Brain Research and Meaningful Student Involvement

There are fascinating intersections between brain research and Meaningful Student Involvement. Luckily, they are becoming clearer with time and more commitment from researchers.

Brain research routinely shows that even the youngest of students have the capacity to participate in critical deconstruction of the learning activities, teaching styles, and curriculum content they’re taught. Research also shows that given increased opportunities to exercise responsibility, children and youth increase their capabilities to exercise their rights.

This effectively shows that its really not a case of whether students are ready to be engaged in fixing schools; instead, its whether adults are actually capable of engaging them in doing so.

Students of all ages and capabilities are being engaged as partners with adults in improving schools increasingly throughout schools.

Research shows a variety of brain issues are affected positively by Meaningful Student Involvement, including student ownership, student agency, motivation and more. This means that when paired with student/adult partnerships, a variety of strategies can greatly enhance classrooms and schools.

As I continue rebuilding the SoundOut website, I’m going to keep making these findings more explicit and obvious. I hope this will create a compelling, unstoppable narrative that education leaders, politicians and parents cannot deny.

There are many reasons why Meaningful Student Involvement should be at the center of education reform today. Brain research shows yet another.

 


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Student Voice Revolution: The Meaningful Student Involvement Handbook by Adam Fletcher

Student Voice Revolution: The Meaningful Student Involvement Handbook by Adam Fletcher

New for 2017!

Student Voice ​Revolution: The Meaningful Student Involvement Handbook is the brand-new master​y​ book ​focused on student voice, student engagement, student/adult partnerships, and more. 

Containing tons of details, this book is focused on engaging all students in every school as partners in every facet of education for the purpose of strengthening their commitment to learning, community, and democracy. ​There are more than 75 examples from the author’s ​experience and research, as well as literature from throughout education. Never before published tools, new models and useful tips are included, along with more than 300 citations, dozens of recent and historic anecdotes, and ​more.  The book also highlights unique ​approaches, detailed assessments and critical examinations of everyday school activities make this publication ​un​like ​any other available today. This book should be read by teachers, college students, other educators and school leaders and others focused on education transformation. 

Student Voice Revolution is an optimistic, realistic and pragmatic clarion call for the future of public schools in democratic societies. Are YOU ready for this revolution?
 

About the Author

An internationally-recognized consultant and speaker focused on student voice​,​ author​ Adam Fletcher has worked with schools, education agencies, and other organizations across the United States and Canada. ​He is the author the SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum, The Practice of Youth Engagement and The Guide to Student Voice. His writing has also been published in education journals and magazines around the world.
 

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Command and Control Schools

4th+grade

Today, I toured a middle school in the region where I live. Listening to an adult school leader explaining the school to me, I heard several the cues that routinely concern me:

  • “Our students don’t have problems”
  • “We don’t allow students to have social time”
  • “There is routine homework in every class, every day, all year long”
  • “We maintain strong communication with parents”
  • “We have a strong culture of respect for adults here”

These are all signs of a “Command-and-Control School.” These are highly structured, highly demanding and highly adultcentric places featuring rote memorization, rigid adherence to standardized curriculum and gross overcommitment to testing and assessment.

Command-and-Control Schools…

  1. Regard students are problems that need to be solved;
  2. Think adults have all the answers to solve students-as-problems;
  3. Don’t see students as full humans with rights and responsibilities;
  4. Disagree with the ability of parents and students to be equitable educational partners

I raise these issues because they are the antithesis of Meaningful Student Involvement. When I began studying schools for signs of student voice in 2000, it took me several years to discern the patterns in which students said learning mattered to them. However, when they came forward, I identified these Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement as the keys to moving education forward. They centered on the notion that schools must become places that actively engage students as equitable partners with adults throughout learning, teaching and leadership across the entirety of the education system.

 

Meaningful Student Involvement Schools…

  • Treat students as the problem-solvers of global, local and personal problems today and in the future;
  • Foster equitable student/adult partnerships that position everyone, everywhere, all the time as active learners, teachers and leaders, regardless of their age;
  • Engage every student as a full human with unique abilities, challenges, opportunities and knowledge;
  • Support the entire ability of students and parents to become engaged throughout the entire education system.

