In the third installment of this five-part series I continue to explore roles that promote Meaningful Student Involvement throughout education. Today’s topic is engaging students as evaluators.
On one level, teachers are always listening to students opinions, checking for comprehension, and whether they have accomplished a task. Another level is reflected in the barrage of student surveys conducted, and the myriad education books that tokenize students opinions with quotes from students on their covers.
Meaningful Student Involvement calls for something more, something that is deliberate, empowering, far-reaching and sustainable. Engaging students as evaluators calls for educators to develop practical, applicable feedback opportunities where students are encouraged to be honest, open and solution-oriented. Students find particular investment in evaluation when they can see tangible outcomes, and have some measure of accountability from the systems, educators, or situations they are evaluating. Over the course of a school year, teachers might want a variety of evaluations from students, including:
- An occasional large-scale forum where the opinions of students in one or all grade levels are canvassed;
- Creating a regular pattern of evaluative feedback in lessons;
- Facilitating a series of one-to-one or small group discussions, how members of a particular sub-group of students (the disengaged, the high-achievers, young women, young men, Hispanics, African Americans, for example) are feeling about their learning experiences; or,
- Shaping a new initiative in the classroom or school.
By involving students as evaluators, schools can develop purposeful, impacting, and authentic assessments of classes, schools, teachers, and enact accountability and ownership for all participants in the learning process. Effective evaluations may include student evaluations of classes and schools; student evaluations of teachers; student evaluations of self, and; student-led parent-teacher conferences, where students present their learning as partners with teachers and parents, instead of as passive recipients of teaching done to them.
When this kind of evaluation is new to a school, teachers may feel apprehensive about talking with students in a way that changes traditional power relationships within the school (MacBeath, 2003). Teachers may feel challenged by empowering students for many reasons, including feeling disempowered to make decisions in their own classrooms (Kohn, 1993). In response to what is perceived as some schools inadequate understanding of the experiences and opinions of students, community groups and education organizations across the nation are engaging students as evaluators. Adults work with students in these programs to design evaluations, conduct surveys, analyze data and create reports to share with fellow
students and educators.
Meaningful Student Involvement is tantamount to putting mutual respect and communication in motion between students and educators in schools. Meaningful Student Involvement also requires the investment from educators and students. Many student voice programs have simply thrown the job of sounding out at students, without showing students the degrees of possibility for the input and action of young people. Some neglect the necessity of two-way dialogue, of collaborative student/teacher problem solving, and of truly student inclusive, interdependent school change.
Meaningful Student Involvement in education evaluation gives students and educators the impetus to establish constructive, critical dialogues that place common purpose and interdependence at the center of the discussion. When dissent is encountered, appropriate avenues for resolution are identified. When inconsistencies and prejudice are revealed, intentional exposure and practical understanding is sought. When educators strive to engage the hope students have for schools, they can foster students growth as effective evaluators who actually impact the processes of learning, teaching and leading. In turn, students will offer vital lessons for educators and the education system as a whole.
Adapted from Stories of Meaningful Student Involvement (2005) Adam Fletcher. All rights reserved.