We, as educators, want to nurture students who will grow into independent, confident learners, with a deeper understanding of the world around them, and the opportunities available to them as they prepare for the future. How do we do this? One way is to give them opportunities to practice making choices and decisions and to reflect on those outcomes. A place to start is listening to student voices.
“Student voice” can be seen as a metaphor for student engagement and participation in issues that matter to learning. Teachers who embrace a culture of student voice are setting the foundation for teen learners to take responsibility for their own education. Young people have unique perspectives on learning, teaching, and schooling and, when given the opportunity to become decision-makers, are eager to engage.
Student voices are strengthened and become more confident when teachers establish a classroom culture that welcomes the viewpoint of their teen students. A “listening classroom” is built on a supportive community in which students feel safe, respected, and assured that their voices will be heard.
The "Listening Classroom"
When teachers ask questions and are genuinely curious about what students have to say, they communicate care for their students. Questioning and deliberative listening can overcome the negative experiences many teens have already had. Listening is a powerful way to model a culture of mutual respect among students.
In a “listening classroom,” students learn and practice questioning and reflection skills. For example, Socratic questioning and discussions require that students actively participate in a challenging debate on a topic, and give critical feedback to one another. When teachers spend time on reflection and feedback, they ensure that listening is as valued as speaking. Teens find the learning culture to be engaging and empowering.
Educators often struggle to find a way to align students’ intrinsic motivation with the real skills needed to succeed in education and life. When teachers listen to student voice and use it to guide the learning environment, students are assured that they have something of value to offer.
Experiential learning is a problem-based strategy that requires students to collaborate and produce a product together. Each teen has a voice in the design and process of the project. This empowers them to take responsibility for their own learning, and that of others, and to take risks and explore new ideas. Responsibility means owning one's failures and successes—small, medium, and large. Many students develop the maturity necessary to engage fully in their education through this kind of learning experiences.