After the recent NECC conference in Atlanta, several edu-blogs noted the absence of students participating in any meaningful way, with some calls for student participation in future conferences, and advocating organized student blogging.
We’re certainly glad to have some company in this cause! We’ve had Genertion YES students participating at NECC and other conferences for many years and this year at the Constructivist Celebration. I’ll be posting some of those reflections soon, but for now, I think it’s important to share some of the things we’ve learned about student voice over the last 10 years.
Generation YES was founded by Dr. Dennis Harper (see Edutopia article) on the idea that including students in the process of improving education is crucial, and that technology is a natural vehicle for that expression. The work we do with schools helps them start sustainable programs that create authentic opportunities for students to collaborate with adults and do projects that integrate technology. The key though, is that the research we base our programs on, and the research we do on our own schools shows strongly that DOING something is the key to student voice and student empowerment.
Student “voice” does not have anything to with talking (or blogging.) It’s about empowerment with a purpose — where students are guided by caring adults through the process of long term, meaningful change. When we offer opportunities to students to come to events like NECC, we don’t consider that empowerment. Students don’t have any stake in these conferences, and although they enjoy coming to these events (praise, lots of goodies, getting out of school, etc) the real empowerment happened back at their school.
Wikipedia offers an excellent article on student voice, well worth reading. “Student voice is the individual and collective perspective and actions of young people within the context of learning and education. It is identified in schools as both a metaphorical practice and as a pragmatic concern.“
“Pragmatic concern” is a polite way to say that it’s a challenging effort that involves working against entrenched attitudes and traditional views that youth should be “seen but not heard”. It can also be the most insanely rewarding work in the world.
Adam Fletcher, coordinator of Soundout.org, is someone we work with in this arena, in fact, we used to share office space. The Soundout.org website has great resources, tools, and publications, all free. It’s not easy to create a climate for true student voice in schools, but resources like this and the work of dedicated educators can help pave the way.