Friday, February 28, 2014

Student Voice

I'm a Sunflower by Mo Costandi
One of the big ideas in education now seems to be "student voice". My understanding is (and trust me I'm no expert) that if we allow students to voice their interest and allow them to follow those interests that they will be more engaged in their learning. I guess the thinking is that students have had a hand in deciding what to do and as a result are more likely to take ownership of their learning. I don't disagree with this idea in theory but I witnessed two incidents this week that make me think that the execution is often flawed.

Earlier in the week I attended a meeting of teachers and administrators. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss student engagement. As the meeting went on it seemed to focus on students voice. The thinking was if we let students learn about things that interest them they will be more engaged. As I said earlier, I don't disagree with the statement but I do think there are constraints in place that don't allow this idea to work. The two biggest constraints are likely time and a prescribed curriculum. On a smaller scale, one member of the group mentioned the fact that teachers are supposed to be posting learning goals for the day. How can a teacher post a learning goal if the students are deciding what they are learning about? The response from another member of the group was that the teacher could ask for ideas then steer the students toward the intended goal for the day. I'm certainly not an expert in student voice but it seems to me that by giving students a pseudo-voice the absolute best we can hope for is pseudo-engagement. This is a far cry from true engagement.

The second instance of student voice that came to my attention this week was in at my son's school. My son, who is in grade one, came home one day this week and told us they were going to learn about the sun. He said that the class shared all kinds of ideas they wanted to learn about with respect to the sun. I was pretty excited to hear this since he loves space and science. He wasn't excited. When I asked him why his response was that the teacher decided they were going to do an experiment where grow plants in different light conditions. I thought perhaps this was more pseudo-voice, but perhaps my son was just upset that his idea wasn't chosen. When my wife was at the school this week she happened to talk to another grade 1 teacher and discovered they were doing the same experiment. When my wife expressed surprise about both classes using their voice to come up with the same experiment the teacher's response was something along the lines of "Well, we kind of guide them to it". Pseudo-voice.

Don't get me wrong, I think the experiment is a great idea and I think my son would have really enjoyed it had the teacher said "This is what we're going to do". But I think there was some other topic that he would have rather explored and now he's disappointed the teacher is "making us do an experiment". It's amazing to me that evan at the age of 6 students are able to see what is going on.

Please note that I mean no disrespect to the teachers mentioned above. They are simply doing what is being asked of them while still working within their constraints.

No comments:

Post a Comment