We all know that numerous special educators worldwide have included post-secondary education goals identified by students and their families in the Individualized Education Program (IEP).
This process helps in listening to students and supporting their ideas. It is a great example of the broader concept of students' voices. In an era of greater accountability and measured student outcomes, the voice of students is a growing movement in education.
Most institutions use a teacher-directed approach to learning that lets students play an active and equal role in planning, learning, leading their classroom instruction and contributing to school practices and policies. This significant philosophical shift makes all stakeholders believe that each individual has something to be learned, regardless of age, culture, socioeconomic status or other qualification factors.
Additionally, a framework and tools to assess and measure the impact of participation of students, institutions, policies, services, and communities are critically important (Crowley & Skeels, 2009). Such evidence is necessary to implement better Article 12 of the UNCRC (Skeels & Thomas, 2007). Despite all, several instances demonstrate that students being a major stake in education, barely get opportunities to have their say or contribute to the learning process.
This piece will shed some light on what a student's voice means, its importance, and understand how it can be measured.
What is a student's voice?
As per a report, a student's voice is defined as an authentic student input or leadership in instruction, school structures, or education policies that can promote meaningful change in education systems, practice, and policy by empowering students as change agents, often working in partnership with adult educators.
- At the simplest level, student voice can consist of young people sharing their opinions of school problems with administrators and facilities. Student voice initiatives can also be more extensive, for instance, when young people collaborate with adults to address the issues in their schools—and in rare cases when youth assume leadership roles to change efforts:– Dana Mitra, a Pennsylvania State University scholar on education policy and student's voice.
- Student's voice is [A] broad term describing various activities in and out of school. It can be understood as expression, performance, creativity and co-constructing of the teaching/learning dynamic. It can also be understood as self-determined goal-setting or simply as the agency:– Eric Toshalis, senior director of impact at Knowledge Works.
Can students' voices be measured?
When it comes to measuring students' voices, several methods can be used to capture students' voices. That may include student surveys, interviews, students learning experience logs, classroom observations, and more. All mentioned methods come with certain pros and cons. While student interviews may help get an idea of students' perceptions, they may also raise confidentiality issues (Hoban & Hastings 2006). Furthermore, student logs may describe what students learn but usually do not state how they learned or were taught (Hoban & Hastings 2006).
The same goes for other mentioned ways.
Moving further, a study, Mitra's (2006) pyramid of student's voice, bifurcates student's voice into three levels:
- Bottom-level: Students are being heard, perhaps by sharing their opinions on a survey.
- Middle-level: Students work alongside adults in partnership to accomplish school goals.
- Top-level: Building capacity for student leadership. Educators ask how to build capacity for student leadership.
Organized by Mitchell and Sackney's (2011), to concretize capacity building further, this study mentions three dimensions to the capacity-building framework:
- Personal, defined as building individual student skills;
- Interpersonal, defined as those who work with teachers to make school decisions;
- Organizational is defined as involved in the school culture, structures and means of communication.
As per the study, one of the largest barriers to educational reform is applying new knowledge in practice; therefore, personal capacity-building activities such as professional development or skill-building workshops must help students and teachers apply newly learned skills in school activities. Additionally, many student voice scholars identified several strategies schools have used to foster the personal capacity building of students' leadership skills. For example, several student voice research speaks to the value of skills training for youth (e.g., Biddle, 2015; Yonezawa & Jones, 2007). Also, interpersonal capacity is built through shared purpose and values, team building, honest critique, regular dialogue, and shared decision-making through consensus (Mitchell & Sackney, 2011). The study also detailed nine voice-fostering mechanisms schools can employ to support student leadership and participation in education.
