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

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  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

Student Voice Is Not The Same As Student Engagement

Student Voice ≠ Student Engagement. Learn more at SoundOut.org

With more and more people increasingly jumping on the bandwagons of student voice and student engagement, it is becoming increasingly important to define, refine and understand what it is that we’re talking about. It is equally important to critically examine the assumptions informing a lot of this conversation and action, as well as the implications, impacts and processes throughout.

A lot of well-meaning people are throwing around phrases without really understanding what they are talking about. People are using student voice as a synonym for student engagement. All the while, they are discussing activities that are the exclusive domain of either concept as if they were. That’s all problematic for a few reasons…

 

 

Want to read more?

Order SoundOut Student Voice Series #2: Student Voice and Student Engagement by Adam Fletcher.

 

 

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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Every Resource I’ve Made for Schools

1+soundout+logo1Are you a student, a K-12 educator, education administrator, school advocate, concerned parent, a nonprofit partner, or somebody else in the community who is concerned about schools? Following is a list of resources I’ve created focused on schools. Let me know what you think in the comments section below!

 

My Resources On Student Voice

 

My Resources on Meaningful Student Involvement

 

My Resources on Student Engagement

 

My Resources on Education

 

My Resources on Democracy in Education

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?

Students Have To Fix Schools

We hear it all the time: American schools are terrible and only getting worse. For more than 25 years, the country has been massaging the egos of educators, administrators, and politicians who think they know what’s best for young people and our country. Bill Gates and countless rich people have tried throwing money at solutions they want to see. Yet none of this has seriously improved our schools, and in some cases, its only made the situation worse.

In the meantime, there are more young people than ever before who are working steadily, progressively to fix schools today. They’re partnering with educators, community members, businesses, and others to move school reform forward and actually achieving real outcomes. Student engagement in school improvement has been shown to have powerful effects on every aspect of learning, teaching, and leadership in education.

Past the hype, beyond the media, and without biased research, evidence shows that when students improve schools, they are creating lasting changes, saving schools real money, and improving learning experiences for themselves, their peers, and younger students.

Five Ways Students Are Improving Schools

  • Students Are Leading Research. In elementary, middle, and high schools across the nation, students researching education. Among countless subjects, they’re discovering student learning styles, identifying best practices in classrooms, and exploring structural changes in learning. First grader students in Cheney, Washington, helped teachers develop curriculum in their classroom to make learning more meaningful for both students and educators.
  • Students Are Planning Education. Budgeting, calendaring, hiring and firing, curriculum designing, and many other activities are happening throughout schools with students as partners. Students are also involved in some district and state education agency activities, and helping elected officials plan more effective schools. In Anne Arundel County, Maryland, students have been voting members of the district level board of education for 25 years. In the same district, every advisory, curriculum, study committee and special force task includes students.
  • Students Are Teaching Courses. In all grade levels, students are taking the reigns of pedagogy by facilitating learning for their peers and younger students. They’re also teaching adults! Students are increasingly being engaged as essential teaching partners, and the outcomes are changing learning for everyone involved. In Olympia, Washington, there is a program that gives students classroom credit in return for helping teachers learn how to use complicated hardware and software in classrooms.
  • Students Are Evaluating Everything. Examining their own learning, identifying teachers’ strengths and challenges, exploring curriculum and climate in schools, and looking at ways schools can improve in strategic ways are all ways that students are driving school improvement in their own schools and throughout education. High school students in Poughkeepsie, New York researched their districts budget crises, conducted a student survey on the next years budge, and then analyzed the data and submitted it to the board which used it in its decision-making process. The board adopted it and saved more than $50,000 the next year.
  • Students Are Making Systemic Decisions. Joining school boards as full-voting members, forming student advisory committees for principals and superintendents, and getting onto important committees at the building, district, and state levels, more students are participating in systemic decision-making than ever before. In Stuart, Ohio, students at the local high school have and equal vote in faculty hiring decisions, choosing curriculum, and class offerings.

Between these five categories of action, deep change is happening. However, beyond the expectations of adults, students are working further still to improve their schools. Students advocating for education changes are organizing their peers and larger communities to create powerful, effective agendas that consistently and determinedly transform schools.

