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Student Voice

Empower Learning Luminous Culture

Embracing our Unique Differences

“Give it another try!” Shouts my 11 year old to his friend Matthew. Matthew winds up the frisbee for the 10th time, and makes the shot! The boys cheered and erupted into laughter. The frisbee went through the basketball hoop. Honestly, it’s trickier than it sounds. Both my son Julian and his friend Matthew have been spending their summer days developing their YouTube channel featuring their trick shots. Not only am I impressed by their profound growth mindsets, but their tenacity that leads to their success is inspiring.

My son has also been creating other videos using iMovie and posting them to his Instagram page. He’s passionate about the work he’s doing and has been beaming at his creations as he’s embedding graphics and audio, as well as editing them to be unique and eye catching.

Last night Julian became quiet and disclosed to me that he deleted a few of his videos that he was really proud of. The videos he deleted featured him hitting baseballs and demonstrating what he sees as his strengths. Julian was transparent with the world, and while he received numerous likes on his videos, he also received a backlash. Julian explained that a friend shared with him that his videos were stupid. This person was relentless until Julian deleted the videos in front of him. Julian was hurt over the comments and began to question his strengths, as well as the videos he created due to these rumors. While I’m disappointed that anyone would say anything negative, I was equally disappointed that my child gave into peer pressure and the need to conform. This is not typical of him as he is a confident and bright child.

With an authentic teachable moment in front of me, this was the perfect opportunity to help Julian understand that we do not have to conform to the status quo. It is difficult, it can hurt, and there will be times in which standing out makes you feel isolated. When we stand up for what we believe in we are at risk for ridicule. However, I am passionate about standing up for what we believe in and it’s a risk I’m willing to take. As a parent and educator I want to protect our children from feeling discouraged, but at the same time facing adversity is what allows us to dig deep inside and learn to persevere. Our children need to be equipped with how to handle adversity and maneuver through our complex world with confidence and empathy for others.

In school and at home we need to be fostering a culture of acceptance and embrace the unique differences that each of us beholds. Too often I see children begin to conform to what they believe the world wants them to be and stray from who they truly are. How do we cultivate this in our schools and make an impact on our society? If our goal is to ignite innovation in schools, students need to be able to embrace divergent thinking and honor each other’s differences.

 

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10 Classroom Tips:

  1. Develop a culture of responsible risk taking through community building and intentional debriefing to foster empathy and understanding. This allows students to experience emotions and reflect on them. Through debriefing they develop relationships with classmates and a deeper understanding of how they can add to or subtract value from others.
  2. Model empathy each day. As teachers we have students that walk in daily from a variety of backgrounds. We need to always assume the best from our students and remember that their actions have an underlying cause. When we model empathy consistently, it transfers to students.
  3. Own up to mistakes. No one is perfect and we learn from mistakes. This is a critical component of any classroom. When students understand that mistakes are normal, they develop as risk takers and become more empathetic when their peers make mistakes.
  4. Survey students with questions such as: What would you like me to know about you? Or, what do you want to grow in this school year? Simple questions such as these can bring in a broad spectrum of responses from students that allow the teacher to gain a deeper understand of who their students are. This provides teachers with the ability to develop deeper connections and relationships with students.
  5. Utilize social media sites such as Edmodo or Slack where students can safely learn to interact with one another online with the support of their teacher. Prior to launching the site, facilitate learning on demonstrating positive Digital Citizenship with Common Sense Media.
  6. Empower students to find their inner passions and carve out time in class to allow students to work on passion projects. Students don’t always know what they’re passionate about, and by inspiring them to identify their passions we are supporting students to develop a foundation of who they are and what they stand for. This serves as a powerful force in a world where students pressure peers to conform. Angela Maiers states, “you are a genius and the world does need your contribution, you matter.” See Choose2Matter founded by Angela Maiers
  7. Ignite the S.H.I.N.E. within students. Lavonna Roth developed Ignite Your S.H.I.N.E (Self, Heart, Inspire, Navigate, Exceptional) to create a path for students to believe in their gifts, gain confidence and explore how they will contribute to the world. Students not only need to embrace their unique gifts, but learn how to navigate themselves to stay true to their heart and as they face adversity in life.
  8. Morning meetings are a great way to begin each day. Morning meetings allow students to start the day by connecting with their peers and teacher and sets the climate of the classroom.
  9. Provide opportunities for students to blog to an authentic audience. Students will grow confidence as they share their ideas through writing and received feedback from people who are looking to grow alongside them.
  10. Create a post-it wall in your classroom where students can post positive comments or shout-outs to celebrate their classmates. In our classroom this past year students loved recognizing one another and truly embraced each other’s unique gifts.

