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Out of the Mouths of Babes: Strategies to Empower Student Voice

I spend much of my free time reading blogs and watching videos from brilliant educators sharing ideas on transforming education. However a voice I wish I could hear more often is that of the student. Recently I've begun to focus on exploring more ways to increase student voice and self-efficacy. How can we teach students that they not only have a voice, but that they have the power to affect their own education? And by students, I mean all students - of all ages. Below are a few ways my colleagues and I have been able to amplify our K-12 students' voices and empower their ideas. (And yes - all of these ideas have been road tested successfully with students as young as Kindergarten!)

Twitter Tuesday

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Every Tuesday the students get a prompt about a curricular topic or a school theme. They can either discuss it whole-class with someone taking notes, or via a chat program on their devices. After they've had time to synthesize their thoughts, they take to Twitter to share their thinking with the world. It's amazing to see folks from a myriad of backgrounds and locations respond to our students and push their thinking. For younger kids, try GroupTweet, a service that moderates student tweets and allows for safe-Twitter use for kids under 13. While this is something I did in isolation with my students when I was a classroom teacher, it truly became powerful the following year when my colleagues Anita Huffman and Autumn Laidler made it a school-wide event. Now students around the building tweet to one another's classrooms, connecting cross-grades and building a stronger school culture.

Blogging

Blogging is another great way for our students to be heard. Kidblog.org allows students to blog in a safe environment, moderated by their teacher. Oftentimes teachers will tweet out their students' blogs under the hashtag #comments4kids to garner responses from other educators on their students' posts. Another option is Quadblogging.net. This is a great site that connects four classrooms across the world, teaming them up to read and comment on one another's blogs. After all, a blog that no one reads is just a diary.

Live Tweeting EdTech Events

This idea comes from Auburn, ME's Leveraging Learning Conference. Tech Coordinator Carl Bucciantini supported his middle schoolers as they live-tweeted the entire 2012 event from various school Twitter accounts. Two students went to each session and used Today's Meet as a back channel to preview tweets with their peer-editors (who sat in a central room, moderating tweets for consistency, grammar and message). Once the peer-editor approved the tweet, the student posted it on Twitter. As a result, not only could any educator in the world follow the amazing learning and ideas from the event, but the students brought a higher level of authenticity to the professional learning.  We attend these events to become better teachers and discuss how schools can be improved for students... but how often do we have students there?

App Speed Dating

This is another Auburn, ME original, coming from Mauri Dufour and her colleagues. At their conference, Mauri's kindergarteners led groups of teachers through quick, hands-on app workshops. After seeing this, I brought the idea back to Chicago and have used the concept many times to support both teachers and students in learning apps in a fun, constructive way. Each student sits at a table with 5-6 iPads, all pre-loaded with their app. As participants come into the room, they get a number and sit at their designated table. When the first buzzer goes off, the students have 3-5 minutes (depending on the total session time) to help the participants explore the app and learn how they use it in class. When the buzzer rings again, participants move on to the next station! My colleague Kristin Ziemke pushed this idea up a notch by giving her 1st graders business cards to hand out at the end of the session! We've used this idea as well, giving our kids cards with a QR code that links to their blogs or classroom Twitter handles! 

Presenting at EdTech Events

Beyond live-tweeting EdTech professional learning conferences and doing app-speed dating sessions, consider having your students present sessions at PD events. We've had our students both co-present and solo-lead sessions about their learning, what they think works in schools and how they think schools need to improve. From presenting their Problem-Based Learning process to discussing engagement and gamification, Kindergarten-12th grade students across our district have literally stepped up to the mic and stolen the show at conferences. While these sessions are not only incredibly engaging, it is also so powerful to hear from a student why a specific pedagogy works.

These are just a few ideas - hopefully one or more struck a chord with you. If you decide to try one of these strategies, or have one of your own, please share in the comments below!

Also - in the next month, I will begin to share more about student voice by featuring student guest bloggers here. Stay tuned to hear their opinions on EdTech and transformative learning!

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