Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Empowering student voice in the classroom #YourEduStory

This week's #YourEduStory topic: How do you empower student voice in your classroom or school?

This is one of my favorite topics. Period. Student voice should be at the core of what we do every day. And, the longer I stay in education, the more firm I feel on that belief.

Education is similar to art for me. If you go into a painting class, expecting a certain outcome, you may not measure up to that goal. However, if you start a painting with an open mind, you may be pleased with the outcome. Education is similar - if you go in with a set of expectations for a student, they may not meet those standards. However, if you allow students to direct their learning and have an authentic voice, the outcome will be unique.

Currently, I'm reading an awesome book on making and tinkering in the classroom (Invent to Learn by Sylvia Libow Martinez & Gary Stager, Ph.D.). As a former English teacher, I was confused by "makerspaces" at first because I thought it was focused on engineering. It's not.

Rather, it's about building polymaths, or diverse learners. As Martinez and Stager mention, Lewis Carroll was not only a poet, but a mathematician. Makerspaces allow students to have a voice, to invent, to learn. To learn is to invent, right? The assumption that makerspaces are only found in special confined spaces at designated hours (example: library corner from 4-4:30 every other Monday) is misleading. There are no set of rules defining maker environments. The only linking elements are making and tinkering. It's about a design approach to learning. There are no set tools or instructions. They are about giving students the time to think, the time to create, and the time to solve. Whether it is a set of blocks in the classroom or a Fab Lab, the impact is on student voice; student learning.

Likewise, I have invested in student clubs at both the elementary and secondary level. And, though, the clubs have been different than my original vision (remember my earlier point about visions!), they are focused on students.

Over the past two years at my high school campus, students came to our office to share problems they discovered in our network infrastructure. Early on, we recorded the problems and moved on. However, we continued to have security issues and rumors continued about student involvement. So, this year, I decided to target those kids with a club of their own: Warrior Tech. The club is still evolving at the students' pace. So far, though, students found several security issues, reported it to our district information services, and solved problems. Instead of creating the problems, these students are now solving problems. I created an outlet for their voices to be heard; that was all they wanted. Do we still have issues with digital citizenship? Yes. Plenty of them. However, we have also solved many issues that were unthinkable prior to the club.

Giving students voice is a matter of restructuring the classroom environment, expectations, and providing outlets.

How do you empower student learning?

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