 

What To Listen For

I know I’ve found a school that’s on-point when I hear the antithesis of what I heard today:

  • “Our students meet challenges head on with adults who empower and support them”
  • “Our teachers work with students pace teaching to meet every student’s learning needs”
  • “Students actively engaged in learning throughout their lives, and schools support them where and how they choose to do that”
  • “We engage students and parents as equitable partners everywhere, all the time”
  • “We have a strong culture of mutual respect among students, between students and teachers, and throughout our learning environment”

When I hear those things, I hear meaningfulness.

I have been writing about whole school approaches to Meaningful Student Involvement lately – I’d love to hear what you think.

 

Transformative Spheres of Meaningful Student Involvement

Continuing to Learn from Meaningful Student Involvement

Transformative Spheres of Meaningful Student Involvement
Want to learn more about this? Send me an email for an exclusive article! adam@soundout.org

Since 2002, working through SoundOut, I have worked with more than 10,000 K-12 students and educators in schools across the United States and Canada.

Over the last year, I have been a bit consumed by writing the Meaningful Student Involvement Handbook. Its my complete compendium of what I have learned about engaging students as partners throughout the education system.

In my reflections, I have found four themes constantly emerge from my projects. These are lessons for me that I will continue to teach people into the future.

  • Unacknowledged capability: Students of all ages, identities, achievement levels, and social backgrounds are fully capable of becoming partners throughout education, but are rarely engaged in equitable partnerships that allow them to take action.
  • Untapped wisdom: Students have a lot to say about the schools they are attending and the education they’re receiving, but rarely feel like adults want to hear what they say.
  • Undelivered invitations: Students are almost never invited to participate in school governance, educational research, learning evaluations or substantive decision-making about classroom instruction, school improvement or educational leadership.
  • Unmet human resources: Adults are craving more human resources throughout schools, but rarely consider students as potential partners who could lighten the load and secure success.

I have tried hard to document dozens of cases of Meaningful Student Involvement and describe how handfuls of students are engaged in planning, researching, teaching, evaluating, making decisions, and advocating for their own learning, as well as throughout the education system as a whole. In each case, these lessons shine through. They also shown through my own projects in dozens of states and a few countries. Its a consistent pattern, yet fraught with hope.

As I assess my big ole picture of student/adult partnerships, I am left wondering about how important Meaningful Student Involvement will become to the education system. We cannot be satisfied with tokenizing students, or simplistic attempts to listen to student voice. Instead, we want to transform all of learning, teaching and leadership.

Onward we go!

Kentucky’s Student Voice Movement

Kentucky Student Voice Movement

In states across the U.S., there have been divergent efforts to promote student voice in a variety of ways over the years. This month I want to feature Kentucky, which has BLOWN UP dramatically over the last year after more than a decade of strong efforts.

In my studies and discussions with student voice advocates, researchers and practitioners across the state, no single leader has emerged as leading the way for all others to follow. Instead, there are several different locations where action has emerged, spread, died off and reemerged again.

After partnering with a program there this school year and helping friends there with a separate initiative, I want to feature the great work I’ve found going there not just right now, but over the course of my 15 years in this field.

Following are several examples of Kentucky’s student voice movement over the years:

