How Adultism Happens in Schools

On the 20th anniversary of SoundOut.org, I want to acknowledge that after all this time with teachers, building leaders, counselors, support staff and other adults in K-12 schools across the nation, there’s a reality that few people are willing to face: Adultism in schools is rampant and deeply affecting education in many ways. This article explains how adultism happens in schools.

Adultism is the bias towards adults which often results in discrimination against students. Bias towards adults means that the ideas, opinions, actions and outcomes of adults are more valued than those of students. Students experience adultism in every grade level, each subject, all activities, and almost every outcome of schools. Whether its apparent in the ways adults talk to students, in how buildings are designed, in what types of assessments are delivered, or in who graduates from school, adultism is present throughout the entire education system. However, in order to address it we have to understand how it happens.

Through my research and practice focused on adultism, I have found that it happens in three primary ways in schools:

  1. Personal Adultism: The attitudes, opinions, beliefs and actions every person takes that show bias towards adults.
  2. Cultural Adultism: The shared beliefs, joint actions, and common traditions within a classroom, school and community that demonstrate, reflect, uplift, or ensure bias towards adults.
  3. Structural Adultism: The formal and informal systems, processes, organization, and outcomes of schools that ensure, reinforce, sustain, or transfer bias towards adults.
Affton, Missouri teachers in an adultism workshop with Adam F.C. Fletcher of SoundOut.org
Teachers in Affton, Missouri in an adultism workshop with Adam F.C. Fletcher of SoundOut.org

These three ways are present in every school, pre-K through 12th grade, as well as school districts, state education agencies, and the federal government. Within these broad categorizations, there are many specific ways adultism are demonstrated in schools. In the last few days I’ve talked with more than 50 educators in the Affton School District outside of St. Louis, Missouri. Dissecting this issue, they share some of the ways they express and witness adultism everyday in school. Here are some things they shared.

How Personal Adultism Happens in Schools
  • The language we speak
  • Teacher and student attitudes
  • “No interruptions!” and other arbitrary or irrelevant commands
  • Writing off new media’s usage in schools
  • Banning phone use in classes
  • Assigning unneeded homework
  • Enforcing the Queen’s English in schools
  • Apathy towards students
  • Respect (or the lack thereof) for students
  • Self care
  • “My job is to keep you safe”
  • “My job is to teach you; your job is to learn.”
How Cultural Adultism Happens in Schools
  • Adults know best
  • Behavior management expectations
  • Must create confident, capable consumers
  • Social grouping and friendships
  • Demonizing social media
  • Enforcing the “proper way” to speak to an adult
  • Assuming school is the best way to instruct all students
  • Unspoken socio-economic dress codes
  • The teacher is responsible for all the students’ needs
  • Expecting respect for “those in charge”
How Structural Adultism Happens in Schools
  • Time schedules
  • Graduation rates
  • Diplomas
  • Grading
  • Teacher-driven lesson plans
  • Testing and assessments
  • School start times
  • Career and College Readiness Plans
  • Rules
  • Procedures for classrooms, buildings and the district
  • Seating styles
  • Dress codes
  • Standardized tests
  • Standardized curriculum

Every person in schools is capable of showing, supporting, uplifting and sustaining adultism in schools, including students themselves. As the barriers to student voice show, adultism can force students to preserve their personal best interest by undermining group success.

This is a poster showing how teachers in Affton, Missouri thought adultism happens in schools from August 2022.
This is a poster showing how teachers in Affton, Missouri thought adultism happens in schools from August 2022.

How to you think adultism happens in schools? Share your thoughts, ideas and knowledge in the comments section!

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Teacher Mindsets About Meaningful Student Involvement

Over the last decade, there has been a lot written about growth mindsets. There has been a lot said for adults learning about the concept, and teaching students about the idea. Here I want to elaborate on the role of growth mindsets for meaningful student involvement.

This graphic shows the differences between the growth mindset and the fixed mindset.
This graphic shows the differences between the growth mindset and the fixed mindset.

In the 1990s, Carol Dweck started writing about growth mindsets. Centered on students’ perceptions of failure, Dweck found that some students came back quickly from failure and some students were devastated by failure. By studying their perceptions of failure, Dweck identified that the difference was that some students had a growth mindset and believed they could get smarter, while others had a fixed mindset and thought they would never succeed.

Testing whether those mindsets could be changed for the positive, Dweck and other researchers discovered that fixed mindsets could be changed with specific interventions.

