The SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum is the only program written for educators to actually engage students as partners to transform our schools.
SoundOut can empower students to improve learning, teaching, and leadership better throughout K-12 schools today!
SoundOut founding director Adam F.C. Fletcher wrote and piloted this curriculum to teach middle and high school students how to change schools. Based on his work with more than 300 schools across the country, this program shows educators how to build student voice in their schools today.
Eight unique modules
200 hours of classroom instruction
24 detailed, practical lesson plans
Designed in actual classes with real students
Shows students how to…
Evaluate themselves and their teachers
Make systemic decisions, and;
Advocate for school improvement
Engaging, hands-on activities are punctuated with fun worksheets, and with a comprehensive teacher’s guide, there are no questions left unanswered. There are also planning guides, assessment tools, and more included.
In more than 20 years of academic research on student engagement, scholars have constantly tried to identify what reflects student engagement. Some studies have focused on teachers’ reflections about student engagement, while others have fixated on supposedly objective perspectives on students’ time-on-task and other observable phenomenon.
When I became Washington state’s first-ever student engagement specialist in 2000, I conducted a three year action research project to identify and advocate for the active, intentional, and practical engagement of every learner throughout K-12 schools. Since then I have supported more than 2,000 schools in their efforts to foster, expand, and sustain student engagement.
SoundOut’s Indicators of Student Engagement
Following are the the five main indicators of student engagement I have identified through my work with SoundOut and beyond.
Academic engagement is repeatedly choosing connection with curriculum, learning, and assessment within schools. Frequently positioned as “book learning” or “classroom learning,” academic engagement is shown through formal, structured, and specific activities and demonstrated through similar outcomes;
Emotional engagement happens through Social Emotional Learning in classrooms and beyond. Emotional engagement is demonstrated through increased emotional intelligence, or EQ, and isn’t simply attached to curriculum. Instead, EQ is reflected in the interplay between classroom, climate, community, and interpersonal / intra-personal exhibition;
Social engagement is reflected in connections students make through peer-to-peer relationships as well as with younger and older students, teachers and administrators, student support staff, and the broader school community. Again reflecting intra-personal engagement, the social indicator of student engagement is a direct reflection of culture and climate throughout the school environment;
Cultural engagement is demonstrated through the continuous connections a student makes to language, history, dance, clothing, songs, and other types of cultural learning experiences within schools and beyond. Its obvious display isn’t the only way cultural engagement happens; rather, it is through stated, obvious, and demonstrable connectivity that students make their engagement known;
Personal engagement is shown through students’ repeated connections to what matters most within themselves and throughout the world around them; and many other forms of student engagement. This is a largely interpersonal indicator, apparent only in the focuses of learners as they demonstrate interest, show consistency, and practice any given area of personal engagement.
All of these types of engagement happen within schools right now. However, with the exception of academic engagement, they are often treated as coincidental to the schooling experience. Research and practice reflected in literature from the last 20 years shows that quite the contrary, these indicators of engagement are essential for learner success in many ways.
With the breadth of student engagement clearly understood, it becomes easier to understand the rampant reality of student disengagement in schools today. This is what makes it essential to radically rethink how students are engaged throughout the education system.
What do you think of these indicators? I would love to read your thoughts and ideas, so share them in the comments. Interested in learning more? See the links below or contact SoundOut right now!
In a climate where more attention is being paid to student voice in the classroom, many are asking how school boards might approach incorporating students into their work in a way that goes beyond inviting someone to report on Homecoming festivities.
Bring SoundOut to your school district or conference for a workshop dedicated to understanding the power of student voice and the possibilities of student representation on the board of education. Adam Fletcher, a leading expert on student voice and representation, explores the benefits, challenges and opportunities for engaging students in the work of boards in a deep and meaningful way.
Workshop outcomes include participants…
Learning what student voice is, what it does, who it is for and how it happens;
Exploring roles for students on school boards, including activities, topics and outcomes that are appropriate for them, and;
Understanding how students are engaged on boards, including recruitment, training, maintaining and evaluating their roles.
For more than 20 years, SoundOut has been supporting Meaningful Student Involvement. But what makes school meaningful for students? After working with thousands of learners in more than 500 K-12 schools across the U.S., Canada and beyond, we have found that there are four steps every school can take.
