There is so much talk about giving students a voice in the classroom these days but very little tangible evidence of what it looks like. What are specific examples of student voice in class? How is it accomplished and made to be part of the routine of a high functioning classroom? It takes a teacher who is not afraid to take a risk. The risk is to not listen to the higher-ups pushing for more of teaching to the test and standardization. It takes a teacher who trusts his/her students to embrace a culture of mutual respect and honor an agreement to let kids follow their passions. If that can be done, then student led, student voiced learning can germinate and flourish.
A close friend and colleague of mine told me about a change he made to his class this year. It was a simple shift but also such a great example of what student voice looks like in class, I have to share it with you.
“This year I’m trying something new. For the last five minutes of every class, I turn it over to the kids to talk about whatever they want to.”
Think about that simple statement for a minute and let it sink in. This teacher trusts his students so much that he is A-O.K. with giving up the last five minutes of EVERY CLASS to let kids talk about the things that interest them. Content and curriculum be damned! He lets them discuss, respectfully, topics and issues that they feel strongly about. He has a system in place where kids can preview what they want to talk about with him before class (I think it’s kind of like a audition/sign-up) and then he just lets go.
This is NOT an easy thing for him to do. Giving up control of a class, for a teacher, is terrifying. There is nothing I like less than being out of control of my classroom. The thing is here that if a teacher institutes some basic boundaries and protocols at the very beginning, the students will respond and rise to the occasion. The fear that most teachers have about kids taking the conversation to places that are inappropriate are just that, fear and nothing more. Most students want desperately to be taken seriously by their teachers. To be allowed to have difficult conversations in a safe place.
This teacher has found a way to let students take control of their own learning by letting their passions guide the conversation. The added benefit is that he is also learning about them and making positive connections with his class that only serve to make it a more powerful, engaging and dynamic place for students to push the boundaries of their own education.
You should try it.