I began learning about mindsets a decade ago. Applying what I found to the K-12 schools I worked in, I found that educators’ mindsets often determined which student voice they would listen to, which students would be meaningfully involved in schools, and which students would be focused on to engage. These seemingly innate perceptions about students were routinely informed by student identities and performance in schools, and were far from the equity that many educators say they aspire to.

Fixed Mindsets about Students

I quickly found that student involvement in traditional school activities, such as extracurricular clubs and athletics, was predicated on whether teachers thought the students who were involved deserved to be involved. If they deserved it, they let the students know. I call this gatekeeping. Gatekeeping allows certain students to be involved and keeps roles for teachers as gatekeepers. Gatekeepers decide which students can be involved according to various spoken and unspoken factors, including:

  • Academic achievement
  • Likeability
  • Compliance
  • Race
  • Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation
  • Socio-economic background

These “gates” are predicated on bias, allowing and disallowing some student voice to be valued while other student voice is silenced. It is the educators’ mindset or the join mindsets of several educators or school administration that permits, accepts and sustains this bias. This fixed mindset about students believes:

  • Students have to deserve or earn the right to have student voice heard
  • Only certain students selected by adults should be heard and other students should not be heard
  • There is a “perfect” or “right” type of student voice, and every other student voice is imperfect or isn’t right
  • Student voice should reproduce teacher voice
  • Only certain students have innate abilities to share student voice, and other students do not have this ability

Growth Mindsets about Students

A growth mindset about student involvement, student voice and student engagement allows and encourages all students to experience Meaningful Student Involvement whether adults accept them or not. Educators see that all learners have student voice, and all students understand they deserve to be involved — not because they’re particularly special, but because they are learners, and all learners should be heard, seen, acknowledge, and empowered.

When educators have growth mindsets about students, they…

  • Believe every student voice deserves to be heard
  • Make space for students to share what they want to, rather than just what adults want them to share
  • Work to deliberately engage every single student every single day in every single way possible
  • Teach students to focus on improving how they share student voice, not which students share or what they share
  • Focus on why student voice matters and why students share how they do
  • Believe in increasing others teachers’ capacities to meaningfully involve students

Decades ago, Dweck and her colleagues showed that teacher mindsets directly and deeply impact student mindsets. One of the informal findings from my work has been that when teachers think students are capable of positively transforming schools, students think they are positively capable of transforming schools. While their actions are (luckily) not contingent on adults believing in them, more students are going to become more active in education transformation when we check ourselves.

How do adult mindsets affect student voice, student engagement, and Meaningful Student Involvement in your school? Leave your thoughts in the comment section!

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Silencing Student Voice

Barriers to Students
Barriers to Students

To assist you in identifying and challenging adultism in schools, I’m adapting this list of common phrases educators have been conditioned to use throughout schools. They try to silence students with these phrases, especially when students challenge them, pushback or otherwise disagree.

The phrases below are often used by educators against students. Students of color, working class and poor students, queer and LGBTQI students, obese students, disabled students, and other marginalized students frequently hear these things more than other students. Silencing student voice happens a lot of different ways.

Strategies to Silence Student Voice

These silencing strategies, and others that may have been missed, can be found in any order. Students’ experiences of adults trying to silence them often go like this:

  • Adults in schools assert authority over students
  • Adults in schools question student knowledge/judgment
  • Adults in schools delegitimize student responses
  • Adults in schools delegitimize students
  • Adults in schools enforce dominant point of view
  • Adults in schools shut down debate or conversation

Following are details of what each strategy to silence students sounds like.

How Adults Assert Their Authority Over Students

  • No, but…
  • You’re wrong.
  • You’ve been wrong before.
  • That’s not true.
  • Are you sure? I’m going to Google it.
  • Really? I don’t believe it.
  • That’s never happened to me / anyone I know.
  • I’ve never seen / heard of that.

How Educators Question Student Voice

  • You don’t know that for sure.
  • You don’t know what you’re talking about.
  • That doesn’t count.
  • This is a completely different situation.
  • You’re making it about students when it’s not.

How Educators Dismiss Student Voice

  • You’re overreacting.
  • You’re blowing it out of proportion.
  • Why are you making such a big deal out of it?
  • Stop getting so emotional.
  • Don’t tell me you’re upset about this.
  • You’re getting angry /raising your voice / shouting again.
  • Not everything is about…(structural oppression goes here).
  • Stop trying to make it about…(structural oppression goes here).
  • You always say that.
  • I knew you’d do this.
  • Can’t we talk about something else?

How Educators Delegitimize Students

  • (Rude laughter)
  • (to someone else) She’s crazy. Don’t listen to her.
  • Why can’t you just relax?
  • Can’t you take a joke?
  • I’m just joking.
  • You’re so serious all the time.
  • You’re so angry all the time.
  • You have no sense of humor.