To make school meaningful for every learner, everywhere, all the time, students should do these steps. Every student should…
Learn about Learning
Learn about Schooling
Learn about Meaning
Learn about Voice
Following is an exploration of each step for how to sound out by making school meaningful for all learners.
Learn about Learning
Learning is treated like a puzzle in schools today, where educators cryptically choose is learned, how its taught, why its important, where learning happens, and what the outcomes should be. However, through Meaningful Student Involvement students deliberately learn what learning is and why it matters; how learning happens and how they learn best; they choose when and where learning happens; and students themselves select who can teach them and what they want to learn.
Instead of acting as a sage-on-the-stage, teachers become learning facilitators and coaches whose mission is to help infuse the love of education into the hearts and minds of all learners. In places where Meaningful Student Involvement happens, starting at the earliest ages, students become empowered, engaged co-facilitators for themselves and their peers, interacting across grade levels and beyond individual topics to experience entwined learning across curricular areas in order to have rich, holistic learning experiences. Constructivist approaches ensure appropriate learning occurs, while jointly identified learning goals encourage student ownership and student agency throughout school. Learning about learning is the first step toward Meaningful Student Involvement for all learners, everywhere, all the time.
Learn about Schooling
Almost every student goes through schools without understanding what they are part of, why it matters, and how it operates. Instead, they go through the education system with the expectation that at some point they’ll be finished. Rather than being the passive recipients of adult-driven decision-making, all students of all abilities in all grade levels can become active, engaged, and equitable partners with educators and parents throughout the entire educative process. Starting in kindergarten and extending through to graduation, learning about schooling includes understanding the structure of the education system; the practices throughout the entire educational journey; the outcomes of schools; and the surrounding factors that make schooling a necessary and productive part of everyone’s learning in life. Learning about schooling is the second step towards engaging all students everywhere through Meaningful Student Involvement.
Learn about Meaning
Making meaning in our lives, our learning, and schooling should be the core of every students’ experience in K-12 education. As students learn about their attitudes and abilities, they should come to understand the meaning of what they’re acquiring starting in kindergarten, and why it matters all the way through graduation. When they understand why schooling matters for themselves, students can do almost anything necessary in order to learn. This is completely opposite from how many schools address meaningfulness today; instead, they act as if students need to be able to do anything demanded of them without any sense of purpose or meaning. SoundOut’s approach to Meaningful Student Involvement is contingent on students finding the meaning of their schooling experience, no matter what age or ability they have. This is the third step.
Learn about Voice
The last step in Meaningful Student Involvement happens when students learn about student voice; that is, any expression of any student about anything related to learning, schools, and education. When students learn what student voice is, how student voice is shared, why student voice matters, and who student voice is shared by and for, students find the deepest possible meaning and purpose for schooling. This can allow students to be effective and equitable partners throughout the education system, from the smallest classroom lesson to the largest hallway traffic to the most important school board meeting. Most importantly though, it can also allow them to be active agents of change in the systems that affects them most, including education, community, and democracy. That’s the goal of Meaningful Student Involvement.
As this article shows and our experience attests to, its entirely feasible for every student of any ability level in every grade to experience Meaningful Student Involvement every single day. There is a lot of work involved in this; however, this is what schools should be for: ensuring the meaningfulness of every student’s life every single day in every single way possible.
To find out how SoundOut can help you make school meaningful for every learner, contact us now »
Description: Personalize your job, improve your school’s culture, and build new skills and knowledge within yourself with our dynamic, engaging workshop. Participants re-engage with their job, the purpose of education, and the point of democracy.
2: How To Re-Engage Students
Description: Examine the basics, facts and best practices nationwide for getting students engaged and excited to be in schools. Participants in this workshop learn powerful concepts, explore substantial stories, and get unique tools.
3: How To Meaningfully Involve Students
Description: Meaningful Student Involvement relies on intentional relationships developed with power, trust and respect. Participants explore possibilities and create sustainable outcomes for students as learning partners.
4: Nontraditional Student Leadership
Description: Engage all students as leaders with effective, exciting and realistic activities and ideas. Participants in this workshop research, plan next steps, and more with powerful tools, deep learning, and significant opportunities to challenge themselves and grow their classrooms.