In order to broaden, deepen, and sustain these activities there needs to be a systemic, intentional pathway to engage all students as partners throughout the education system. More than a decade ago, I combed research and practice happening nationally and internationally to identify my Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement. Since then, these tools have been used around the world to promote these activities, and to build further beyond many peoples’s expectations. As I’ve written before, Meaningful Student Involvement is, “the process of engaging students as partners in every facet of school change for the purpose of strengthening their commitment to education, community, and democracy.”

6 Steps To Engage Students As Partners in Fixing Schools

Here are some steps anyone can take to engage students as partners in improving schools.

  • Teach students about learning. Learning is no longer the mystery it once was. We now know that there are different learning styles, multiple learning supports and a variety of ways to demonstrate learning. In order to be meaningfully involved, students must understand those different aspects as well.
  • Teach students about the educational system. The complexities of schools are not known to many adults. Theoretical and moral debates, funding streams and the rigors of student assessment are overwhelming to many administrators, as well as teachers and parents. However, in order for students to be meaningfully involved in schools, they must have at least a basic knowledge of what is being done to them and for them, if not with them.
  • Teach students about education reform. There are many practical avenues for students to learn about formal and informal school improvement measures, particularly by becoming meaningfully involved within those activities. Sometimes there is no better avenue for understanding than through active engagement in the subject matter, and school improvement may be one of those areas.
  • Teach students about student voice. While it seems intuitive to understand the voices that we are born with, unfortunately many students seems to lack that knowledge. Whether through submissive consumerism, oppressive social conditions or the internalization of popular conceptions of youth, many students today do not believe they have anything worth saying, or any action worth contributing towards making their schools better places for everyone involved. Even if a student does understand their voice, it is essential to expand that understanding and gain new abilities to be able to become meaningfully involved.
  • Teach students about meaningful student involvement. While meaningful student involvement is not “rocket science”, it does challenge many students. After so many years of being subjected to passive or cynical treatment, many students are leery or resistant towards substantive engagement in schools. Educating students about meaningful student involvement means increasing their capacity to participate by focusing on the skills and knowledge they need. Only in this way can they be effective partners, and fully realize the possibilities for education today and in the future.

Moving Forward

These aren’t the easiest steps in the world, as many adults and even educators haven’t taken these steps for themselves. However, in these years I have worked hard to share some of the things I have learned and written a number of materials designed to help. Here is a simple list of ways students can improve schools, and a separate list of ways adults can support students fixing schools. I’ve written a number of publications, too, including the Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Students as Partners in Schools, the SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum, and my latest and easiest-to-read book, The Guide to Student VoiceI also have dozens of free publications available on my website.

Another great advantage today is that several other organizations are working in earnest to promote ideas related to Meaningful Student Involvement. Aside from my program called SoundOut, there are groups like UP for Learning in Vermont, the Student Voice Matters website, and Student Voice Live!, an annual gathering of students talking about school improvement. Evidence supporting this work is growing too. The work of researchers like Dana Mitra and Alison Cook-Sather in the US, Michael Fielding and Julia Flutter in Europe, and the penultimate advocate Roger Holdsworth in Australia is moving all of this further faster than anyone could have anticipated.

Whatever your opinion about schools today, the case is clear that we must engage students as partners. What are you going to do?

Adam Fletcher is the author of several books and a consultant who has worked with more than 200 K-12 schools and districts in more than 25 states and Canada. Sign up for his newsletter by visiting adamfletcher.net.

 

Adult-Driven Student Voice

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Student Voice is any expression of any learner anywhere, all the time, about anything related to learning, schools, and education. It doesn’t depend on adult approval, it doesn’t need specific spaces or energies, and is always present wherever students are. The question generally is whether adults in education want to hear what’s being said.

If a student is talking in front of a group sharing their beliefs or experience, ideas or knowledge, they’re sharing student voice. The same can be true of leadership, community service, and teambuilding activities, as well as many other formal school activities. However, students who cut themselves are sharing student voice, just like student graffiti artists, students who text answers during tests, and gang members. The question isn’t whether they’re sharing student voice, because they always are – the question is whether adults in education want to hear what’s being said.

This leads to the phenomenon of adult-driven student voice.

Characteristics of Adult-Driven Student Voice

Adult-Driven Student Voice is when adults motivate, inspire, inform, encapsulate, and generally make student voice become convenient for adults. Here are five characteristics of adult-driven student voice.

