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Meaningful Student Involvement in the Pandemic

With the pandemic underway, a lot of schools have resorted to online learning. Many are discovering that simply handing computers to students and hoping for the best isn’t enough, and doesn’t nearly bridge the digital divide in any substantive way.

Instead, students are becoming disengaged, exhausted or frustrated by their learning experiences. My research and practice has continually shown that the best answer for what ails all schools is the biggest resource in every one of them: students themselves. This article explores five ways to actualize the positive, powerful potential of students through meaningful student involvement during quarantine.

5 Steps To Meaningful Student Involvement in the Pandemic

These steps are not silver bullets that will automatically cause students to become engaged, nor are they easy or instantly successful. Instead, I’m sharing them to provide a succinct avenue to meaningfully involve students throughout education during the pandemic.

Note that these are different steps than my past writing has emphasized in the traditional educational experience. Here, these steps are adapted for distance learning and the online administration of schools. I’m currently working with K-12 schools and districts to identify exactly how these steps are happening.

  1. Explore Student Voice Yourself. I define student voice as any expression of any learner about anything, anywhere, at any time related to education. Whether or not teachers acknowledge it, student voice is constantly shared throughout schools with students’ actions, ideas, appearance, attitudes and criticisms. The question isn’t whether students express student voice; it’s whether adults are willing and able to really listen to what’s being said. Learn more about student voice from the SoundOut website.
  2. Make Space for Student Voice Everyday. Students must learn that they have voice. Its essential for educators to give students space and purpose for expressing student voice during online learning and in the course of day-to-day virtual classroom time. GenYES Online is a great way to do this, as it can actively engage student voice in solving serious tech issues throughout schools.
  3. Envision the Broadest Possibilities. Each of us can see as broad as our imagination lets us. That means the possibilities for broadening the bounds of student voice are merely limited by our imaginations. See the biggest picture of education you can, and help learners understand what they are part of. Create opportunities for students to learn about learning, learn about teaching, and learn about leadership within your classroom, throughout your school, across your district and throughout the entire education system.
  4. Build the Ability of Students to Contribute Meaningfully. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is credited with the saying, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men and women to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.” In the same way, if you want to foster student engagement, build the capacity of learners to contribute to learning, teaching and leadership throughout education. Share knowledge about education and increase the skills of learners to make a difference in schools.
  5. Take Practical Action with Real Outcomes. Starting on the Internet in your own classes right now, take practical action with students as partners to make a difference in schools right now. Whether its engaging them as classroom planners, education evaluators, teachers, researchers, decision-makers or advocates,, it is important to make real strides towards Meaningful Student Involvement as soon as you can.

Even though it is almost the end of the school year, moving quickly, deliberately and obviously to meaningfully involve students during the quarantine is very important right now. By September 2020, the situation in schools around the world may be different, and different responses may be needed.

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Adam F.C. Fletcher is available to consult, speak, and write.