Returning full-time to the classroom last year, I longed to add more student voice to my class design. When I began teaching, I bought into the idea that as the teacher–the lone adult in the room–I was the one who best knew my students’ learning needs. I viewed educating as something we did to the students and not something students owned and shaped themselves. After all, others made most decisions connected to my formal education–even my early professional development. In all honesty, I wasted most of those learning experiences. When finally I took ownership of my learning (in graduate school), my professional growth and development swelled. If my learning increased through my owning it, then I wanted the same for my students. In my class I want my students to know that they matter, that their opinions count, and that their insights call for attention from others. I want my students to have a voice.
One way, Alice and I engage student voice in the 6th-grade reading class is by having students design our class bookmark. For years, Alice has provided the boys a bookmark as a tool to remind the boys of metacognitive strategies to use while reading. Last year, in order to allow for more student voice, Alice and I asked the boys to design the class bookmark based on what they know a thoughtful reader does. The result thrilled us.
In addition to designing the bookmark, I engage student voice by giving students choices when possible. While our school requires summer reading, I let students read whatever they like for two of the three required books. Additionally, I introduced book clubs, my rethinking of literature circles, last year encouraging the boys to choose the books, roles, and projects and empowering them to set the schedule and assignments for their clubs. The boys loved the book clubs and seeing several boys develop as leaders inspired me as well. I’m looking forward to giving further control of the book clubs to the students this spring.
Student voice plays a role not only in our reading but also in our writing. One way students voice their opinions is through Broken Spines, our book review wiki. Students can write a book review for the wiki any time they finish a book. All my students share reviews, but several students also serve as wiki managers, too. As I reflected on in the thoughtfulness post, I’m still working to include blogging in the class design. Hopefully, students blogs will help further develop student voice in my class and give them a voice beyond our classroom as well.
Currently, we are attempting project-based learning having just finished reading The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963 and Journey to Jo’burg. Through brainstorming and class discussions, my four classes have each chosen a different issue of injustice that they are researching. Their goal is to make a difference related to the issue. They selected some big problems–racism, sweatshops, chronic unemployment, and poverty/homelessness. They have chosen both the issues and the projects they will complete. It’s a messy process (and one I plan to write about later), but their level of engagement and the ownership they are taking for the process is extraordinary.
I recognize I still have room for growth in embracing and developing student voice in my class, but I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished over the past two years. What do you think about the steps I’ve taken? What do you do to embrace and develop student voice in your classroom? What questions or feedback do you have about these ideas?