How Educators Enforce Dominance

  • You have to accept that…
  • You must agree that…
  • It’s obvious that…
  • You must be stupid to think that…
  • Everybody knows…
  • When I was your age…

How Educators Shut Down Conversations

  • This is a stupid / irrelevant / useless conversation.
  • Why are we still having this conversation?
  • It’s not important.
  • Not everything is about you.
  • You’re making it worse by talking about it.
  • Why don’t you just give it up already?
  • I’m done.
  • Are we done?
  • Are you happy now?
  • I’m gonna hang up.
  • I don’t debate on this topic.
  • I’m not having this conversation.
  • I said I was sorry! Isn’t that enough?

This post was adapted from here with permission of the original authors.

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StudentVoicesNUA™

StudentVoicesNUA™ is a program of the National Urban Alliance. It provides students with opportunities to co-create with teachers innovative curriculum-related projects using 21st century technology, to increase their involvement in professional development, to mediate literacy and learning strategies for parents, and to participate in leadership discussions and decision-making. An exciting part of StudentVoicesNUA™ is having students co-teach instructional units with their teachers.

StudentVoicesNUA™ have included student-produced publications, radio shows and videos; lessons plans co-created and presented by students; debating and public speaking; electronic field trips; student-led convocations; and podcasts.

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Elsewhere Online

 

SoundOut Learning Toolbox

For more than a decade, SoundOut has been sharing some of the very best ways students say they learn in schools. There are specific ways students know they become engaged in class and through Meaningful Student Involvement. Following is a list of different approaches we include. Each is explored on its webpage, along with resources and more. Share your thoughts in the comments section below!

Learning Through Meaningful Student Involvement

 

SoundOut Teaching Tools

  • The SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum is a collection of twenty-seven session plans, a facilitator’s guide, a student handbook and an evaluation guide designed to teach high school students about how they can become partners in changing schools. Units include students as planners, teachers, evaluators, decision-makers and advocates for education.
  • The SoundOut Skill Building Lesson Plans features more than 20 workshop outlines designed to help learning groups explore different aspects of Meaningful Student Involvement and Student/Adult Partnerships. All exercises are hands-on, interactive, and focused on taking action. The workshops are designed for learners of all ages, including student-only and adult-only groups.

 

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Student Voice Reflection Activities

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Taking action, making change, experiencing new adventures… these are awesome reasons to get out and do something. But the richness of the experience, the learning from the experience, these are equally important if we are going to transform society through action. Reflection is integral to learning, because it helps us build self-awareness, strengthen personal and team growth, and improves our action for the next time.

In age, race, gender, and culturally diverse groups of participants, reflection activities should mirror the differences in the group. These activities may do that, or spur your own creative thinking to create new ones. There are many different ways that people experience and learn from the same situations.

Keep in mind these different learning styles:

  • Linguistic Learners – Like to read, write and tell stories
  • Interpersonal Learners – Like to have lots of friends, join and talk in groups
  • Intra-personal Learners – Like to work alone and pursue own interests
  • Spatial Learners – Like to draw, create, daydream and see pictures
  • Musical Learners – Like to sing, hum tunes, listen and respond to music
  • Bodily/ Kinesthetic Learners – Like to move, touch, talk and use body language
  • Logical/ Mathematic Learners – Like to do experiments, figure things out, asks questions and look for patterns and relationship

 