Creating powerful, practical and effective learning opportunities should the goal of every educator committed to Meaningful Student Involvement. When students have voice, authority, and take action to improve in learning, they find meaning in what they’re doing. Working to build student commitment to community, democracy and education requires Meaningful Student Involvement in learning.
Learning design happens before education happens in schools. While it cannot and should not capture every single part of the educative process, learning design should consider several important elements. Each of these can affect Meaningful Student Involvement, and can be affected by Meaningful Student Involvement.
Elements of Learning Design
Designing learning includes deciding what you’re going to teach, how you’re going to teach it, who is going to teach, and what the outcomes are going to be. Educators call this learning design.
Meaningful student involvement in learning design can center on infusing the Cycle of Student Engagement into whatever activity you’re facilitating. You can learn about the Cycle here »
When you’re considering meaningfully involving students in designing learning, you might start with authorizing them to take action by introducing the learning to them. To do this, you can share with students why they are learning a specific topic. Teach them about engagement styles and teaching habits, and ask them what the best possible ways there are to learn specific materials. Show them primary materials, tools, timelines, deadlines, related topics, and specific deliverables from the learning.
Teach students that the way learning is designed affects all learners both positively and otherwise. Encourage them to ask critical questions and share their authentic responses. Ultimately, show them how their perspectives on learning an issue are informed by the ways that issue is taught both within and outside of the classroom, and that all learning extends far beyond the classroom walls. This is Meaningful Student Involvement in learning design.
There is a lot of action happening to support Meaningful Student Involvement in Pennsylvania. This work is substantive and sustained, and will transform education. Following is a summary of different tools, examples and more from Pennsylvania specifically.
Meaningful Student Involvement is not a new phenomenon in Pennsylvania. Student voice has been making itself heard statewide for decades, too. In one example from 1968, on the day following the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., more than 250 African American students at William Penn Senior High School in York, Pennsylvania, refused to attend class. Instead the students quietly barricaded themselves in the auditorium of the school to commence Black Pride Day. (Wright D. C., 2003) This is student voice in action.
Student involvement in wellness goals was promoted by having students work with local education agencies to develop Local Wellness Policies. Participating in the research, evaluation and re-design of school nutrition policies, student engagement was shown to increase, as did student acceptance in an array of health-related areas. Research found this approach may have promise in the area of obesity prevention. (Jomaa, L. H., E. McDonnell, et al. (2010) “Student Involvement in Wellness Policies: A Study of Pennsylvania Local Education Agencies,” Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior 42(6): 372-379)
Another example of systems change is SoundOut’s work in Pennsylvania with the Allegheny Partners for Out of School Time (APOST). We supported building the understanding of Meaningful Student Involvement with that network in the early 2010s with materials, speaking and training.
There are a great deal of resources to support Meaningful Student Involvement in Pennsylvania. For instance, a lot of research has been conducted regarding students’ roles in education, including a 1972 survey of 318 administrators in Ohio and Pennsylvania that indicated 60% planning some kind of student participation in decision-making. In this study, the author claims to have found more instances of constructive student actions and involvement than are reported in the current literature. (Yarnel, E.B. (1972) Student Involvement as an Administrative Technique in Decision Making by the Chief School Officer. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Ohio University.)
Here are more tools about Meaningful Student Involvement in Pennsylvania
“NO RACISM ALLOWED,” announced a loud banner across the school’s entrance. I’d come this high school in Michigan to train the new SoundOut Student Equity Team, and was greeted by a handful of students.
As we walked through the hallways on a winter day in 2018, I listed to stories from the students about their work to challenge white supremacy in the education system. It was an alternative high school for historically disengaged learners in a mid-sized urban school districts. The students led training for their peers and teachers, and the building was known for being progressive. It was an inspiring experience.
