Saturday, November 22, 2014

Three Ways to Give Your Students a Voice in the Classroom

Gone are the days that teachers stood in front of the room and taught the entire class a lesson while the students sat in their desks and listened quietly...or are they?  Sadly, this is not the case.  Many classrooms still focus on discipline, control, and fact based learning even though our students today are making it abundantly clear that this isn't working.

After becoming a connected educator and realizing that I didn't have to continue to teach at my students but could learn with them, I began to see that they want to learn.  They want to share ideas, thoughts, and even their feelings about what is going on in the classroom.  But they are waiting for the opportunity.  They are waiting for someone...anyone, to ask them for their feedback.

I wanted to take some time to share three easy ways that I give my students voice in my classroom. I am by no means an expert on the topic but I have found that by using these strategies, my classroom has become a place that my students want to be.  They feel welcomed, comfortable, and know that they are valued.

1.  Ask them.
The best way to give students voice in the classroom is to ask questions.  Ask for feedback after your lesson.  Give them an opportunity to share what worked and what didn't work.  This can be done with exit tickets or even a quick survey using Socrative or PollEverywhere.

Rebecca Alber wrote a great post titled 5 Powerful Questions Teachers Can Ask Students in which she shares how to ask simple, but meaningful questions in your classroom.  She also addresses tone and ensuring that students feel like we are asking the question sincerely and not trying to make a statement.

Ask your students how they learn best.  Give them an opportunity to find how they learn best by offering a variety of activities.  Encourage them to pay attention to their engagement level and share why or why not they feel like they've learned during a particular activity or lesson.

Believe it or not, students are willing to assess their own learning.  They know, better than anyone, if a lesson was successful or a complete waste of time.   Sometimes, as teachers, we are afraid to ask for their feedback because we don't like criticism.  However, I would much rather know what works for my students than spend day after day doing things that aren't working.

2.  Listen to them.
If you ask your students for their feedback or ideas but don't listen, then it was all for nothing.  When students share their thoughts, it's so important that we really listen to them and act on what they have shared.

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So often when students are sharing, we are thinking about how we are going to reply.  We focus on what we will say, how we will react, or what we will do.  Instead of focusing on our reply, we should be listening to understand our students...understand how they are feeling, understand what they are sharing, and understand where they are coming from.

You can show students that are you are listening by taking their suggestions seriously.  If students say that a particular concept is not coming across clearly, try something different.  Make an effort to understand their perspective and why they are having difficulty understanding.

3.  Know them.
Knowing your students well is so important if you want to provide a meaningful and engaging learning environment for them.  In order to give them what they need, we must have knowledge of what they enjoy, what they don't enjoy, how they learn, and where they come from.

We can get to know our students in so many ways.  Student-teacher conferences are a great way to get to know your students.  Sitting down and talking with them gives them an opportunity to be themselves.  They are able to be "real" and just talk about what is important to them.

Offering choice and paying attention to student choices is another great way to get to know your students.  Genius Hour in my classroom gives me great insight into my students' passions and perspective.  They are willing to share and have meaningful conversations when we are talking about things that are relevant to them.  Giving them choice gives me an opportunity to know my students' preferences when learning.

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Knowing that a student is gifted or a struggling reader is important.  However, knowing what they need in your classroom in order to be successful is more important.  Find out what makes them tick, what inspires them, and what questions they have.

Our students deserve a voice in their learning.  They need to know that they are heard and that we want them to learn in ways that are meaningful for them.  In giving students a voice in the classroom, we give them value.  We give them an opportunity to be responsible and to understand that learning is more than watching someone talk while you pretend to listen.  Real learning is about connecting, engaging, and finding meaning.

Our students know what they need, they know how they learn best.  They are just waiting for an opportunity to speak up and share their voice.  It's time for us, as teachers and the rest of the education community to start listening.


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