In our world we want to empower students to be dynamic innovators who have a growth mindset. The culture must be right in order to successfully develop this vision. I believe that we can instill in our students that they can change the world, and that it’s their unique gifts that will make the difference.

Empower Learning Luminous Culture

How to Empower Student Voice: Enhance Communication, Creativity, Collaboration, and Critical Thinking

As educators, we envision a collaborative team of students who interact with one another to problem solve, create, communicate, and think critically. We thirst for students who advocate for their beliefs and vocalize their ideas with the encouragement of peers. The reality is that in today’s classroom, this is fundamental for students as they prepare for college and career readiness. Students ought to be promoted to be creators instead of consumers of information. We need to deliberately nurture the development of classroom culture that enhances the opportunity for collaboration and student facilitated inquiry that ignites student voice and sparks innovative thinking. Web 2.0 applications provide further opportunities to enhance the assimilation of content, diversify the channels of creativity to lead to innovation, and empower student voice.

Cultivate a Growth Mindset Culture to Lay the Foundation
As teachers we need to cultivate and continually nurture a growth mindset culture where students are challenged and supported to take responsible risks. Experiential community building activities should be structured and facilitated to encourage the development of a growth mindset. When students have the sense that their ideas are valued, they’re increasingly likely to contribute to their team.

In our learning space, students are encouraged to share their mistakes so that others can learn from them and as a class we celebrate when team members share. This is empowering to students, and within a culture that has a foundation of respect, it promotes diverse thinking. Developing a growth mindset culture is not an end to a means, but rather a process that enriches future endeavors. In regard to growth mindset, we need to be cognizant to zoom in on soft skills including the habits of mind.

Using Edmettle, teachers are able to provide feedback to students on their soft skills that promote their ability to develop a growth mindset. Edmettle is a social network and feedback management tool that encourages and highlights students’ grit, resilience, persistence and additional traits that are desirable for career readiness. Read more about this topic: Empowering Student Voice Through Classroom Culture at Edutopia.

Questioning Strategies Promote Metacognition and Confidence to Amplify Student Voice
To empower student voice we need to promote inquiry-based learning and the use of questioning strategies embedded within all content to strengthen learning. Valuing student voice increases student investment in discussions. Creating an anchor chart for student reference to strategy and question stems fosters student-to-student interaction, too. I typically focus on two sections at a time with learners, model the usage, and allow students to practice with intentionality. Over time, students develop the capacity to harmonize a variety within learning sessions. This process fostersmetacognition and empowers students to communicate with clarity. Using Padlet as a form of social media, we also develop questions with our peers and practice responding to one another. As students engage in discussion and questioning stems, they create stronger neural pathways that become the catalyst of student-facilitated inquiry that fuels learning. This process fosters the empowerment of student voice as students gain confidence.

Empower Students Through Self-Directed Learning; Teacher as Coach
Children are curious, yet come to us often awaiting direction from the teacher. Traditional education has left children expecting that information comes from the adult in the room. Authentic learning derives from student questions, predictions, and claims and evidence from hands-on experiences. Empowering student voice means that the teacher relinquishes control and transitions to the role of a coach to allow students to hone in on their understandings, and thoughts. Supporting students to pursue passion projects empowers students to dig deeply into what they want to know more about and puts them in the driver’s seat. As students become experts in their focus of learning, their confidence is strengthened. Opportunities such as makerspace, genius hour and problem-based learning provide students with the framework and space to collaborate, create, communicate and think critically about relevant learning topics where they can steer the direction in which their learning takes them.

