Encouraging Student Voice


School starts in about a week. I have spent the past five days in professional development sessions. Hardware, web based,  students in trauma, students in poverty (in this session the speaker suggested we teach them the rules of the upper classes so they can be successful. This guy was a bag of some sort) the gifted learner, the reluctant or under performing learner Class Flow, Promethean Boards, Depth and Complexity, student polling, Flipgrid, social justice with picture books, preaching equity prophets ( good stuff there!),Safe Spaces, just to mention a few.  While almost all the sessions offered good stuff, the thing I really want to encourage this year is class discussion but mostly authentic student voice. So its the top of my syllabus. 

Image result for professional development meme

Class discussions

We are going to talk a lot! Sometimes it will be pairing and sharing. Sometimes it will be table groups.Sometimes we will do circle discussions. We will learn how to talk, and listen to others. Sometimes they will be about history, current events, and sometimes you will decide. (from my 2019-2020 syllabus)

Developing Student Voice

  Last year I tried Restorative Justice, and other types of reflective circles. What I found was, kids who liked to talk, talked. Classes that were already good listeners, participated well. 

But what really flummoxed me, so many of my students were  reluctant to speak or listen. Some voices were loud and off topic. Some drowned out others. Few could sit still long enough for the 30 plus kids to take their turn with the talking piece. Large groups of kids would pass with Cheshire cat grins allowing the process to fall flat. This would oft quiet others.


My big take away from last year is I need to start with small discussions and help kids develop skills and comfort levels at the same time.

My big take away from last year is I need to start with small discussions and help kids develop skills and comfort levels at the same time.  First  I am going to do ice breakers that allow kids to list the three things they want people to know about them, then the three things they want to know about others. These will be compiled and used in concentric circle discussions in a speed dating situation. Students will take turns asking and answering the questions we used the day before.

We will also do BigPaper Discussions to give kids a chance to talk in situations that are not so socially charged.

From here we are going to try Discussion Wheels. Over a period of weeks kids will have an entry task of coming in, sitting with a specific discussion partner (determined by the day of the week) and have a 3 minute conversation. 

Student A will ask B the days question:

  • If you had $200 and you had to spend it in 4 equal parts, what do you think you would buy/do with it?
  • What is the best meal/food you ever had in your life, and talk about where you were and why you were eating it?
  • What was something fun you did in school that was related to learning? ( Can someone reword this for me to get an answer?)
  • If you could spend the day with any fictional character, ( cartoon, super hero, tv, movies, books) who would you hang out with and what are three things you would like to do?

Discussion Wheels and Slant

Partner A is to use active listening techniques like SLANT and record the main points from the speakers answer using a document we are calling a discussion wheel.  Part of the exercise will be like Save the Last Word for Me activity. The questioner will have to listen during the timed response of speaker. They won’t get to ask questions unless the speaker is very stuck. They may ask a follow up after the speaker is finished, As the activity moves forward over the weeks, a follow up will be a required part of the exercise. The process then flips to partner B.

Finally I need a bit of a crutch to keep me honest. The Discussion Wheel acticty is a great idea from a fellow teacher. We will be instituting it in both our classes. I also came across an online challenge that peaked my interest. Its important to find some support with instructional strategies. This way you hit the wall, you have someone to talk to, or help you to decide what to do next. 

Slaying the Mic

I discovered Jan Gamble, Slayer of the Mic  on Twitter. She is offering a challenge to engage kids in discussion and encourage student voice. The idea behind the challenge is to have a weekly activity to encourage student voice in the month of September. At the end we are to reflect on the differences that may come about from a month of sustained activities.

One of the best parts is her use of video responses to share instructions and encouragement. She shared with me she will have videos that are for teachers AND students. Her energy is contagious and having another voice in the room (one that is much more fun than mine!) to cheer lead and inspire is awesome! So I will be taking tips from her challenge and sharing results in my next post.

So to recap, this is How I Would Teach It…

  1. Have kids determine questions to discuss that are meaningful to them.
  2. Use a quick informal strategy like concentric circles to help kids to get to know each other and talk.
  3. Use a strategy like Big Paper o have students communicate non verbally in a quiet environment(Getting comfortable with considering other students comments and getting comfortable with quiet
  4. Learning the S.L.A.N.T technique and then starting the Discussion Wheel Practice on a consistent basis. 
  5. Help keep yourself engaged in the face of setbacks. Find a teacher who is trying the same strategy. Sign up for the #STMJR challenge in September,

Looking forward to making this a successful year of student voices. I’ll share at the end of September where we are at. Happy Teaching!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s