REFLECTION ACTIVITIES THAT BUILD STUDENT VOICE

  1. Emotional Go-Around – Participants are asked to show with a word, their body, or a facial expression how they feel right at the moment. Let people show their reaction, one at a time, and then have participants explain their reaction. This activity can give the facilitator a sense of the group mood and gives the participants a chance to express how they feel at that moment.
  2. Show and Tell – Individually or in pairs, have participants describe items they have collected or used throughout their action, including their reactions and emotions regarding the item or the activity it was used in.
  3. Human Sculpture – In a large open space, divide your group into two halves. Each half creates a sculpture around a word or phrase (e.g. peace, activism, empowerment) with few props. Then each group displays its ‘art’ for the other group. The watching group can interpret the sculpture, without disruption, for two minutes. When they are finished, the sculpture group can explain its work.
  4. Engagement Skits – Split the participants into groups of three or four and ask each group to portray their service experience through a skit. Give each group 10 minutes to plan what they will do and up to five minutes to share their skit with the rest of the group. After each group’s presentation, have the whole group process reactions, give suggestions for effective future projects, and give positive feedback to the actor/actresses. This activity could take 30 minutes to an hour to complete.
  5. Visualization – Take participants on an imaginary tour of their experience. Ask them to find a comfortable position (lay on the floor, rest your head on the table, lounge in a chair) and close eyes. Play relaxing music at a low volume. Ask participants to become aware of their breathing, ask them to leave their present thoughts and clear their minds. Once the participants appear to have relaxed, ask them to begin remembering their service experience. To assist them in remembering their experience mention common events, allow participants to remember how they felt before they did their experience, what their expectations were, what happened in their preparation, how they felt during their service experience. To stimulate their thinking you might mention some of what you remembered. Slowly bring them back to the present. Ask them to become aware of their surroundings, again concentrating on their breathing, and open their eyes when they are ready. Ensure that a quiet tone is maintained. Continue to play music, and ask participants to share their recollections with another person and finally have people make comments to the whole group.
  6. Group Banners – Using a large pieces of banner paper and markers, ask participants to get into pairs and depict their experiences using a combination of words and pictures. Give them about 10-15 minutes. When completed ask each pair to share their banner with the whole group. Use their banners as a jumping off point for processing the experience.
  7. All Tied Up – Have the group stand in a circle. Holding the end of a ball of string, hand the ball off to a participant. Ask them to reflect on a particular question (e.g. what was something new you learned today?). Once they have answered the question ask them to hold onto their piece of the string and to pass the ball onto someone else. Continue the process until everyone has reflected on the question, and has a section of string in their hands. When completed, you should have something that looks like a web. When they are all done talking, make some points about the interconnectedness of people, how they are all part of the solution, for if one person had not contributed to their service projects the outcome would have been different, etc.
  8. Imagining the Future – Ask participants to imagine that the year is 2020, and everyone in the group has come back together for a reunion. As a group, reflect on all of the changes that have happened because of the action you have finished, and the difference that work has made on your life.
  9. Graffiti Museum – Glue a wide variety of magazine pictures on construction paper, and post them down a hallway wall. Have participants look through all of the pictures, and chose one that represents their impression of the previous event (e.g. an activity, the day, or the whole weekend). Gathering in a circle, have participants quietly circulate the pictures, and write why they do or do not relate with the picture.
  10. Service Journals – Ask participants to keep a journal of their conference experience through regular (after each activity) entries. Provide framework for the journals (e.g. who will read it, what should they write about, how it will be used). Variations on the Activity: Journaling includes team journaling, and circle journals. You can also provide particular questions to respond to, and use hot topics from activities to reflect on. You may ask participants to reflect on conference topics, including quotations and readings from authors, music groups, etc.
  11. Stream of Consciousness – After lying down, relaxing and allowing their minds to wander, encourage participants to begin free word association around their experience. Guide participants through the process by offering refocusing words, but allow them to say what comes to their minds, without censor or restriction.
  12. Collage of Words – Using a large sheet of paper, have participants write words that described their experience. Provide plenty of creative material (e.g. markers, crayons, colored pencils) and a large sheet of paper on a smooth surface. Give them twenty minutes, and have them explain their work when they’re finished. Explain how without everyone’s contributions, the work would not be as rich and varied as it is.
  13. Action Interviews – Encourage participants to see their projects through the public’s view by conducting media-style interviews with one another. Remember to cover all the bases: who, what, when, where, why and how, or go Oprah and ask the hard-hitting questions!
  14. Rap and Rhyme Responses – Divide participants into small teams, and give them 10 minutes to write a rap or rhyme about their experience. The teams must incorporate all of their members into the production.
  15. Group Poem Writing – Like a circle journal, this will bring your group together in a reflection on their service. Circulate a piece of paper around your group with the title across the top “For Love of Engagement”, encouraging each participant to write a line in response to the previous until everyone has written. When finished, have a volunteer read the work to the entire group, and then discuss it.
  16. Time Capsule – As participants are being introduced to your event, have them put memorabilia and initial attitudes related to their action on paper to start the time capsule. This could include a short project description, an agenda for your event or activity, or anything else relevant to what is going on. Have participants write down how they are feeling at the start of the event, how they feel at different points of their actions (e.g. what they expected at the beginning, how they felt before their action, what they feel/felt (before, during or after) their project as a whole.) Put everything into a “capsule” that will be opened and read aloud and discussed (perhaps anonymously) at the end of the event.
  17. Compile Questions Left Unanswered – In pairs, ask participants to write down any question they feel is unanswered from the activity you just completed. Encourage them to ask anything, and then report their questions to the large group. Refrain discussion until all the questions are read, but then allow for an open exchange between participants.