Integrate EdTech to Enhance the Four C’s and Empower Student Voice
EdTech that enhances learning by having students focus on the process of creation and standards of focus, rather than exclusively the final product (which may lack substance), is what we, as educators, need to evaluate. When educators and learners are cognizant of the desired outcome, it allows us to maintain focus. Collaborative conversations and creation of self-directed learning needs to stretch beyond the four walls of a classroom. My students have flourished with Edmodo when used to continue and elaborate on classroom conversations around topics and content. Encouraging the continuous flow of conversation outside of the classroom elevates student learning. In our class we use Kidblog to reflect, share opinions, and write from a variety of perspectives to share our voice with other kids globally. Students enjoy creating with Prezi, Thinglink, and Tellagami to inform others about their learning. Within both Prezi and Thinglink students are able to embed images, videos from YouTube or that they’ve created in iMovie, as well as links to articles to elaborate and drive home their objective. Both allow students to express themselves, which further empowers their voice. Learners are able to post their creations on Edmodo or to their Kidblog page to further enhance their creation.

Most importantly each of these opportunities have the potential to amplify student voice. Learners can engage a global audience to share their voice and receive feedback. This process brings learning full circle and develops the opportunity to engage an authentic audience, and receive feedback. As educators we need to provide the opportunity for students to have access to a variety of avenues that support the advancement of learning through questioning, personal interactions and thus strengthen and ignite student voice. We need to empower each and every one to unleash student potential for maximum impact.

Empower Learning Leadership

Entering a New Frontier

Envision learners jubilantly returning from winter break who are eager to connect with peers, staff, and to be empowered as learners. Excitedly they re-enter the learning space while having conversations and greeting others. It’s possible that many learners were still connected with one another, and their teacher through platforms such as Edmodo over break. Remaining connected maintains that sense of family, and keeps conversations flowing so that when reunited as a team they can readily begin to synergize.

