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Blog: Thursday, April 18th, 2019

Strengthening Student Voice

By Dr. Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

You will not be surprised to know that with the redesigned curriculum, many districts have found interesting ways to enhance student voice. In essence, this simply means giving students more say in their education. If you think about the most powerful and engaging educational experience you have had, I would guarantee you that you had some choice in selecting the event and how you participated in it. It is basic human nature and is it backed up by decades of research: Students (and adults) will enjoy and find learning more meaningful if they are given some choice in what and how they learn. With fewer learning outcomes, the redesigned BC curriculum is replete with opportunities for teachers to find areas for students to develop mastery in areas that genuinely speak to their learning needs.

Many of you will know that I meet with teams of teachers in each of the schools that I visit, and the first point of discussion relates to what has changed in classrooms as a consequence of the curricular changes. Among the more common things that teachers tell me is that they are less anchored to content, can focus more on competencies, and utilize assessments that are more closely connected to the capabilities and interests of their students. This is music to my ears.

I came across an article recently that outlines the work of teachers in a school hoping to give students a greater voice in their learning experiences. The teachers in this particular school had a goal to improve student engagement (attendance was awful) and wanted to create more equitable classrooms, where more student voices would be honoured. Among the strategies they decided to use was to ask students for feedback about the effectiveness of their lessons, and the extent to which they met their learning targets. Teachers chose from a menu of key practices to engage students on a deeper level with learning tasks. Students were also taught about effective and appropriate ways to provide feedback to teachers about their learning tasks.

You might wonder why on earth teachers would do such a thing, and ask what benefit this could possibly produce. One would only need to scan the faces of students in our classrooms to see the answer to this question. Our classes are as diverse as they have ever been, and unless we can bring the lived experiences of our students into our rooms, schools will remain as but a compliance exercise for students. Students need to see their lives in the classroom curriculum. If we want classrooms where kids feel like they belong and have agency, then we must teach students how to take responsibility for their learning and then allow them to demonstrate it, every day.

Both the teachers and students in this school have reported that this approach has been quite successful. Attendance in classrooms providing feedback to teachers has gone up noticeably (go figure that you will attend classes where your opinion is respected!). Achievement has improved also. Equally important, the teachers and students have reported that there is a more profound sense of community in their classrooms, particularly for marginalized students. Students from minority groups (i.e., racial, ethnic, etc.) have reported that they have a greater sense of belonging. Students feel like they belong because their opinion matters, and they are finding success.

While the idea of bringing students inside the circle and asking them about their learning experiences might sound scary for some, it is an excellent way for making schools a place that is more genuinely committed to learning for each child.

By Dr. Kevin Godden
Dr. Kevin Godden
Dr. Kevin Godden

By Dr. Kevin Godden, Superintendent of Schools

Kevin has been the Superintendent of Schools for the Abbotsford School District since July 2011, overseeing some 19,000 students and 2,500 employees. Kevin is committed to student success in all forms and envisions a school district that can nimbly respond to the ever changing needs and interests of its students.