 

SoundOut Facilitates Workshops... Contact us to learn more!
SoundOut facilitates workshops on reflection! To learn more contact us!

Workshop Outlines

All this and more is covered in the time-tested, student-approved SoundOut Workshop Guide for Student/Adult Partnerships!

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Creating Action Between Students and Adults

FACILITATOR NOTES


Introduction: Activity for 8-40 students and/or adults

Goal: When this session is complete, participants should be able to…

  • Simulate the challenges of planning a project
  • Have a group examine how they function under pressure

Time: 40 minutes

Materials: Long rope

Space: Outdoors, with some variation in terrain

Considerations: This activity has the potential to cause great strife within a group as it involves functioning—or, more accurately, dysfunctional, under both pressure and physical strain. You will want to debrief the activity carefully if strife is evident. Also be prepared for possible anger directed at you as a facilitator. With all that said, this activity is an excellent metaphor for how a project comes together and the difficulties encountered.

 


PROCEDURES

 

  1. Explain to the group that this activity involves screeching together in tight quarters. Anyone who feels uncomfortable participating (due to claustrophobia, twisted ankle, whatever) can coach from the sidelines.
  1. Ask the group to stand in a circle. Tell participants to take a big step forward, then another, then another. Keep ding this until there is no circle. Instead, you should have one big mass of loosely packed people.
  1. Take the rope and wrap it around the group. Make sure ahead of time that the rope is cleared of tangles and will wrap without you having to clear it.
  1. Pace out for them (briskly walk through, explaining as you go) a short but mildly challenging course that should involve at least having to navigate a couple steps or a one-to-two foot wall, going around a tree or bush and maybe under a pole, all depending on the terrain you have to work with.
  1. Explain that their task is two-part: To travel through the course while finding out something new about a person they are standing near. Any questions? Ready? Go!
  1. Pay attention to what they do and how they do it. What kinds of roles do people take on? What sort of conflict arises? What attitudes and emotions are surfacing?
  1. When the group is finished, let them celebrate their success (or anger, or frustration), then debrief?
    • How did it go? What happened? What was it like? [ask for reactions from people in the front, middle, back]?
    • How did people feel? [Again, ask for reactions from the front, middle, and back.]
    • What worked? What didn’t work?

NOTE: Call any specific behaviors to attention and ask what was going on.

  • Did you have a plan? Was everyone included in the plan?
  • How many people were able to find out something new about someone near them?
  1. At this point you should have received enough input form the group to make a couple points. Generally, the people in the front of the group just take off and then get frustrated because the people behind the aren’t moving fast enough. The people tin the middle will notice the people in the front are going and decide that they had better start moving, too (although they aren’t really sure what’s going on). Meanwhile, the people in the back have the rope digging into them and are calling for people to slow down (calls which usually go unheeded). Ask if anyone has had the experience of being in a group where they were in the “back or in the “middle.” What’s it like? Also. If not many people were able to find out something new about someone near the, ask why. Often a group will lose track of part of what it se out to do when things start getting crazy.The dynamics of this activity are rich. Make sure you have enough time to debrief and use whatever happens in the group to shape the questions you ask.
  • What would you do differently if you were to do this again?Usually people will say, “plan!” Make the point that in a group that’s often the first thing to be avoided. Ask them to think about how they will make sure that people in the “front” hear what people in the ‘back” are saying. Remind them that participation of the whole group is needed. Keeping this activity in mind, how can they ensure their whole group is involved as they work together?

 

SoundOut Facilitates Workshops... Contact us to learn more!


Workshop Outlines

All this and more is covered in the time-tested, student-approved SoundOut Workshop Guide for Student/Adult Partnerships!

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SoundOut Program Teaching Students How to Improve Schools With Student Voice (360) 489-9580 info@soundout.org
Learn more about the SoundOut Program Teaching Students How to Improve Schools With Student Voice.

Lesson Plan on Creating Roles for Students and Adults

FACILITATOR NOTES

This is a lesson plan on creating roles for students and adults to support Meaningful Student Involvement.

Introduction

This inquiry-based lesson plan requires a group of 4-40 students and adults. This activity was adapted from Youth Empowerment: A Training Guide (1990) created by CampFire, Inc.

Goals

When this session is complete, participants should be able to…

  • Provide the opportunity to carefully think through how to involve students in programs.
  • Deepen understanding of the work and commitment required for effective Student-Adult Partnerships

Time

90 minutes

Materials

Flip chart paper and markers; copies of the worksheets from the end of this workshop.

