David Hargreaves defines student voice as a process by which learners come to play a more active role in their education. Adding to this, Pat Thomson suggests that voice is the right for students to express opinions, access people who influence decisions, and exercise active participation in educational decision-making processes. Considering both of these definitions, the term voice is inherently concerned with questions of power. How are decisions made? Who is included, and who is excluded?
When thinking about how educational decisions are made, leaving students out of the conversation may cultivate feelings of distrust – is the education students receive relevant to the world outside the classroom window? Does current pedagogy, curriculum and the learning environments we’ve created reflect an educational experience relevant to 21st century learners? Including student voice in education is a matter of trust – trusting students to have a role in the design, production and assessment of the learning they need to succeed in whatever pursuits they have ambition for.
But what does trust look like? Cultivating student voice in education depends on how the student is heard. Educators presenting learners with a choice of curriculum to follow suggests learners are being listened to, yet the level of trust is questionable as they are merely contributing to and selecting from already established paths. In a relationship of trust, learners progress from contributing to co-creating – the classroom becomes a forum where learners themselves are co-producers of teaching and learning through a collaborative process. This process may include having learners directly involved in curriculum design, in setting learning objectives, and advising their school on, for example, how to use information technology most effectively to drive engagement in classroom activities.
In a time when students are finding their education less meaningful, interesting or important, or frankly boring, trusting student voice in education is more important than ever. To facilitate this relationship of trust, organizations like TakingITGlobal, which I founded as a student in 1999, are supporting educators with professional development and helping youth around the world amplify their voice both inside and outside the classroom through programs like DeforestACTION.
I’m pleased to be hosting this Hot Topic conversation with you on the Partners in Learning Network, and look forward to growing Student Voice with you! I look forward to hearing your thoughts on what you’d like us to explore as we embark on this journey together in the comments below.