  • (1997) Students as Informants: In 1997, the Partnership for Kentucky Schools and Roberts & Kay, Inc. launched a statewide research project promoting student voice called “Students Speak”. They conducted dozens of data-gathering activities with students, wrote several reports and created resources for others. One is the Students Speak Tool Kit, developed to guide educators, school board members, parents and others in planning and carrying out strategies for listening to students in order to improve their school experiences, including academic performance, school climate, and school safety. Find the toolkit and more here.
  • (1998) Students as Decision-Makers: In 1998, then-doctoral candidate George Patmor conducted a statewide study of high school schools in Kentucky. He surveyed 310 students and adults opinions about how students should be involved in school decision-making. I have talked with George repeatedly over the years, and hosted a visit for him here in Washington State a decade ago to talk about his work. A summary of his research is here, and a full version of his dissertation is available from SoundOut.
  • (2002) Students as Policy-Makers: In June 2002, Kentucky’s then-Education Commissioner Gene Wilhoit requested the Kentucky Department of Education gather preliminary information concerning student input to education policymakers. An intern named Zach Webb conducted interviews with more than 20 state boards of education to discern what the national scene was. I admired this report so much, A National Assessment of Student Involvement in School Policy-Making – Meeting Kentucky’s Educational Needs: Proficiency, Achievement Gaps, and the Potential of Student Involvement (2002), I put it on the SoundOut website with Webb’s permission.
  • (2010) Students as Informants: The Kentucky Department of Education is facilitating statewide data collection via a Student Voice Survey. Its questions are aligned to The Kentucky Framework for Teaching, which was adapted from the Charlotte Danielson framework for teaching. Districts are encouraged to share the Student Voice Survey questions. The 3-5 and 6-12 Student Voice Survey questions are available in the toolkit here. Read an article about the tool and its context here.
  • (2012) Students as Advocates: In September 2012, the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence formed a Student Voice Team. Today, the SVT is comprised of a team of self-selected middle school through college students working to elevate the voices of Kentucky youth on the classroom impact of education issues and support students as policy partners in improving Kentucky schools. Since then, they’ve launched a variety of advocacy campaigns meant to build the state’s student voice movement. I admire the SVT greatly and follow their work regularly. Learn more here.
  • (2013) Students as Learners: The Green River Educational Cooperative and the Ohio Valley Educational Cooperative operate a program called kid∙FRIENDLy. Working with dozens of districts in their regions, kid∙FRIENDLy is promoting student voice as a component of their classroom transformation efforts. I worked with them this year to help teachers in these regions grapple with classroom-focused student voice efforts. Learn more here.

 

To date, many things have transformed, improved and been changed throughout the state. I think one of the morals of the story that’s implicit in this laundry list, though, is the need for a larger framework that infuses student voice into a sustainable course of educational transformation. I wrote the Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Students as Partners in School Change to help with this type of effort; perhaps people in Kentucky might consider it as they proceed.

If you want to learn more, I encourage you to follow up with any of the leads above to learn what’s happening right now, and to visit their social media, too.

Kentucky’s Student Voice Movement is a model for the nation and the world. What’s happening in YOUR community today?!?

Questions to Evaluate Student Voice

Following are reflection questions focused on student voice and Meaningful Student Involvement. Find resources to challenge these barriers at SoundOut.org.

 

Questions to Evaluate Student Voice

1+soundout+logo

 

  1. Are barriers to student voice and Meaningful Student Involvement being addressed?
  2. What steps are taken to ensure that student voice is meaningful?
  3. Do students understand the intentions of the process, decision, or outcomes?
  4. Do students know who made the decisions about their engagement and why they were made?
  5. Is the input of students recorded, reported in writing, and distributed?
  6. Do students receive a report (verbal or in writing) on the decisions made in the light of their input?
  7. Were false and negative assumptions about students’ abilities to participate deliberately addressed by students and/or adults?
  8. Are all adults clear about the class or school’s intent to foster Meaningful Student Involvement?
  9. Do adults support Meaningful Student Involvement?
  10. Do adults provide good examples of being personally and systemically engaged?
  11. How was students’ inexperience addressed?
  12. Did students work on issues that they clearly identify as important?
  13. Did students participating start with short-term goals and activities?
  14. Have students and adults identified and, when possible, corrected negative experiences students have had in participation?
  15. What steps were taken to reduce the resistance from adults?
  16. Has there been a written policy statement developed from the governing body?
  17. Has there been a memo/document from the school leader stating their support, encouragement, and commitment to aningful Student Involvement?
  18. Has the principal or superintendent introduced Meaningful Student Involvement at a meeting?
  19. Have there been social events organized to increase positive interactions between students and adults?
  20. Have joint workshops with students and adults been held?
  21. Has a plan been put in place to bring students into the mainstream, core activities of the class or school?
  22. Have steps been taken to help students fit into adult structures?
  23. Have students been placed on an adult decision-making body with support from a designated adult?
  24. Does someone meet with students before meetings to help them clarify their objectives for the meeting?
  25. Do students feel comfortable about asking for clarification?
  26. What steps have been taken to make the location and times of meetings convenient to students?
    1. Consulting with the students involved about times/dates of meetings
    2. Choosing locations that are accessible to students and public transportation
  27. Are there any other initiatives or changes going on in the class or school (new programs, restructuring, etc.) that will compete for attention with the goals and processes of Meaningful Student Involvement?
  28. How are the student members selected so that they are credible to the student body?
  29. How do you know that they are credible?