Space

Enough to accommodate the group

Considerations

While not necessary, it is helpful if participants have first completed Exploring Group Strengths and Weaknesses and Students and Adults as Ideal Partners, both located in this section. Greater knowledge of individual strengths and interests, as well as what is needed to be an effective partner, helps to ground this activity in reality.


PROCESS

1. Split the group into groups of about 5 people each, depending on size of group. Groups should be mixed students and adults. Half the groups will work on roles for adults; the other half on roles for students.

2. Hand out the appropriate worksheet to each group. Have participants work in their groups to complete them.

3. Groups report back on the roles they developed. Allow for questions and comments.

4. Close with a discussion, including:

  • What was it like to create these roles?
  • How realistic do you think the descriptions are? Why or why not?
  • How might you apply these job descriptions to your work together?

Worksheet: Defining the Role of a Student

Describe the role for students.

Answer the following questions about the opportunity:

  1. Is this a real job? What is its usefulness to the class or school?
  2. Will this position lead someone to greater responsibility in the class or school?
  3. Is adequate support and supervision available from the staff? Do staff know how to supervise?
  4. What skills, training, experience, and knowledge will students gain from this opportunity?

Answer the following questions about possible candidates for this opportunity:

  1. Who will really want to fill this role? Is this work that is of interest or value to some students? Why?
  2. What knowledge, skills and attitudes are necessary to succeed in this role?
  3. How can you adjust the work schedule, quantity of work accomplished, quality of work accomplished, nature of training, responsibility for others, degree and kind of supervision, formal reporting requirements, and other parts of the opportunity so that more students might qualify?

Worksheet: Defining the Role of an Adult

Describe Opportunity Here:

Answer the following questions about the opportunity:

  1. Specifically what will this person need to do to make Student-Adult Partnerships work?
  2. How is this different from existing opportunities in the class or school?
  3. What kind of resources (time, training, other) will the person need in order to be successful?

Answer the following questions about possible candidates for the opportunity:

  1. What knowledge, skills attitudes, and other qualifications are necessary to succeed at this role?
  2. How could you determine if someone was suited for this role?

SoundOut Skill Building Lesson Plans
SoundOut Facilitates Workshops... Contact us to learn more!

These lesson plans were created by Adam F.C. Fletcher for SoundOut under contract from the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction funded through a grant from the Corporation for National and Community Service. All contents ©2007 SoundOut. Permission to use is granted exclusively for nonprofit and in-school education purposes only. All Rights Reserved.


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Tips for Teachers: Meaningful Student Involvement Everyday

There are simple ways that classroom teachers can foster Meaningful Student Involvement everyday. By infusing students as partners throughout teaching and learning, teachers can empower, engage and enliven the experience of every learner in their classes.

Through the years we’ve been teaching and training and leading projects in K-12 schools across the United States, SoundOut has collected best practices of all kinds. Here are some ways Meaningful Student Involvement can happen everyday.

Tips for Teachers

Following are some tips for teachers who

Tip #1. Respect All Students, Everywhere, All the Time

  • Learn students’ names and use them frequently.
  • Show students you’re interested in them through deliberate interactions, thoughtful words and kindness.
  • Teach students about and foster student/adult partnerships in order to flip the traditional passive student role they assume.

Tip #2. Build School Belonging and Student Ownership

  • Students can become meaningfully involved in your class by evaluating your lessons, creating your learning materials, facilitating activities for their peers, co-teaching with teachers, being peer mediators, tutoring younger students or peers, or contributing in other areas. After school student engagement in extracurricular activities, sports and more should focus on belonging and ownership of the learning experience.

Tip #3. Recognize and Share Each Partner’s Worth

  • Challenge students to do their best and share your confidence in their ability to do many things well. Make your expectations clear and give them space to develop their expectations for you. Encourage perseverance, facilitate applied learning and teach critical thinking. When students are ready to take action to improve their learning experience, make classroom learning better, or improve their schools, work through the Cycle of Engagement.

Tip #4. Accentuate Cooperation Instead of Competition

  • Structure classroom learning so students experience feel safe, secure, supported, and ready to learn. Acknowledge individual improvement and group work instead of emphasizing who is smartest, fastest, or most talented. Give recognition freely and compliment individual and group effort without people students against each other.

Tip #5. Teach Student Voice Skills

  • Empathy, communication, responsiveness, teamwork and collaboration and many other skills need to be taught, modeled and stressed. Be aware of and prevent teasing, gossiping, excluding, and other bullying behaviors, which are all expressions of student voice. Have the students role play partners and equity skills; ensure students and adults model the behaviors you want to reinforce.

