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Establishing a Culture of Student Voice

Establishing a Culture of Student Voice

7 April, 2016

To establish a culture of student voice, you can implement the following tools

Develop Norms Together

Norms are something different from the classroom rules that are meant to establish order. Norms give students and teacher with a shared understanding of how they can best support each other in the learning process. Norms are behavior guides that can help the teacher and the other students in mentoring classmates who are having difficulties with following the norms.

Norms exist whether or not they are addressed. A common unspoken norm for students is that when a teacher asks a question, if no one responds in one to three seconds, the teacher will persuade the class or answer the question him- or herself. Or maybe Sam in the front of the room will answer the question as usual. Norms go underground if students are not involved in forming them.

The following are some steps for consideration for creating classroom norms:

  1. Students reflect and share examples of environments that they feel were favorable, such as a sports team, church or scouting group, or family ritual.
  2. In small groups, students unpack the examples for the behaviors that made the experience or vibe positive.
  3. Use Think-Pair-Shareto make a list of positive behaviors that would support a learning environment where everyone feels successful and supported.
  4. Use team buildersto recognize behaviors. After each team builder, students reflect and share what skills were required to be successful at the task.
  5. The class collectively reduces the list to 4-7 norms, framed in positive, student-friendly language. Some examples might include:
    • All voices need to be heard.
    • Talk after two. (Translation: Each person must wait until two others say something before they can speak again.)
    • Presume positive intent. (In student-friendly language: “Would you say that to your mother?”)

Practice Reflection and Feedback

Coach and provide chances for students to reflect and give feedback about curriculum, classroom culture, and classroom systems. Spending time on reflection and feedback sends a signal about what’s valued in this academic setting. Students need airtime about how the classroom operates if we expect them to care. Once they are involved, their ideas should be implemented. Otherwise, student culture will go underground where no teacher authority can reach.

Here are approaches that promote student reflection and feedback. The key is having them share in the determination of topics as the focus.

  1. Question Formulation Technique

Coach students on how to ask good questions and which to use depending on the circumstance and need.

  1. Morning Meeting

Dialog offers a powerful voice for students reflecting on the current climate and needs. It’s also good for reviewing their shared experiences at the end of the day, or for celebrations and concerns. The experience is significant for all ages.

  1. Journaling

Writing reflections can be an instrument for students to work through their thoughts and emotions before sharing a distillation to groups and/or the teacher.

  1. Surveys

Individual and anonymous feedback allows students to give focused responses to classroom culture concerns. It’s important to give the class chances for reviewing and analyzing the results together.

Protocols for Reflection and Feedback

There are various protocols that help students work on active listening and make sure that every voice gets airtime. Using protocols builds a safe environment for students to express their thoughts and suggestions in constructive and supportive language.

Valued Culture = Student Engagement

Students value a classroom or school culture where they feel cared about. Ask any student, “Who did you have your favorite learning experiences with?” It’s always with a teacher about whom they’ll eventually say, “She believed in me,” or “He listened to us.” When students want to spend time in a classroom after school or during lunch, something positive is going on. Using the above strategies for norms, reflection, and feedback can help create a culture where students want to be involved because their voice matters.

What firmly establishes a culture of student voice is giving them charge of how they learn, including development of assessments and products for learning outcomes. It’s similar to those yoga classes where participants create their own movements that, while different from the instructor’s directions, accomplish the common need of maintaining the breath and self-challenge. Teachers who co-create a culture of student voice are setting the foundation for students owning their own learning.