 

These are some basic questions that can be useful to initiatives that are focused on student voice and Meaningful Student Involvement. There are no absolutely right answers to ever question, because these activities are gradual and take time to unfold. Ones that appear far ahead can collapse onto themselves and fall back to the lowest common denominator.

 

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For more information, order a copy of The Guide to Student Voice by Adam Fletcher at http://www.amazon.com/The-Guide-Student-Voice-Edition/dp/0692217320

Raising Expectations for Students AND Adults

The second aim of Meaningful Student Involvement has very complex implications for every role in every part of the education system. (Learn more about the Aims of Meaningful Student Involvement.) It states:

Aim 2: Expand the expectation of every student in every school to become an active and equitable partner throughout education.

Traditional roles for students in schools can be limiting in many ways. Meaningful Student Involvement acknowledges the central role students have in educational reform by building the capacity of schools for meaningful involvement.

 

History

In the history of schools, students were expected to be the merely passive recipients of adult-driven education systems. They were to show up when adults want, learn the topics that adults wanted, and behave the ways that adults expected them to.

However, technology has heralded many changes that schools have not adapted to. Sure, there may be computers in every classroom and Internet throughout every school, but many teachers still have not learned to actively engage students as partners in learning, teaching and leadership throughout education. This is what students today demand in order to make their learning relevant.

 

Elements

Those three elements—learning, teaching and leadership—should be integrated into every classroom for every student. That means that even the most disaffected learner still has opportunities to make decisions about their own learning and other students’ learning. It means that transient students get to evaluate teachers and curriculum. It means that all students get to research learning, plan activities, and be active partners no matter what their status in schools.

 

Any Activity?

Some researchers have been using the phrase “student/adult partnerships” lately to describe any occasion where adults engage student voice deliberately in schools. That is an excellent way to build interest in the concept. The unfortunate part, though, is that it minimizes the potential of what students could be doing throughout schools. Partnerships are not easily entered into relationships that should be thrown around for feel good activities. Instead, if we consider the background of partnerships in law, we can understand student/adult partnerships as fully active, mutually invested opportunities for each party to recognize the full humanity of the other. Students need these activities with adults starting when they are young so they can build their skills and knowledge across the span of their education careers.

 

Equity, Not Equality

There is a challenge when adults treat partnerships as equal though, because students are not equals to adults. While they are full humans with a wealth of knowledge and abilities, they do not have the same knowledge, abilities, or experience of adults. This necessitates creating equitable partnerships between students and adults. Equitable student/adult partnerships are vital for many reasons, not the least of which being that they recognize the uniqueness of each party involved. They validate the perspectives or students with romanticizing them, at the same time as they recognize the appropriate authority of educators and support staff throughout the education system.

Raising our expectations for students should go far beyond academics, because it is not just the academic life of the student affected by schools. Student/adult partnerships appropriately elevate student voice, as well as the roles of students and adults throughout the education system.

 

Questions to Ask

  • What do students’ current roles throughout education say about adults’ expectations for students?
  • Whose responsibility is it to build student engagement for all students?
  • Should everyone involved in the lives of students be charged with changing their perceptions of students?