Tip #6. Teach Problem-Solving Skills

To foster self-awareness and self-control have students use the following steps:

  1. Ask, “What is the problem?”
  2. Ask, “What can I do?”
  3. Make a list of ideas.
  4. Decide which one to try.
  5. Try it.
  6. Ask, “Did it work?”
  7. If not, ask, “What will I do now?”

Tip #7. Foster Skill Building and Knowledge Sharing About Schools

  • Provide opportunities for students to discuss their ideas for education and make decisions regarding learning, teaching and leadership in schools. Learn which skills to focus on and what knowledge to share with students. Establish a classroom action team to engage students’ interests and concerns and promote Meaningful Student Involvement. Build a school climate to support student voice by having students and staff write down behaviors and attitudes they’ve seen that are focused on improving schools, Meaningful Student Involvement and sharing student voice, and acknowledge the identified students.

Tip #8. Help Students Discover Their Educational Strengths and Talents

  • Provide time for students to imagine themselves doing something in the education system that is outstanding and worthwhile. After they set goals for themselves, discuss ways to reach their goals, and brainstorm choices they may need to make.

Tip #9. Model Tenacity, Emotional Maturity, and Healthy Attitudes

  • Be organized, consistent and use appropriate coping skills. Be genuine and avoid embarrassing or using sarcasm with students.

Tip #10. Involve Parents To Foster a Bonding, Nurturing Parent-Child Relationship

  • Help parents see that they are their student’s most important teachers, and that as role models they need to spend quality time teaching, training and exhibiting those habits and values they want their child to have. (For tips on how to encourage such a relationship, see our Parents Tips.)

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Reflection and Meaningful Student Involvement

Reflection may be the most important ongoing step to Meaningful Student Involvement.

What It Is

When students and adults critically assess and analyze student voice, student engagement or student involvement, learning becomes a vibrant, intricate, and powerful tool for personal growth, and can become a powerful lever for educational transformation. This can happen at the beginning of activities, during the course of a class or program, at the end of activities or benchmarks, and throughout the entire course of events. Reflections can be public or private; used as explicit teaching opportunities or as passive reinforcement or exploration activities; be visual, audio, kinesthetic, musical, natural; and many other forms, too.

What It Does

Reflection activities used should be appropriate for diverse learners – writing, acting, creating collages, and building activities are all good examples. Once your group has finished reflecting, those lessons should be incorporated into the next listening activity, to support the Cycle of Student Engagement.

What It Looks Like

There are almost countless ways to facilitate reflection on Meaningful Student Involvement.

  1. Emotional Go-Around. Participants are asked to show with a word, their body, or a facial expression how they feel right at the moment. Let people show their reaction, one at a time, and then have participants explain their reaction. This activity can give the facilitator a sense of the group mood and gives the participants a chance to express how they feel at that moment.
  2. Learning Skits. Split the students into groups of three or four and ask each group to portray their learning experience through a skit. Give each group 10 minutes to plan what they will do and up to five minutes to share their skit with the rest of the group. After each group’s presentation, have the whole group process reactions, give suggestions for effective future projects, and give positive feedback to the actor/actresses. This activity could take 30 minutes to an hour to complete.
  3. Visualization. Take your students on an imaginary tour of their learning experience. Ask participants to find a comfortable position (lay on the floor, rest your head on the table, lounge in a chair) and close eyes. Play relaxing music at a low volume. Ask participants to become aware of their breathing, ask them to leave their present thoughts and clear their minds. Once the participants appear to have relaxed, ask them to begin remembering their learning experience. To assist them in remembering their experience mention common events, allow participants to remember how they felt before they did their experience, what their expectations were, what happened in their preparation, how they felt during their learning experience. To stimulate their thinking you might mention some of what you remembered. Slowly bring them back to the present. Ask them to become aware of their surroundings, again concentrating on their breathing, and open their eyes when they are ready. Ensure that a quiet tone is maintained. Continue to play music, and ask participants to share their recollections with another person and finally have people make comments to the whole group.
  4. Group Banners. Using a large pieces of banner paper and markers, ask students to get into pairs and depict their experiences using a combination of words and pictures. Give them about 10-15 minutes. When completed ask each pair to share their banner with the whole group. Use their banners as a jumping off point for processing the experience.
  5. All Tied Up. Have the group stand in a circle. Holding the end of a ball of string, hand the ball off to a participant. Ask them to reflect on a particular question (e.g. what was something new you learned today?). Once they have answered the question ask them to hold onto their piece of the string and to pass the ball onto someone else. Continue the process until everyone has reflected on the question, and has a section of string in their hands. When completed, you should have something that looks like a web. When they are all done talking, make some points about the interconnectedness of people, how they are all part of the solution, for if one person had not contributed to their learning experience the outcome would’ve been different, etc.
  6. Learning Journals. Ask students to keep a journal of their conference experience through regular (after each activity) entries. Provide framework for the journals (e.g. who will read it, what should they write about, how it will be used). Variations on the Activity Journal include team journaling, and circle journals. You can also provide particular questions to respond to, and use hot topics from activities to reflect on. You may ask participants to reflect on conference topics, including quotations and readings from authors, music groups, etc.
  7. Time Capsule. As students are being introduced to your conference, have them put memorabilia and initial attitudes related to Peace Jam and their school’s projects on paper to start the time capsule. This could include a short project description, an agenda for your conference, or anything else relevant to what’s going on. Have the students write down how they are feeling at the start of the weekend, how they feel at different points of their school’s projects (e.g. what they expected at the beginning of the year, how they felt about your topic or conference before this weekend, what they feel/felt (before, during or after) their project as a whole. Put everything into a “capsule” that will be opened and read aloud and discussed (perhaps anonymously) at the end of the your conference.

