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

Ending Schools is Not an Option – Yet

Over the years, I have often talked with people who wanted to end all schools everywhere. Framed as the great oppressors by these folks, schools are demonized for standardizing education, assessing learning, stifling expression and suffocating creativity.

I agree with many of those arguments, and I think I understand why people make them. However, I think something isn’t being acknowledged: Ending schools is not an option – yet.

If a young person is born into safety and security they are likely to be able to successfully survive the adult hegemony throughout society. Without those privileges, children and youth must struggle to survive the failure of society to care for them. People who rant against schools are often among the first group, and because of that members, they don’t keep members of the second group in mind.

If you want to end all schools right now, remember, at the very least, that schools provide safety, food, and order in the lives of many young people who don’t experience those things regularly. Remember that for young people who don’t have the privilege to a guaranteed sunny future, schools of all stripes give them a sense of hope and possibility that may not otherwise exist.

If your needs are met beyond those basic human rights, then ask yourself where and how people can routinely and intentionally expand their capacity to participate in democratic society, if not through schools.

If, after all that, you still protest against schools and teachers and the people who administer them, then keep doing that. But at least keep in mind that if it weren’t for public schools, my family would likely still be illiterate indentured farmers working the fields for wealthy overlords. Albeit, their oppression was tangible, but through their work I was liberated.

Its most often the people who don’t live with the needs that schools fill who rail against the need for schools. There are different ways to educate students, and society should promote those. However, ranting against schools for the sake of ranting isn’t the solution – solutions are the solution.

Thoughts?

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.

 

 

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?

Does Academic Achievement Happen Other Places?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAHazel Owen is a spectacular educational consultant in New Zealand. Recently, after reading an article I wrote, she asked me a number of questions. Today, I’m addressing this one:

“How, given that what ‘achievement’ comprises is set by the society from which some youth disengage, can a sense of achievement be felt by these youth without compromising the principles by which they have chosen to live their lives?”

I wrote:

By acknowledging young people where they’re at right now, we can engage young people in “achieving” in things they’re doing already. If a young person is engaged in their family’s rural lifestyle, what learning opportunities are their in that setting right now? When do young people get academic credit for all the learning they’re experiencing through video gaming or online social networking? This is to say nothing from the students who are making art in the garage, building science projects in the shed, or studying geology while climbing rocks on the weekend. Acknowledging youth where they’re at means not making it an “either/or” situation, but a “both/and”, meaning they don’t have to choose whether they achieve our goals as adults, or their goals as autonomous humans.

I’d love to hear what you think. Leave any comments below!

 

Mindsets for Youth Engagement

Many adults could engage youth effectively, but they can’t. Youth workers, teachers, parents, and others could because they see the problem, the cause, and directly observe youth disengagement when it happens. These same people can’t though, because they don’t think they can.

Youth workers often believe they don’t have the authority, because their supervisors didn’t tell them they could. Teachers don’t think they can because of Common Core State Standards or district regulations or school rules. Parents don’t think they can because their kid is different, their kid is out of control, or their kid just doesn’t listen. The thing is though, all of these people could engage youth effectively.

The biggest roadblock to youth engagement isn’t youth themselves, or oppressive systems of social control that keep them disengaged. YOUR THINKING IS THE BIGGEST BARRIER TO YOUTH ENGAGEMENT.

Mindsets

The model above shows that in order to address how we engage youth, we have to think about why we engage youth; what happens when youth engagement happens, and what difference the outcomes from youth engagement make on our thinking.

Your thoughts about youth inform your actions with youth, and your actions affect the results which inform your beliefs about youth, which in turn affect your thoughts about youth. This is called your Mindset. It directly affects youth disengagement and youth engagement, and there is only one person responsible for it: You.

You can change your mindset, and if you want to become a person who can successfully engage young people, that’s what you must do. Here are some stories of people who changed their mindset about youth:

  • Sue, a case manager for homeless youth in Rochester, New York, addressed her mindset about youth in a workshop I led in 2011. Soon afterwards, she began engaging her youth as partners in their cases. In the following two years, her case efficacy increased by 35%.
  • Tom found that his classroom was consistently unfocused and disconnected from the social studies topics he was teaching. In my workshop on meaningful student involvement, he learned several practical ways to re-envision the roles of students in schools. According to his account, his students were 100% more engaged afterwards.

I offer quick, powerful processes for identifying old belief structures, creating a mindset focused on youth engagement, and identifying what needs to be done to maintain engagement. My solid follow-up structure supports your team in constantly focusing on the right mindset and actions that produce the results you want.

 

Why Student Voice Doesn’t Work

SO guyMany educators assume student voice is expressed when students make choices. That is correct, although its not the only way.

Instead, consider that voice is apparent throughout the entirety of the students’ being, rather than just the choices educators assign them to make. When a student slouches in class, they’re expressing student voice. When they’re raising their hand and appear engaged, they’re expressing student voice.

Whenever students show up to school, get in fights, turn in all their assignments, text friends during class, conform to uniforms, graffiti in bathroom stalls, or otherwise, they are expressing student voice. That’s because student voice is any expression of any learner focused on education or schools anywhere, anytime. I defined it that way in my Guide to Student Voice, and the reason why is because students are whole people, right now. Their whole being expresses student voice. Whether or not they’re conscious of that is irrelevant.

I think the reality is that educators are searching for meaning beyond the complex/simple or A/B expressions of students implicit in the conception of voice = choice. Constantly listening to student voice is inherently unfulfilling, because it grossly oversimplifies students themselves. We can do better than that!

That’s why I developed a framework for engaging students as partners throughout the education system called Meaningful Student Involvement. It embraces student voice, but effectively repositions them as equitable partners throughout the educational system in order to infuse their voices with purpose and potential, rather than simply hearing what they have to say.

I’d love to hear what you think about that.

Summerhill School

I [heart] Summerhill. If you don’t know, Summerhill School is located in the United Kingdom. It was started in 1921 by A.S. Neill and has become a role model for democratic education and youth power around the world.

Following are episodes from the UK documentary show entitled, “Summerhill.” It dramatizes the school’s struggle to stay open in the face of government pressure to conform to standards. I hope you enjoy the show and the lessons it embodies, and I’d love to hear what you think.