 


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Adults Ignoring Reality

One of the most powerful experiences in my career has been to be part of the emerging Student Voice movement. After rattling around the US and Canada promoting student voice for a decade, in 2012 I heard from several different young people and adults that they were starting campaigns to promote Student Voice. Some of them burnt out quick, but a few have kept going. Joining the ranks of the long-timers, these campaigns have had tremendous impacts on K-12 schools across the nation, and its been exciting to be part of.

One of the greatest concerns that I’ve developed, though, has been the homogenization of Student Voice. It was something I feared when I wrote the Meaningful Student Involvement Idea Guide back in 2002. When adults start listening to students, they routinely and almost inevitably whitewash those voices and gloms them into one convenient, predictable and easy script. Suddenly, all Student Voice is the same, with adults hearing students saying the same thing in the same ways, no matter what their backgrounds, experiences, or ideas actually all.

There are a lot of problems with that, not the least of which being that its inauthentic and dishonest. Maybe the worst thing to happen is that it robs students of their diversity, which no other place in society does.

With adults ignoring reality, it becomes vital for a counternarrative to emerge. Something has to balance out the stereotyping and invalidity this Student Voice represents.

 

10 Questions for Authentic Student Voice

Here are some questions you can ask yourself to see whether you’re ignoring reality:

  1. Do your Student Voice activities engage students who are not traditional student leaders?
  2. Are some of the responses you receive about Student Voice surprising or upsetting to you?
  3. Have any of your Student Voice activity participants ever failed a class? Gotten in-school suspension? Been suspended from school?
  4. Are there more ways to listen to Student Voice than simply talking and listening?
  5. Do the adult allies in your Student Voice activities reflect the diversity of your school’s student body?
  6. Are students’ hesitant to talk in your Student Voice activities?
  7. Do Student Voice activities routinely discuss diversity, difference, stereotypes, or other daily realities of students?
  8. Can students share things that adults might not agree with?
  9. Do students actually share things adults do not agree with or appreciate?
  10. Can students do things, or are their actual voices all that should be heard?

 

Resources

If your school genuinely values Student Voice, it is essential to make space for all students to be heard no matter what they have to say. Its also important to understand that Student Voice is any expression of Any Student about Anything related to School. You can find more information about how to engage diverse students at SoundOut.org.

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Getting Clear about Meaningful Student Involvement

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Students should be co-learners with adults, and that they should have an ownership over their education.

Why Meaningful Student Involvement?

This far into the current education reform movement (25+ years) something radically different must be tried, and I stand beside the notion of Meaningful Student Involvement. Young people are already and routinely fixing many other problems throughout society that adults have failed at; why shouldn’t they continue to target schools as the focus of their energy? They’re the ones who are most directly affected by the outcomes of schools, and they’re the ones with the largest stake in their own education and the education of future generations of students.

Abdicating Responsibility

I would never, ever call for the abdication of adult responsibility in relationship to student authority. Instead, I believe there is a distinct opportunity for students and adults to work together and redefine the historically didactic, pedantic relationships that define so many classrooms today. Done responsibly, this could revolutionize teaching, learning, and leadership throughout the education system in ways that are utterly necessary in order to sustain and grow our democratic societies. Done irresponsibly, as a lot of homeschooling and unschooling are, and educators merely promote hyper-anarchistic individualism. (Ironically, this is what a lot of public schools are doing today as well!)

Student Behavior

Students “in any classroom go a little crazy” because they’re raised in environments of hyper-sensationalized adult importance, almost wholly disassociated from the respectful responsibility of social camaraderie. The students who do know “how to act right” are those who are raised in genuine community with their families and friends. However, all that is a ruse of sorts: Students don’t “act right” when they act in ways that adults don’t want them to. We routinely invalidate their human experiences in order to squeeze them into our expectations to meet our objectives using our methodologies. If we had truly committed democratic public schools, students would routinely, wholly and knowlingly co-create the learning they participate in everyday. Adults would facilitate that learning, rather than preach and teach it. And ultimately, we would more effectively, more honestly reach every single student all the time.