When To Use Reflection

I frequently use visualizations to foster reflection about the roles of students in schools and Meaningful Student Involvement. As a tool, visualizations allow me to create an immediate climate in a classroom and foster the group through deep reflection.

I once facilitated a program in a local high school focused on engaging students in their formal school improvement planning process. At the beginning of the process, a group of “nontraditional student leaders” showed a lot of resistance to the idea that teachers would value anything they contributed to school improvement. So, I led the group through visualizing their ideal school. We carefully walked through the average day of a 14-year-old new student in their school. When we were done, students were brimming with ideas, and after debriefing and taking notes about many of those ideas, I assured the students their contributions were important and would be valued.Soon after that, I facilitated a professional development session for the school’s faculty focused onMeaningful Student Involvement in school improvement planning. Towards the beginning, I sparked this group of 40 seasoned educators’ minds with a different visualization. This time, after creating the appropriate tone for being able to envision what I was talking about, I asked them to reflect back on their personal experience in school when they were 14-years-old. We walked through a typical day and considered many of the elements of teaching, learning, and leadership in schools, as well as their lives outside schools. When we were done, I had them reflect on three questions:

  • What sticks out most in your memory from this visualization?
  • What do you think differs the most between your memory of school and students’ experiences today?
  • Can you value what students have to say about school improvement today?

During the first question, the teachers loudly bantered back and forth and shared good info, with some pairings laughing hysterically, while others got sad and processed some deep stuff that came up. During the second question, everyone assumed their professional minds again – although what came out was a deep sense of compassion and purpose, and empathy. But in the third question, the investment was locked in and the group was suddenly focused, willing, and supportive of the conceptual framework I was asking them to examine with me.

Needless to say, after that the group proceeded positively, particularly since we began the next activity by looking at students’ projections of what their school could become.

Important Considerations

There are several important things to remember about reflecting on student voice, student engagement and Meaningful Student Involvement. Here are a few:

  • Reflection is storytelling. Students are familiar with storytelling – the video games they play, the books they read, and the times they spend with their friends are all filled with stories. Encouraging them to tell their stories of what happened engages them by helping them make meaning and place value on their experiences.
  • Help students find the words they need. Reflection is best done as a shared activity that creates safe space and opportunities. Remember to appreciate their contributions and elaborate on them from your own memory.
  • Ask specific questions. Help students talk and reinforce them by encouraging them to be specific and speak their truth. Rather than asking, “What did you do after school,” you might ask, “What did you find out on Internet?” Talk together about what students found most interesting.
  • Talk with students during events to help with learning and recall. In addition to pointing ou specific details, educators can help students link what they have done with earlier experiences and knowledge. “This makes me think of that day when…”
  • Follow the lead of students. Sometimes students cannot divide their attention between doing and reflecting. Be aware of the needs of students and wait for the right moment.
  • Documentation can make reflection easier. Whether it is pictures of students relaxing or art students draw, a physical record helps facilitate meaningful discussion.
  • Reflect early and often. Talk about what happened while the experience is still fresh, but revisit it later. The trip home is a good time to discuss what students learned at the city council meeting – and later you can write a story about it or review the pictures you took. Reflecting on your own reflections can lead to deeper understandings.

Each of these points can help make your Meaningful Student Involvement, student engagement or student voice reflection activities richer and more meaningful. The wealth that emerges can then be used to move students further towards becoming partners in learning, teaching, and leadership throughout schools.[/two_third]

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