During our workshop focused on Meaningful Student Involvement, the students talked openly about white supremacy, white fragility, willful ignorance, whitesplaining and all bias, especially discrimination and hatred against Black people, American Indians, and other people of color. All sophomores and juniors, they shared that in their careers as students they’d experienced these realities directly as racist slurs, white supremacist curriculum, the school-to-prison pipeline and other hate-filled, explicitly discriminatory activities in schools. However, they also said that white supremacy poisoned their experiences from their youngest years through micro-aggressions and other toxic behaviors by teachers, principals and other students, including being facetious, making light, being condescending, gaslighting and otherwise demeaning, belittling, or insulting Black people, American Indians, and other people of color.
White Supremacy in Student Voice
Do your student voice activities reflect these traits? These traits are damaging to both students of color and white students. They reflect predominant white culture, and should be addressed and dismantled through Meaningful Student Involvement.
Perfectionism, instead of a culture of appreciation
Sense of Urgency, instead of realistic workplans and outcomes
Defensiveness, instead of understanding that school cannot in and of itself facilitate or prevent abuse
Quantity Over Quality, instead of fostering processes and quality goals in your planning
Worship of the Written Word, instead of accepting that there are many ways to get to the same goal
Paternalism or Adultism, instead of making sure that all students know and understand who makes what decisions in the class, program, school and education system
Either/Or Thinking, instead of noticing when students use either/or language and pushing to come up with more than two alternatives
Power Hoarding, instead of including power sharing in your class, program, school and education system’s values statement
Fear of Open Conflict, instead of handling conflict before conflict happens and distinguishing between being polite and raising hard issues
Individualism, instead of honoring students based on their ability to work as part of a team to accomplish shared goals
Progress is Bigger, More, instead of fostering deep impact, meaningful processes, and holistic outcomes of all involved
Objectivity, instead of realizing that every student has their own world view and that every student’s world view affects the way they understand things
Right to Comfort, instead of understanding that discomfort is at the root of all growth and learning
The reason I was there was to learn with them about how Meaningful Student Involvement has no room for racism. Ultimately, we resolved that white supremacy should be canceled from every student voice activity of any kind. These students were determined to immediately and completely address all white supremacy in their schools, whether from other students expressing internalized racism, or from educators who were resistant or ignorant of their own indiscretions and hatred for students of color. They were determined to make their school stop being racist.
Unfortunately, in my experience working with hundreds of schools nationwide, this isn’t the case across the United States. A lot of well-meaning but poorly informed student voice activities inadvertently reflect an overwhelming trend towards white supremacy, including featuring white student voice as representative of all student voice; homogenizing student leadership and acting as if small elite groups of designated student leaders can represent large swaths of the student body effectively, and otherwise diminishing the capacity, power and possibilities of African American, Latino/a and Hispanic, American Indian and other students of color to share their voices in positive ways throughout the education system in order to affect curriculum, learning, teaching and leadership.
Worse still, most of the current practices in student voice clearly and wholly minimize and undermine the tremendous ways that students can be meaningfully involved in the entire functioning of schools, including the teaching of classes; research of educational practices; planning curriculum, calendars and policies; evaluation of learning, teaching and climates; decision-making at all levels; and advocacy for what students themselves believe in.
The potential of students becoming substantively involved in determining the course of their own learning, let alone leading the entire education system, is regularly dismissed by educators who claim the lack of students’ abilities, skills and knowledge is the undoing of Meaningful Student Involvement. However, more than twenty years of research clearly shows otherwise.
I am beginning to understand that these concerns are merely convenient cloaks for “keeping kids in their place.” By denying their roles, adults everywhere are working hard to ensure the status quo is maintained. Today, however, we know this is merely the defense of white supremacy everywhere. In order to confront our collective racism, white supremacy, willful ignorance, and ANY bias against students of color, every school with every grade everywhere across the country must shift to Meaningful Student Involvement immediately.
SoundOut facilitates learning activities in K-12 schools across the United States and Canada! During the 2020-2021 school year, we’re providing highly interactive, action-oriented online workshops focusing on…
MEANINGFUL STUDENT INVOLVEMENT
Engaging ALL Students in Meaningful Ways
Students as Partners in School Improvement
Infusing Meaningful Student Involvement throughout Education
Ending White Supremacy in Student Involvement
How To Engage Student Voice in Schools
Empowering Student Identity
Building School Leadership through Student Voice
Moving from Student Voice to Meaningful Student Involvement
Want to learn more? Call our office at (360) 489-9680 or contact us.