In the last week and half, one of my most disengaged students has started asking me to change our learning spaces. We had been discussing another topic and he suddenly brought this question up. So in an attempt to get him more involved in our learning, I started questioning him about his idea. At first he wasn’t sure about how to articulate it but a few days later in my PBL feedback sheet, he wrote down his ideas. He said that not everyone learnt the same way: some wanted a quiet space, others to work with their friends and that this could change depending on what unit we were learning.
So the next day when we had English, he suggested we go outside the classroom to the green area (or piazza as it is referred to by teachers) as it was a beautiful sunny day. This space is in between all the buildings, has fake grass and a few benches. It is like a mini outdoor theatre with steps on one side. So without hesitation I decided to listen to him and took my group of students outside. They quickly arranged themselves in the area, with the boys lying on the fake grass and the girls on benches. We were working on an essay for “Holes” and in my mind it really wasn’t the ideal place to teach them to write an essay. However to my surprise, they worked well in that space (once papers had stopped flying). The boys who are my reluctant writers, stayed in one area without moving around and worked solidly for the next 50 minutes. I moved from group to group and they stayed on task. Since that day, they have been more eager to work and have realised that I am willing to listen to their ideas. When the weather improves I know I will be taking them out again. In previous years I would have immediately vetoed the idea, but now I know that listening to my students’ voices, I can get them more involved in their learning.
Student voice is important in the classroom these days. Teachers are aware that it is vital that students have a say in the way they learn. Gone are the days when the teachers dictated how learning would happen in the classroom. As a teacher I see the value in getting students’ opinion because it helps to understand how they learn. They need to be able to share their thoughts and ideas of what learning looks like to them and how they would like to like to learn at school.
Bill Palmer’s article on Edutopia states by giving students a voice, it increases their “achievement and engagement”. Students who take responsibility and ownership in their own learning, have a more vested interest in what they are doing. The conversations with the teachers benefit both of them as there is a shared understanding of what learning should look like. By giving students a voice it helps teachers to personalise the learning for each student.
In our house (my school is divided into 7 houses), the Assistant House Leader has been actively working with our students to find out who they are as learners. It took me a while to realise that I also needed to learn how my students learn. When my AHL carried out the “Who Am I as a Learner” activities, I paid close attention and went over the data she collated. It was interesting to see the information as a teacher. Whilst I talked to my students on a regular basis, I didn’t really understand how they learned and what they wanted to see happen in the classroom. As a student myself, I had no voice as I was in a traditional classroom and that was they way we were taught. If my teachers knew how I learnt, maybe I wouldn’t have struggled so much at school. I can change the way I teach by listening to my students’ and shaping my practice to incorporate their suggestions.
All around our house, our students’ understanding of themselves as learners is starting to be displayed. This allows us, their teachers, to know who they are and how they like to learn. This helps us in our planning and gives us the opportunity to create lessons that are engaging and influenced by student voices.
Palmer, Bill, “Including Student Voice”, http://www.edutopia.org/blog/sammamish-2-including-student-voice-bill-palmer, accessed 13th September 2014