  • WHO: Students who adults want to hear from are selected to share their voices. All students are equal members of the schools they attend, both in a literal and metaphorical sense. However, adult-driven student voice selects specific students who may not jostle adults’ opinions or ideas to share student voice.
  • WHAT: Students say what adults want. They usually echoing or parroting adult beliefs, ideas, knowledge, and/or experience. If they share their own, adults largely agree with what students have said.
  • WHEN: The calendar is determined by adults for students. Students are listened to when adults have the interest or ability to hear them, and not necessarily when students want to be heard.
  • WHERE: Student voice happens in places adults want it to be shared. Whether on a graffiti wall in a forgotten alley downtown, in a boxing gym for teenagers, in debate class, or at a city-run forum for students to share their opinions about something, student voice happens where adults approve of.
  • WHY: Adults solicit student voice about specific issues. Students have a variety of perspectives about all kinds of subjects. However, adult-driven youth voice allows only perspectives on issues that are important to adults or that adults pick for students. If students move outside adult-driven boundaries, they are either re-directed or expected to stop sharing their voices.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each of the above characteristics. However, this article isn’t meant to share those judgments; instead, I want to encourage you to think for yourself about what matters and why it matters. After you’ve done that, visit SoundOut to find tools, examples, and other resources to help you with student voice.

Denying Student Voice

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Since I began researching roles for students throughout education and society more than a decade ago, I’ve found a plethora of student voice haters. These folks are most frequently adults who are longtimers in education before they are “brave” enough to speak out against students.

Their basic belief is always the same: Students don’t know what’s best for them; Educators do. That is, adults in general, educators at large, the academy specifically, and/or the teachers who teach students directly. Their argument is always the same: As the unknowledgable, inept, and incapable recipients of Education’s largess, students have nothing of value to contribute to their learning, to teaching, or to leadership in schools.

Recent articles reflect these positions. In a new piece on Slate, a college professor named Rebecca Schuman wrote a scathing deconstruction of the value of student evaluations of professors. Basically denying the value of their contributions as humans towards society, Schuman emphasized that students are basically flies on horse poop, ranting in a really hipster-ish fashion that, “Ostensibly, [student evaluations of teachers] give us valuable feedback on our teaching effectiveness, factor importantly into our career trajectories, and provide accountability to the institution that employs us. None of this, however, is true.” She goes on to degrade everything of value in any student evaluation ever, insisting that professorial knowledge trumps student input every single time no matter what.

Schuman’s narrow thinking is indicative of many educators today. Seeing students as tabula rasa, many teachers and professors inside traditional education systems frequently dismiss the value of student voice, juxtaposing their perspectives against students in an A/B dichotomy of Us vs. Them.

A few weeks ago, a reporter for The Atlantic magazine named Jacoba Urist contacted me for an article she was writing about the ongoing Los Angeles student protests led by the powerhouse Innercity Struggle. We talked for 45 minutes about a range of issues, and I sent her a copy of my Guide to Students on School Boards

Jacoba wrote a piece called “Should Students Sit on School Boards?,” essentially propping up the idea with several professors’ opinions, along with my perspective as an advocate. With few opposition perspectives in the article, it was essentially a cheerleading piece. However, it was in the comments (which, btw, are not the same as SETs) that things got ugly—as they often do.

From basic adultism through advanced antipathy towards youth, commenters on the article reflected the blatant disdain that is obvious in so many student voice deniers’ words. They routinely doubt the maturity, effectiveness, and value of student voice. They question the authenticity of student knowledge, the potential of student learning, and the perspectives of students as the recipients of adult-driven education systems. They also rally to the power of adults, calling for increased adult control over students amid smackdowns on student voice.

These denials of student voice represent the narrow self-interest of so many Educators today. Unfortunately, their closed-mindedness is undermining the American education system. Students who grow up in oppressive educational environments grow up to become adults who are disaffected voters, routinely voting down education levies, pro-democracy elected officials, and other bastions of the once indefatigable American Democracy.

I can hear the haters right now, dismissing these brash future voters for expressing their wills against the wills and whims of educators today. Oligarchy be damned: Educators love meritocracy!

Congrats, student voice deniers, for destroying education and democracy for everyone. Surely you have to feel good about that when you go to bed at night, or head off to school in the morning. Good job.