10 Tools For Student Voice

My story of using tools for student voice begins with listening to my students. I try to provide them with as much input as to how they will be educated as possible, and it's no different when it comes to using one technology choice over another.

This focus on what the students say, of course, is at the heart of student voice. They can't control everything that happens in school, but, given the right opportunity, their education can become something far more meaningful than a prescribed set of standards to master.

Here's what my students have taught me about technology.

1. Twitter

When instruction calls for social media, student identity is wide open to the world. Twitter is as authentic as it gets for microblogging student responses, and it's also the riskiest.

The first time I tried to use Twitter for an assignment, I didn't predict that a student may not want to do it. I thought it would work as well as Enrique Lagaspi's history class I saw on YouTube the day before.

The girl told me that I couldn't make her, and she was right. To my defense, I was still in the "Tigger stage" of being excited about the novelty of using digital technology in the classroom. I hadn't thought much about the consequences or issues we would face. I was as naive and excited as it gets.

I was just lucky that a student felt confident enough to speak up to the issue in class. She literally stopped me in my tracks. I didn't hide any of my surprise or confusion. It was like the wind was taken from my #edtech sail and every student knew it. So I turned it into a teachable moment, for me, especially.

The next day, I made "Twitta" on Google Forms.

2. Google Forms

Switching to Forms solved the social risk issue that I had not previously considered. This was the first time I used forms to collect responses from students. It was messy at first, but it was obvious that the power of student contributions is inherently engaging.

These days, Forms is much nicer to look at since you can view responses within the form as opposed to always going to the response sheet. It saves transition time during instructional activities, for sure.

5 Steps to Google Forms in Lieu of Twitter

3. Today's Meet

Since forms didn't give us the look that I was looking for, I searched for edtech tools like Twitter and found Today's Meet. The simplicity was huge, and it worked on mobile browsers, which was what most students were using in my 2014 classroom.

Here are some activities you can try with Today's Meet.

4. Padlet 

Padlet is different than Today's Meet because it allows users to make posts with more options. Without getting into all of the options, I particularly like the ability of students to glance back and forth at all of the posts like a virtual chalkboard or message board. Keep in mind that it's all about student contributions and therefore supporting development of student voice.

Perhaps you use the chalk talk strategy. Use Padlet to collect student responses, and keep the results for future contributions and revisiting for reflection. When the learning content is captured and accessible, we can maximize how deep the learning can go. If you aren't going to the revisit the work, skip the digital technology.

5. Remind

Virtual office hours is a turn off for some teachers, but not me. I wouldn't be a teacher if I didn't want my students to continue learning beyond the brick and mortar. It's the ultimate goal, isn't it?

Remind allows my students to text me via the Remind app at anytime, within reason. It's the fastest way for me to respond, and it's their preferred mode of communication. In this way, the choice of using the app and texting is a reflection of the power of student voice. It works for them, so that's what we use.

6. Poll Everywhere

Some users are are not happy with the response limit. I'm not bothered by it because my class sizes are reasonable for the tool. We use the word cloud to focus vocabulary instruction and the ranking tool to evaluate thesis statements, to name a couple of examples.

Like most people, I am not satisfied when we cannot get to all of the student responses. It makes individuals feel like it was all for nothing, which can be toxic to student voice. The ways my students use Poll Everywhere allows every response to count while focusing our time on the most critical issues among the student responses.

The video below shows how to import Poll Everywhere into Google Slides.

7. Google Drive

Share a link to a Drive folder with editing permissions. I add other folders inside depending what I want my students to share. For example, my students add images to a unit images summary folder. I give them the enduring understandings, and they add content from the Web that they think is relevant.

This exercise is quick and replaces a lot of my slide presentations. I don't abandon the slide presentation altogether because it's a great way to model to the students the kinds of images that I expect them to contribute. Plus, if I want to show certain images in a sequence, I rename the images to take advantage of the alpha-numeric ordering of files in the folder.

In this case, choice is voice.

8. Verso

If there's one tool that's the more powerful and age-appropriate for activating student voice, it's definitely Verso App. The special feature is anonymity. Students can argue their points with classmates while their identity is only know to the teacher.

When it comes to activating student voice, the ability for learners to speak without the judgement flying at them is crucial to developing one's efficacy and approach to conflicting views.

For more on Verso App, here's a list of 15 activities with video accompaniment.

9. Blogger

Reflection and sharing is key to developing one's own voice. Blogging serves several purposes. Here's a few off the top of my head.

(1) It's a space to be honest and vulnerable. People may comment harshly about your work, and that only means that individuals can practice responding appropriately. A lot growth can happen when emotions run high and cooler heads prevail in the final decision.

(2) Blogs are good for floating parts of projects that you're working on. It's better to get feedback during the project than at the end. Maybe you are working on posters for a public service announcement, and feedback on the images would be helpful. Share it with people and ask for their honest opinion.

(3) Writing and conversing makes us more fluent writers, readers, thinkers, and learners. More than anything, I want my students to learn how to learn. Authentic writing opportunities are a great way to learn. It's why I do it.

10. Flipgrid

Flipgrid is a tool that organizes student video responses in a discussion format. It has a lot of potential for developing routines that transfer to responsible digital citizenship habits and allows students to exercise spoken language.

Even though video is so easy to produce, I'm not convinced that everyone realizes how powerful it can be for learning. When I make a video for a YouTube upload, for example, I watch and rerecord before posting my best. This process is where the learning happens. I set goals that get me to producing one take that's smooth and casual without too many tries.

The repeated evaluation while creating the video is an opportunity to grow as a public speaker, not just for video production. Since the video does not hide the imperfections, I've experienced a lot of public speaking growth. I'm more aware of what I say and how I fill (or don't fill) the space when I'm searching for the right words. "Like" and "um" can get out of hand.

Although I have only used Flipgrid a few times, I plan to use it more this semester. It's tough, however, because I'm asking for my students to be vulnerable, whether they like it or not. My plan is to talk about this with them openly and set some expectations about how we interact. Since I now feel more ready to support them when they are vulnerable, I think it will be more successful than my previous attempt a couple of years ago. Teacher efficacy is everything when it comes to using any strategy.

Thanks for reading. I hope that you are considering the power of student voice to engage your students. If you have any ideas that work or things you wish to share, please write a comment. Your contribution will help other readers, as well.