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I Have a Voice

It's been a while since I've written a post.  The transition to term 3 with new courses all around has delayed my ability to reflect.  In addition, I just had LASIK surgery so, I've been trying to limit screen time a little bit.  But, it's officially been 14 days.  So, here we go!

Well, the Oscars were last week and I've been thinking a bit about best picture winners and memorable quotes.  When it comes to educational buzzwords that have been floating in my head, this is the one that keeps springing to my mind.

One of the biggest pushes in education these days is personalization.  There is a phrase that is constantly floating around the idea of what personalization entails and that is "student voice and choice".  In this post, I intended to focus wrapping my head around what we mean when we say student voice.  In my next post, hopefully it'll be soon, I'll try to tackle the idea of choice.

Let's wait on defining what we mean by voice for a little bit.

When we say student voice, what do we mean by "students"?  I can imagine student voice coming from different levels.  At the smallest level we have individual students.  At another level, we can have a section of a class or the students in a particular course.  At a larger level, we could have a student body.  As we rise up levels and merge these voices into a singular voice, we are decreasing the number of voices and making that voice easier to hear.  But, as we include more students into a single voice, we have effectively gone against the mission of personalization.

I would argue that having a combined student voice has a purpose.  At the end of each unit, I collect a composite student voice via my feedback board.  The one below is from the end of my first unit in the physics class I am currently teaching.

Individual students add items to the board and students reinforce the idea by giving it a +1.  As a teacher, this helps me plan strategies that work for a large percentage of the class. But, any piece of feedback that appears on the board must be considered as a useful strategy.  Moving forward, the teacher needs to be sure to allow for all of these avenues of instruction to be made available when appropriate.  When designing instruction that I present to my whole class,  I use this voice as a guide for what to include.

At the individual level, students in my class create their own feedback table of what methods worked for them in the previous unit. It is my hope that students will be reflective with this exercise and advocate for these strategies when moving forward in their next unit of instruction.  As a teacher, it takes time to look through all of these pieces of feedback.  By looking through these pieces, though, I get a better sense of everything that is working for individuals.  So when I discover one of my students found that online answer keys were beneficial, it is something I should continue to provide for all students.  Letting individuals drive what is possible (not required) for the whole allows students to see what all the possible choices in instruction and assessment are.    

I would highly recommend all teachers find ways to collect classroom and individual student voices because they both have their place and purpose.

I've talked a little about the forms we can use to hear student voice.  The more avenues we can provide the better.  The most direct method is face-to-face advocacy, but most teachers don't have time to do this in class.  Technology has provided a great means to do this.  In my classroom, the use of Smart Response remotes provides me with quick and quantitative feedback.  But, not everyone has this option.  Student feedback through Google forms and docs can be just as efficient if not better.  I use student docs for my students to complete their end of unit individual feedback.  Google forms can provide individual and group feedback if students are asked to provide names on the form. Not having technology is no excuse for not allowing students voice.  Low tech forms such as a feedback board or exit slips are widely used by teachers everywhere.

It is important to also hear the voice of students on assessments.  By this, I mean looking at the results of your assessments.  Below is an example of a progress chart showing student mastery on a specific objective in our first unit of physics this term.

This graph charts percent of student who were proficient or advanced in an objective over time.  The two different colors represent two different sections of students.  Now, we can look at this data as two distinct voices.  By February 9th, roughly 88% of the students were confident with their mastery of this objective and were ready to move on.  That's great.  But it also tells me that even though we had spent over a week on this content, there were still 12% who were not feeling that way. It is their voices we need to address and focus on. As a teacher, one needs to be able to help these students advocate for what works for them or doesn't.  The other students have found strategies for success and were already there on the 6th.  So, now it is time to listen to the voices of those who have not achieved success.  

This draws us to the idea that a voice needs to be heard.  As you can see by the last example, every student has a voice.  But when we as teachers need to listen to that voice can be a dynamic process. As we winnow out voices of those that are succeeding we can truly get to the purpose of personalization: helping all students achieve mastery via utilizing varied modes of instruction and assessment. These conversations will drive the choice of instruction and assessment.

In this example, we can also see that voice has purpose.  That purpose though is different based on the results.  "I have mastered the objective and am ready to move on" or "I haven't met with success and need help with a different strategy" will be met with different responses.

So if I were to try to define student voice, I would say that each student has a voice at multiple levels from that of the individual to that of a collective.  Voice has many different forms.  Voice has a purpose.  In my classroom, this purpose may be for self-advocacy or demonstration of objective mastery.

It is my belief that student voice is only beneficial to learning if it is heard.  Now, that voice could be heard by another individual, such as a teacher, or it could be an individual reflection that is only heard by the one who speaks.

Being a physics teacher, I know that a student shouting in an empty room has a voice even if there is no one to hear it.  It's not enough for students to have voice.  They must be heard.  Even if it is simply by their own ears.

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