Different ways to measure students' voices
Meetings & Entrance Tickets
One simple way to give students a voice is to provide them with a platform to express themselves. This can come in multiple forms. You can set up a morning or after-class meeting to discuss what they are feeling or events happening outside of school—simply providing them with a safe space to engage in honest conversation. Also, if you want a less time-consuming process, you can create Google Forms or entrance tickets asking students to suggest topics for class discussion or their thoughts and opinions on the curriculum. Such opportunities for students to have a voice set a tone that their opinions and thoughts matter in your classroom is necessary to make them feel valued.
Choice in Projects
The choice given to students is one such form of student voice. This allows students to express what they have learned through different mediums. However, at times, it can be challenging for the teacher to release some control to students, but by doing so, they show the students that we trust them and accept them as people who do not always learn in the same manner. You cannot have a student voice if you do not have the student's choice.
Conducting student surveys is one of the most widely used tools for capturing student voices globally. (Jensen & Reichl 2011). The questionnaire should include a series of questions about their attitudes toward the school (including the school community in general, teachers, parents, etc.).
Using student surveys rather than other means of capturing student voices allows a large population to be assessed quickly, easily and reliably by providing measures of student opinion.
They provide a more confidential alternative to other, more direct methods of capturing students' voices, such as in-class observations and student interviews (Hoban & Hastings, 2006).
However, as noted earlier, these students do not always respond honestly, and, as a result, survey data may not reflect actual behaviour and prospects (Appleton et al., 2006). However, this risk is mitigated because student surveys can be given to a large and diverse sample of students at a relatively low cost, making it possible to gather data over several waves and compare results across schools (Fredericks & McColskey 2012). Another study, Peterson et al. , states that the data from student surveys and questionnaires are highly reliable because of the many students who responded to them.
Teacher and parent feedback
Another way to increase the value of student surveys is to gather feedback from the broader school community, such as teachers and parents. Schools can incorporate this broader voice in planning and improving schools. Collecting parental feedback allows schools to consider how they relate to students and parents and may also enhance collaboration between teachers and parents. (Peterson et al., 2003).
It can help align the goals and priorities of teachers and parents and help teachers find the best way to support parenting at home for parents and teachers to complement one another (Perkins 2014).
More of a group activity, brainstorming gives kids an opportunity to participate without pressure. Stress that it is OK to say whatever comes to mind and want ideas from everyone. Choose a problem that must be addressed or an ethical dilemma that students care about. It is a good idea to set a deadline and ask someone to write down any ideas, good or bad. As a group, organize and sort ideas into items that can be acted upon. Such co-operation reminds us that we are all smarter when we all contribute.
Those who have worked with adolescents know that students can naturally argue. Debating helps engage that side of the brain and use that voice constructively in a positive way. Also, provide many topics ripe for debate, and help teach communication and critical-thinking skills.
Discarding the traditional parent-teacher meets, where adults can speak about the child behind their back, schools these days are turning to student-led lectures, where students can showcase what they have done in the classroom and identify their strengths and areas for improvement. Such conferences hold pupils accountable by assuming responsibility for their education and putting forward the points they want to be addressed.
IEP development and goal setting
Involvement in student-led IEPs and goal development can teach students the skills and knowledge to participate in the IEP process. Also, provide opportunities for students to set short- and long-term goals, including IEP goals, discuss how to reach them, and brainstorm choices they may need to make to achieve them.
Incorporating student journalism provides students with a platform to gather information, interview sources, raise issues and report the news. It can expose problems in a school or community and as an outlet to express students' opinions. Student journalists can share stories and ideas using student-led television programs, podcasts, social media, blogs, and, most traditionally, newspapers. Student journalism also allows students to try their hand at writing and reporting, which can help prepare them for their careers.
Why is a student's voice important?
- Encouraging student voices help increase student achievement and engagement as students have more ownership of their school community.
- The views and perspectives of students are important. They help to improve the learning process.
- Students have untapped expertise and knowledge to bring renewed relevance and authenticity to classrooms and school reform efforts.
- Students take advantage of opportunities to practice problem-solving, leadership and creative thinking necessary to participate in a school decision-making community.