My Role in Schools

As a consultant, I offer a requested eyeball from outside the classroom and local school that can provide perspectives not available from within. Please don’t minimize my contributions because of my title though; let the principals, teachers, students, and other education officials who I’ve worked with speak for me. Check out my website for some <http://bit.ly/afgoodthings> and my linkedin profile for others.

What Grade Levels Should Be Involved?

As the examples in the article (which you read) illustrate, my research has found students in the first grade who have participated as co-creators of classroom curricula with teachers. I named examples from 1st through 12th grades in the article, and linked to dozens of other examples from across all grade levels. The fact is that students of all ages and capabilities are being engaged as partners with adults in improving schools increasingly throughout schools. Brain research routinely demonstrates that even the youngest of students have the capacity to participate in critical deconstruction of the learning activities, teaching styles, and curriculum content they’re taught. That shows that its really not a case of whether students are ready to be engaged in fixing schools; instead, its whether adults are actually capable of engaging them in doing so.

Am I Calling for Student Independence?

Engaging students as partners is by no means solely a call for independent learning, as that is antithetical to the goals of education in a democratic society. Instead, its a call for co-learning, co-teaching, and co-leadership for all students in all buildings all of the time. This is an important distinguishing factor that I tried to illustrate in the examples throughout the article. The case I make for teachers is separate from what I made in this article. Instead, this was written for a general audience made of the public. For a more education-oriented article, you can read a piece I published in ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine <http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov08/vol66/num03/The-Architecture-of-Ownership.aspx>.

By working with students as partners, adults can continue their roles as teachers and leaders throughout education. Your responses seem like you’re trying to dichotomize the roles of adults and students in schools by painting them as having polar opposite roles. (Note that I never called for students to have more “freedom”, as I think there’s a tyranny to such a notion.) Maybe instead of that, you can envision students and teachers walking next to each other as allies. In many circumstances that embody Meaningful Student Involvement today, students and adults hold each other mutually accountable for the outcomes of their actions. If any party involved doesn’t like what’s occurring, everyone involved is able to address that and working together, take action to create change. Students and adults work together to “set the standards, the criteria, the evaluation of education… set and enforce rules…”, etc. And those aren’t hypothetical situations; they’re happening right now, and have been for more than 30 years. Luckily though, they’re increasing in frequency, and as an advocate, I’m merely calling for them to increase more.

A lot of adults are threatened by Meaningful Student Involvement with a kind of gut reaction. I talked about this once in an interview with Scholastic Administrator magazine. Rather than having those responses, maybe it would be worth studying the idea more closely and truly considering the proposition beyond a short article. My short book is called Meaningful Student Involvement: Students as Partners in School Change.

Adults Abdicating Responsibility

A lot of people have shared with me their challenge with Meaningful Student Involvement. As a matter of fact, I have spent more than a decade hearing it. There are many different ways people perceive my proposal that all students everywhere can partner with all adults throughout every location in education all of the time. Today I want to address this argument:

“If adults abdicate their roles as leaders, then students may need to fix schools… but they should not be burdened with fixing the system.”

It frequently sounds as if adults support enforcing the historical rigid patriarchy of schools regarding the delivery and reception of education. As school achievement continues showing us, we cannot continue to propagate the kind of top-down learning that relies on adults as knowledge-keepers and students as empty vessels. Instead, we must transform with the times.

Students today are being raised in an era of increasing accountability and transparency. Between the Internet and changing social norms, young people are being raised to question authority, challenge ineptitude, and demand mutuality and respect. I believe schools can embrace these new norms by infusing them throughout the curriculum and culture of education. That is what Meaningful Student Involvement is intended to do by integrating students as partners throughout the education system.

Instead of “burdening” them with anything, thousands of examples from around the world show us that Meaningful Student Involvement builds the capacity of students in countless ways. Not the least of these ways is their ability to participate in the building, ownership, and critical reception of their learning.

Society needs a more empowering future, Isabel, not less. Meaningful Student Involvement is a way towards this future for all students, everywhere, all the time. Is there a more significant goal schools can have today?