How are you setting the stage for the new year with your students? What are your students anticipating returning to? As we enter the new year, consider one shift that you’ll make to ignite students’ passion to learn. Learning is a natural desire, yet when forced or if not engaging, students can shut down and lose their drive to learn. We need to be creating a sense of wonder within our students to foster deeper questioning which promotes innovative thinking. Who are we to teach today’s students, yesterday’s information? What’s comfortable for both teachers and students isn’t necessarily what’s best. In fact, I find that when I am in a place of struggle or discomfort that it’s a blessing because it signals that I’m in a place of growth. When we enter a new frontier it isn’t meant to feel convenient or safe. However, that’s where we need to be for continual improvement. As I consider the shifts I’ve made, I recognize that they’re some of the main reasons my students eagerly anticipate returning to school.
Project Based Learning
I’m wholeheartedly committed to flipping education to move beyond mandated programs. My goal is to immerse students into authentic, relevant, real-world problem solving, and empower students to own the direction of their learning. I’m incredibly fortunate to have been trained and to be provided with ongoing training in PBL by the Buck Institute for Education. Through my journey I’ve noticed that when students develop their own driving questions it propels their research, and they begin to crave learning including the next steps of their project. What I observed this fall exceeded my expectations. In all transparency, our class also hit rough patches. There were times when my students looked to me in search of direction or answers. Similarly, as educators we experienced moments where we had to go back to our training notes as we collaborated to reconsider our process. As a team we hit several moments of discomfort because it was so different than our classic ELA block. While we always utilize best instructional strategies and structures for learning, PBL definitely took us in a whole new direction. For me, it was refreshing. As for the students, it’s evident that they’re more cognitively engaged within PBL. During this winter break they’ve continued researching and posting links for their peers to respond to around their PBL focus on our Edmodo page. The depth of knowledge, success skills, and vocabulary that they have developed is incredible.
Makerspace
When we started, students required reassurance that what they chose to design was their choice. They had to solve problems that arose along the way, but they knew that I was there to support them. Using inquiry as a driving force students worked through many issues. They’re constantly learning how to appropriately interact and converse with peers during challenging times. As our makerspace grows I am devoted to carving out time for students to wonder, explore, and create. Makerspaces provide opportunities for students to create, build prototypes, explore questions, fail and retry, develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, bounce ideas off one another and collaborate on building together. Innovative thinking blossoms in makerspaces.
Innovation Time
Last school year students had opportunities to explore their passions, and share their projects with peers through a variety of presentation methods. This school year I’ll be integrating innovation time more purposefully within the second half of the school year. Sure, students have a lot of choices in class. Within PBL students have ownership over their driving questions, method of presentation, and community contacts. However, I want to extend learning to be increasingly student centered. During the second half of this school year learners will have opportunities to identify and explore their passions with purpose. As I reflect on the first half of the year I feel that beginning with PBL and makerspace has set the stage for students to continue forward into innovation time. They all share a similar philosophy and compliment one another well.
Culture of a Growth Mindset Embedded in Relationships
Fostering and continuously nurturing a culture of a growth mindset embedded in relationships has been one of the biggest factors in allowing PBL, makerspace, and learning in general to be extremely successful. Growth mindset along with relationships is one of the pivotal components that serves as the foundation for all that I work towards. In our learning space you can visibly see and hear that we have a culture of a growth mindset. It’s developed through experiential learning, debriefing, and modeling as well as practicing how to emote through a variety of structures. We also consciously utilize the Habits of Mind and The Leader in Me. During math class students openly share when they’ve made a mistake in order to help their peers learn from what they’ve done. Their peers celebrate them by clapping and making genuine comments. This practice has encouraged students to share out often. Students also use a variety of talk moves to demonstrate that they were either thinking something similar, have something to add on, or new to contribute. All of these simple strategies not only maintain engagement, but also allow students to receive immediate feedback that others are truly listening to them and making connections. Student conversations have developed to be so purposeful that students clarify by asking their team members, “What do you mean by____?” or rephrase by saying, “In other words what you’re saying is_____.” The freedom to make mistakes, question one another, and clear up any misconceptions in a safe environment promotes deeper student learning as they become unguarded and open to risk taking to explore all areas of learning.
Tech as a Tool
Using tech as a tool to foster the four C’s is new for the students who enter my classroom each year, therefore it takes some time to integrate it. This school year students have been exposed to many different types of tech to enhance learning. The tech we’ve utilized has been scaffolded intentionally. We began using tech as formative assessment. Kahoot, Plickers, and Nearpod have been excellent to engage students while also providing quick and accurate feedback for reflection. At the beginning of the year it was messy. Students were unfamiliar with knowing how to login to websites and how to use basic functions on a keyboard. The experience provided me with a wealth of information, and I realized that I needed to back up the instruction more than I had expected. Taking the time to demonstrate, and allowing students opportunities to explore and ask questions made a difference. After working with formative assessment tools, we then picked up Edmodo as a communication and collaboration platform that also allows me to blend learning. Students are now creating and demonstrating their learning using Explain Everything, Prezi, and ThingLink. Once learners grasp how to use tech as a tool, they quickly find ways to integrate it independently and are prepared to choose the appropriate tool when necessary.Coding
While all students participated in the Hour of Code, we as educators cannot just expose students to an hour of code. We need to examine what the needs are of today’s learners. Today’s learners are required to be literate in different ways than yesterday’s learners were expected to be.  Dr. Ryan B. Jackson proposes that coding is the new literacy. I, too, believe that all schools ought to address coding as a significant need in today’s schools.  It’s inspiring to listen to students problem solve as they code, communicate effectively with peers when they hit an obstacle, and the excitement they experience when they overcome barriers.  If you’re tempted to say that this is just one more thing being added in, we need to step back and look at the current job market and contemplate the fact that we don’t know which direction our future will head. Our students are going into a future where many jobs will be newly developed. As educators we need to reevaluate what the greatest needs in our students are, and how we can reshape schools with flexible scheduling and interdisciplinary learning to promote innovative practices.

Enter a New Frontier
As we move forward into the new year we need to support one another as educators, and be fearless in the pursuit of what’s best for students. Yes, it can be uncomfortable to take on new initiatives, but it’s exhilarating too. By crafting a clear vision with a focus that is student centered, you will surely find your footing. Consider how you will enter this new frontier as an advocate for learners. We are the change, together we make the difference.