Review: Learning from Student Voices

Originally published in Meaningful Student Involvement Research Guide by Adam Fletcher (2004) Olympia, WA: SoundOut.

Review of “Learning from Student Voices,” Theory into Practice 43(2) edited by P. Oldfather in 1995.

This edition of Theory into Practice offers a comprehensive scan of research surrounding Meaningful Student Involvement by highlighting what student voice is, and how it can be engaged throughout schools.

The authors cover a variety of topics and offer rationale for listening to students, barriers to student involvement, engaging “student voice” in constructivist classrooms, issues of social justice and authenticity, and how pre-service teachers can – and must – learn from students.

Throughout this edition the authors offer a variety of perspectives on student voice, offering optimistic predictions, detailed accounts, thoughtful reflections, and cautionary criticisms that strengthen the argument for meaningful student involvement.

The stories told here encourage educators to seriously engage students in changing classrooms and teaching.

“Learning from children’s voices allows us to know a deeper level of who children are as learners and, because we have that knowledge, to expand and enrich our sense of what it means to teach” (p130).

The same journal also warns that teachers

“must resist the temptation to glamorize student voices, and recognize that the multiple voices that students bring to the classroom, while potentially possessing some elements of resistance and transformation, are likely to be imbued with status quo values” (O’Loughlin 1995 p112).

In editing this edition, professor Penny Oldfather sought to, “reexamine fundamental assumptions about the purposes of education, the nature of knowledge, the processes of coming to know, and the roles of students as the principal stakeholders in education” (p86).

According to Oldfather, various forms of constructivism, critical theory, and feminist thought influenced these articles. Throughout the journal, educational research was scrutinized using the interpretive methodologies of students’ perceptions.

“This analysis gives further support to the thesis that there is much to be learned from students’ voices” (p86).

Articles explore case studies and critical theories, encouraging the reader to explore practice and examine their own assumptions simultaneously.

The final chapters detail two experiences of students listening to other students’ experiences. In the first of the two, students participate in a multi-year research project exploring teachers’ perceptions about student motivation to learn.

The last chapter details a conversation with several students who originally participated in a structured students-as-researchers project, then continued their study after the program. This conversation captures their multi-faceted thoughts about research, student involvement, and motivation.

This edition of Theory into Practice offers a comprehensive examination of all aspects of meaningful student involvement, particularly exploring specific roles for students as agents of school change.

This exploration of the barriers to involvement, multiple identities, and the purpose of “student voice” is centrally important to the library of information supporting meaningful student involvement.

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