If your lessons were anything like mine were, you are very used to hearing your students' voices.
But hearing students in the classroom is not always the same as actively listening to them. As educators we sometimes talk about “Student Voice”, but what is it exactly? The Glossary of Education Reform offers this definition; “student voice refers to the values, opinions, beliefs, perspectives, and cultural backgrounds of individual students and groups of students in a school, and to instructional approaches and techniques that are based on student choices, interests, passions, and ambitions.”
This is more than just listening to students in class, it means that we listen to and respond to what really matters to students. The sense of self-worth and value that comes from feeling that your voice is actually heard is extremely powerful - when you feel like your concerns, personal beliefs and opinions are being ignored it makes you feel as if others don’t value you. This isn’t how we want students to feel.
Studies have shown that when schools support and encourage student voice they experience many positive outcomes, including better behaviour, better relationships across the whole-school community, and improved attainment and attendance.
These schools listen to the views, wishes and experiences of all their students and give value to what they tell teachers and staff about their experiences. Students are provided with meaningful opportunities to share their experiences, views and hopes about their school, and they know that it is safe and that it is important for them to express their views. They understand that what they say is valued and will be listened to and considered.
So how do we go about empowering student voices? Of course, there is no single way to do this - every school is different, every group of students is unique. However, technology can go a long way to helping schools and teachers provide channels for students to make themselves heard.
Some students may only have access to a mobile device. Making sure that we use solutions which are mobile-friendly ensures that we open up opportunities for all students to make their voices heard.
Most students are adept at using audio and video tools, opening up a whole new set of possibilities for greater and better dialogue between learners and between learners and staff.
Online learning diaries
These provide a great way for students to document their learning experience in a less formal way, as well as giving their teachers and parents insights into their thoughts and ideas.
Forums and discussion boards
These work well in promoting discussion amongst the students themselves as well as their teachers and can help to make sure that even the quietest students have somewhere they can engage with.
These don’t have to be focused on specific topics but can be more general in their nature. They might look at student wellbeing, give opportunities to reflect on the term, or even subject feedback on a particular module. Some schools have a standing form that students can fill in.
Using recorded podcasts, or student radio programmes are the evolution of the traditional school magazine and are a fantastic way for students to discuss the issues that are affecting them and let students know the latest news and updates.
Digital technology has the potential to offer a compelling set of tools for empowering learners and strengthening relationships in school. The nature and potential of these new technologies for use as tools for empowering learners in a vast number of ways is both exciting and challenging. However the benefits will be enormous for those schools able to make the change.
If you would like to find out more about student voice and how schools can support it more effectively, then our FREE eBook is available for download today.