4 Ways to Activate Student Voice

Developing your voice is very personal. It takes practice to find the words that best convey to the world who you are in such a way that establishes your authority and purpose. But this is not without stress, of course.

We fill our heads with preconceptions about our audience's response, and the implications in classrooms can be detrimental. For many kids, teenagers especially, the risk of damaging one's image is not worth openly participating in an academic conversation.
  • They may get it wrong. 
  • They may get laughed at. 
  • They may get it right and still get laughed at.
What if we establish a culture that initially focuses on the ideas, not the person? How would it empower individuals to become more confident while engaging in problem-solving?

I've been using these questions to guide my lesson planning because I want my students to build self-confidence and develop a growth mindset. Ultimately, we want them to solve problems that communities face, but it starts by solving real problems, like building confidence, in peer groups and other social settings.

Here's a handful of activities that's activated student voice in my classroom.

1. The Wall

Last year, I decided that we would focus on writing by mastering each piece one step at a time. This chunking approach led to the creation of the Tack Board and Magnetic Whiteboards (shown below).

The increase of student contributions to the lesson content meant more formative feedback, which became the focus of our discussions. Activities like this infuse assessment and practice into the learning process. They are the epitome of formative assessment.

Click here for further explanation about how we use The Wall.

2. Collaborative Note-Taking

I've seen kids – who won't write a note for themselves – work bell to bell to ensure that they write the best notes possible for their classmates. If that doesn't point to how powerful audience can be, then I don't know what would.

Encourage students to incorporate their own style as long as it is appropriate, includes the crucial information, and doesn't distract from accomplishing academic goals.

Click here for 5 EdTech tools for collaborative notes.

3. Verso App

Verso has figured out how to alleviate issues related to audience anxiety by making responses anonymous while increasing interaction. 

The platform is simple. Students start with a rich content piece and respond to a question (or provocation). They comment on the responses and can also "Like" comments and responses.

The data is reported for individual students and for overall activities (called flips) as shown in the image below. The blue is commentary participation and the green is how many "likes" a user received. I interpret the green as the more beneficial or relevant contributions. It's what the students want to achieve by doing the activity. 

If there's an issue with a response, comment, or a conspicuous amount of "likes" something receives, students can flag for teacher review – anonymously, of course. Someone always points out the dishonesty, especially when I remind them. 

Click here for more about confidence and anonymity with Verso.

4. Self-Assessment and Reflection

Students need the opportunity to express how well they think they are doing. I give my students a standards-based self reflection that they complete after summative assessments. It includes a 1-4 scale and a goal writing expectation. 

When I return their marked papers, they compare their self-reflection to my feedback and write a personal academic goal to focus their improvement in the next unit. 

The Take Away

The more I learn about the importance of student voice and ways to exercise different audiences, the closer my classes get to achieving student ownership of the learning. This is not something that can be done without focusing on ways to make thinking visible, sharing ideas efficiently, and developing growth mind sets.