d begun the work the previous year with a full workshop day; getting to know each other, working in mixed groups and becoming used to sharing ideas in a comfortable atmosphere. This preparation was essential as students were largely unknown to each other and ages ranged from 10 to 17 years. The students then participated in activities designed to provoke discussion around their values and beliefs about learning and teaching (used some excellent ideas from Dr Julia Atkin’s work – which I’d used previously with teacher work groups).
After much discussion (reviewed at our second workshop day) 10 questions and ideas were chosen – which the students wished to explore further. Students shared ideas on each of these (by then they’d become fairly confident and comfortable with each other) and then sorted themselves into mixed age groups to focus on a particular question/idea. They fed their ideas back to the group at regular intervals and at some stage we discussed how they’d like to use their ideas to make a difference.
There was real excitement (and some cynicism), at the thought of actually doing something that could make a difference. Not surprisingly, almost as soon as they had a clear purpose, we had motivated and purposeful action ! By the end of the day scripts were being planned, film schedules were organized (and signed off) and they were organizing when and where to meet each other (txts exchanged etc). My role became purely facilitator ( organizing venues, booking interviews, providing taxi services with rostered on Principals, charging cameras, guiding research, facilitating discussion, suggesting shots, supporting, nudging, affirming, questioning and critiquing etc).
The process itself confirms for me that whenever we provide purposeful and authentic contexts and opportunities for learning, we’ve got students hooked. When we provide plenty of encouragement, affirmation and sensible &timely feedback, as a natural part of the process, we get so much more from our students. In fact, they surprise themselves.
In this case, over four days students wrote the song at the start, wrote and performed their own skits, wrote scripts, arranged costumes, conducted surveys, researched facts, constructed graphs (oops- we know LOL), made powerpoints, developed and applied technical skills, collaborated, negotiated, problem-solved, filmed to a tight schedule, did voice overs, contributed to the editing process and applied every key competency. Students completed work after school and in the weekend – because they wanted to.
The student’s intention was for their work to spark discussion about effective teaching practice and they believe they’ve succeeded. The video has already been viewed by 170 teachers as part of our local Teacher’s Professional Development Day, links to it are posted in the National “Time for Innovation” Online Conference and in our local community TV site . They’ve written to the local paper to encourage their community to watch it, and we recently planned and presented the first lecture of the semester to the 2nd Year intake of ‘teacher trainees’ at Waikato University, as part of their Professional Practice paper. Others viewed the video and discussed it in online classes.
We’d be very pleased for you to use it to provoke discussion in your own learning communities. So, help yourself 🙂 – we simply ask that you acknowledge the source and the work involved.
😀 DM Dyet, June 2008.
😀Highlights for me😀
The song at the start – written and sung by students.
Editing hours of very dodgy film footage – and finding some real gems.
Working with Dave Owen – Director of Wavelength Media – Who contributed so much of his own time , accompanied with liberal helpings of technical advice, expertise, some unexpectedly late nights and immense patience.
Anton explaining what we need from teachers and the CIA. Grant working beautifully with a 9 month old baby. Christina and Lexie in period costume. Tamara’s group powerpoint. An hour’s footage from the Old Folks home. The mixing bowl. The goldfish. Patrick and Chicayla explaining how we need to become apprentices and work in the community. Liza’s consistently insightful comments. Each student’s individual contributions. The amazing off-camera conversations. The senior students interactions with the junior students. Purangataua and Marcus’ txt messages.The song at the end by Pekerau school’s choir – chokes me up every time. All in all – great fun (which is learning as it should be).
Note – the Video is just under 30 mins.
“I think teachers should really listen to what we have to say…” Nicholas aged 10.