What is Student Voice?

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.

The Fischbowl – NECC Reflection #1: Where were the students?
Beyond School – “Where are the Students?” Redux: Beyond NECC (A Tirade Against Infantilization)

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.

6 Replies to “What is Student Voice?”

  1. Hi Clay,
    Generation YES works on two levels.

    1. We have a dream 😉 We’ve aggregated a lot of free resources about student empowerment, specifically about how students can be involved in improving technology use in schools. They are all over the main website at http://www.genyes.com

    2. We have a scheme 😉 To feed the kiddies, we sell services for schools who want to follow a well developed, well researched model that guides them through the change process. Dennis Harper, who started Generation YES, used to go around doing keynotes and invited sessions until he noticed that although everyone “loved” the message, nothing changed. So by inventing a process, tools, curriculum, etc. that schools can adopt, the message hopefully is “stickier”.

    So how do you get involved? I’d be happy to talk to you about dreams or schemes, you can reach me at sylvia at genyes.com.

  2. Thanks, Sylvia, I’ll check it out. Thought it was more of a grass-roots thing, though. So this is something I have to ask my admin to support? Or am I off the mark?

    I like your post above very much. I see getting the adults to listen to, read, and respond to the younger adults – because who are we kidding, adolescents are as capable as many a legal adult – as a first step. Right now, the adults educators are stuck in “Us and Them” mode.

    But student blogging is by no means the end-all. Just one way to begin.

  3. While attending NECC this year I also noticed a major asset to education missing, the students! The Generation YES booth was the only booth at I saw that included students to play part in this enormous event. I understand that NECC is for educators of all kinds but why exclude students when learn from each other and educating each other.

    While talking to the students from Barber Middle School in our booth many asked, ” Where are all the students?” and I said ” good question.” They continued to ask more and more questions about the conference and it’s purpose. I said, ” This conference is really for you guys. All these educators and vendors are here to improve you school experience”.

    Once student then asked, ” Why don’t they ask us?” and I said ” Well, why don’t you ask them? Ask the people at ISTE the things you are asking me.” The conversation grew to a discussion and the students were pouring out ideas and reasons why and how students can be involved in conferences.

    I encouraged the students from Barber Middle School to utilize their student voice. I ensured them that Generation YES would support them in anyway we can in getting their voices heard.

    Nice Post Sylvia!

  4. I am enjoying learning about GenYES!

    I am coordinator of the Student Voices initiative for Education|Evolving ( http://www.educationevolving.org/studentvoices ). We integrate student voices with current major topics in education policy. We also maintain an online clearinghouse of student voices on ed policy and produce Student Voices on Video, an effort to document unconventional learning from the perspective of students.

    I am also involved with http://www.StudentsSpeakOut.org , an effort coordinated by the Citizens League in the Twin Cities. It is a social networking site where students and adults in Minneapolis discuss the Minneapolis district’s enrollment decline (by 10,000 in the past 5 years). What are the causes and consequences? What can be done? Some adults initially worried that it would be a “hate site” but the opposite has been true. Some highly constructive civic discourse is taking place. And some excellent documentation of student voice.

    I think students have a tremendous stake in conferences like NECC. The outcomes impact them, ultimately…to me, this means they have the most stake!

    Unfortunately, we don’t make a significant effort to engage them or to integrate their input at conferences, etc. I agree that empowerment happens elsewhere, though!

  5. You might be interested in a paper I put together called Tech Savvy Students Stuck in Text Dominated Schools. It’s at the Education|Evolving Student Voices site I mentioned above.

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