By Greta Pauly
There is so much to be said about student voice. Every class has children who tend to be quiet and children who speak up more often than others. But student voice is so much more than that. It’s when they truly find themselves owning their learning and speaking to what they believe is true.
Educators have a tough task of leading students to find their inner voice and use it to speak out. It takes time and patience. Here’s a little advice for teachers to support students in finding value in their own voices:
• Let them speak. The simplest way to get started on this task is to provide students an outlet. Give children a low-pressure environment that encourages conversation with their peers. One way to do this is by scheduling a brainstorming activity. An exercise like this supports teamwork and allows students who may be shy about speaking up in a large group setting a chance to be heard.
• Hand the curriculum to the students. By this, I mean let them choose what they want to learn. At a school in Philadelphia, the students were more engaged than ever right before a long winter break because they were invested in the curriculum—they were the ones defining it. The teacher from this school even said, “On the last school day of December, we had students collaborating, debating ideas, writing furiously, and standing on chairs to proudly present their thinking.”
• Schedule fun time! As educators you may be thinking, “How can I schedule any fun activities when my days are full?” Even if it’s just 5–10 minutes a week, the benefits of a less-structured activity can be outstanding for student and teacher performance. By incorporating a little fun into her routine, this teacher noticed a calmer energy in her classroom. The beginning of the school year may have passed, but there’s always room to learn more about students. A few ice breaker activities can add a bit of fun to your lessons!
Providing a safe, friendly environment where students feel empowered to express themselves takes a village. They need to be comfortable with who they are, their surroundings, and their peers. Ultimately, teaching them to understand the power of their voice is a life-long lesson. But when students feel supported at a young age, it creates a positive culture for them to express who they are without judgement, both in and outside the classroom.