Creating a safe and supportive learning environment is vital to engaging student voice. A great way to do that is through reflection. Reflection is a process of looking back on an experience and deciphering the meaning of it. This post shares some activities to foster that process.
Here are several activities facilitators can use to foster reflection on student voice. They can be used for classroom reflection or used as activities in afterschool, summertime or other student voice programs, too.
- Emotional Go-Around. Participants are asked to show with a word, their body, or a facial expression how they feel right at the moment. Let people show their reaction, one at a time, and then have participants explain their reaction. This activity can give the facilitator a sense of the group mood and gives the participants a chance to express how they feel at that moment.
- Learning Skits. Split the students into groups of three or four and ask each group to portray their learning experience through a skit. Give each group 10 minutes to plan what they will do and up to five minutes to share their skit with the rest of the group. After each group’s presentation, have the whole group process reactions, give suggestions for effective future projects, and give positive feedback to the actor/actresses. This activity could take 30 minutes to an hour to complete.
- Visualization. Take your students on an imaginary tour of their learning experience. Ask participants to find a comfortable position (lay on the floor, rest your head on the table, lounge in a chair) and close eyes. Play relaxing music at a low volume. Ask participants to become aware of their breathing, ask them to leave their present thoughts and clear their minds. Once the participants appear to have relaxed, ask them to begin remembering their learning experience. To assist them in remembering their experience mention common events, allow participants to remember how they felt before they did their experience, what their expectations were, what happened in their preparation, how they felt during their learning experience. To stimulate their thinking you might mention some of what you remembered. Slowly bring them back to the present. Ask them to become aware of their surroundings, again concentrating on their breathing, and open their eyes when they are ready. Ensure that a quiet tone is maintained. Continue to play music, and ask participants to share their recollections with another person and finally have people make comments to the whole group.
- Group Banners. Using a large pieces of banner paper and markers, ask students to get into pairs and depict their experiences using a combination of words and pictures. Give them about 10-15 minutes. When completed ask each pair to share their banner with the whole group. Use their banners as a jumping off point for processing the experience.
- All Tied Up. Have the group stand in a circle. Holding the end of a ball of string, hand the ball off to a participant. Ask them to reflect on a particular question (e.g. what was something new you learned today?). Once they have answered the question ask them to hold onto their piece of the string and to pass the ball onto someone else. Continue the process until everyone has reflected on the question, and has a section of string in their hands. When completed, you should have something that looks like a web. When they are all done talking, make some points about the interconnectedness of people, how they are all part of the solution, for if one person had not contributed to their learning experience the outcome would’ve been different, etc.
- Learning Journals. Ask students to keep a journal of their conference experience through regular (after each activity) entries. Provide framework for the journals (e.g. who will read it, what should they write about, how it will be used). Variations on the Activity Journal include team journaling, and circle journals. You can also provide particular questions to respond to, and use hot topics from activities to reflect on. You may ask participants to reflect on conference topics, including quotations and readings from authors, music groups, etc.
- Time Capsule. As students are being introduced to your conference, have them put memorabilia and initial attitudes related to Peace Jam and their school’s projects on paper to start the time capsule. This could include a short project description, an agenda for your conference, or anything else relevant to what’s going on. Have the students write down how they are feeling at the start of the weekend, how they feel at different points of their school’s projects (e.g. what they expected at the beginning of the year, how they felt about your topic or conference before this weekend, what they feel/felt (before, during or after) their project as a whole. Put everything into a “capsule” that will be opened and read aloud and discussed (perhaps anonymously) at the end of the your conference.
How I Use Them
I frequently use visualizations to foster reflection about the roles of students in schools and meaningful student involvement. As a tool, visualizations allow me to create an immediate climate in a classroom and foster the group through deep reflection.
Recently, I facilitated a program in a local high school focused on engaging students in their formal school improvement planning process. At the beginning of the process, a group of “nontraditional student leaders” showed a lot of resistance to the idea that teachers would value anything they contributed to school improvement. I led the group through visualizing their ideal school. We carefully walked through the average day of a 14-year-old new student in their school. When we were done, students were brimming with ideas, and after debriefing and taking notes about many of those ideas, I assured the students their contributions were important and would be valued.
Soon after that, I facilitated a professional development session for the school’s faculty focused on meaningful student involvement in school improvement planning. Towards the beginning, I sparked this group of 40 seasoned educators’ minds with a different visualization. This time, after creating the appropriate tone for being able to envision what I was talking about, I asked them to reflect back on their personal experience in school when they were 14-years-old. We walked through a typical day and considered many of the elements of teaching, learning, and leadership in schools, as well as their lives outside schools. When we were done, I had them reflect on three questions:
- What sticks out most in your memory from this visualization?
- What do you think differs the most between your memory of school and students’ experiences today?
- Can you value what students have to say about school improvement today?
During the first question, the teachers loudly bantered back and forth and shared good info, with some pairings laughing hysterically, while others got sad and processed some deep stuff that came up. During the second question, everyone assumed their professional minds again – although what came out was a deep sense of compassion and purpose, and empathy. But in the third question, the investment was locked in and the group was suddenly focused, willing, and supportive of the conceptual framework I was asking them to examine with me.
Needless to say, after that the group went exactly where I wanted them to, particularly since we began the next activity by looking at students’ projections of what their school could become.
Points to Remember
There are several important things to remember about reflecting on student voice. Here are a few:
- Reflection is storytelling. Students are familiar with storytelling – the videogames they play, the books they read, and the times they spend with their friends are all filled with stories. Encouraging them to tell their stories of what happened engages them by helping them make meaning and place value on their experiences.
- Help students find the words they need. Reflection is best done as a shared activity that creates safe space and opportunities. Remember to appreciate their contributions and elaborate on them from your own memory.
- Ask specific questions. Help students talk and reinforce them by encouraging them to be specific and speak their truth. Rather than asking, “What did you do after school,” you might ask, “What did you find out on Internet?” Talk together about what students found most interesting.
- Talk with students during events to help with learning and recall. In addition to pointing ou specific details, educators can help students link what they have done with earlier experiences and knowledge. “This makes me think of that day when…”
- Follow the lead of students. Sometimes students cannot divide their attention between doing and reflecting. Be aware of the needs of students and wait for the right moment.
- Documentation can make reflection easier. Whether it is pictures of students relaxing or art students draw, a physical record helps facilitate meaningful discussion.
- Reflect early and often. Talk about what happened while the experience is still fresh, but revisit it later. The trip home is a good time to discuss what students learned at the city council meeting – and later you can write a story about it or review the pictures you took. Reflecting on your own reflections can lead to deeper understandings.
Each of these points can help make your student voice reflection activities richer and more meaningful. The wealth that emerges can then be used to move students further towards becoming partners in learning, teaching, and leadership throughout schools – and if that’s not the point, what is?!? Learn more about me on my website, follow my pro facebook page, or catch me on Twitter.