How to Sound Out: Making School Meaningful

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, every student should learn about learning, learn about schooling, learn about meaning, and learn about voice.
To make school meaningful, every student should learn about learning, learn about schooling, learn about meaning, and learn about voice.

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.

Conclusion

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 »

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Student Voice Revolution: The Meaningful Student Involvement Handbook by Adam Fletcher http://amzn.to/2xL3obn

Daily Meaningful Student Involvement

Every day, every student all around the world should experience meaningful involvement. It doesn’t have to be special, unique, different or exceptional. It also doesn’t have to be a standardized experience.

 

Meaningful Student Involvement is for every learner and every adult in every school, everywhere, all of the time!
Meaningful Student Involvement can happen through learning, teaching and leadership with every learner and every adult in every school, everywhere, all of the time!

 

Here are 5 ways daily meaningful student involvement can happen.

  1. Morning meetings—Every morning, there are grade school teachers that host morning meetings with their classes. In the middle and high school levels, these could be adapted as mini-meetings, or even interpreted as advisory classes. Morning meetings can give students space to share their ideas and knowledge about classes and school, and can open dialogue to promote student-adult partnerships.
  2. Advisory—Research supports student advisory classes. These can be innovative, creative spaces where teachers can re-imagine traditional relationships between teachers and students, and among students themselves. Many schools have used advisory classes to build communication, solve problems, and establish a positive, supportive school climate.
  3. Student voice—For a long time, student voice was treated only as a way to listen to students in big school decision-making, and as the vehicle for making students read school newspapers. However, today we understand that student voice should be integrated throughout teaching, learning, curriculum and evaluation matters. When students see themselves and hear their voices in everything taught throughout schools, schools improve.
  4. Restorative justice—More than simply being a discipline procedure, restorative justice is a new approach to establishing, sustaining and re-inventing school culture. Students work as partners with adults in schools to communicate, solve problems and establish a nonviolent, nonhierarchal way of being. It requires a day-by-day commitment by everyone though, and is maintained through constant adherence and frequent renewal.
  5. Service learning—Infusing the positive, powerful potential of students throughout school improvement to foster successful learning and teaching can happen through the dynamic approach known as service learning. Think of project based learning focused on others’ well-being instead of our own, helping to lift up schools and make them better for everyone! Embedded in every curricular area are thousands of examples, with many dedicated to making schools better places.

 

Meaningful student involvement shouldn’t be an exceptional experience for just a few students in particular schools reflecting certain circumstances; instead, it should be the daily reality for every learner in every school, everywhere, all of the time.

 


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Student Voice Revolution: The Meaningful Student Involvement Handbook by Adam Fletcher http://amzn.to/2xL3obn

 

 

How to Facilitate Student Voice

It can be hard to facilitate student voice. At SoundOut, we define student voice as any expression of any student, anywhere, at any time about anything related to learning, schools and education. Trying to facilitate definition on purpose can challenge the most experienced teacher, wizened community facilitator, or determined student leader.

ALL student voice can be supremely useful. That includes students who dress in ties and business clothes and present at school board meetings, as well as those who text answers to tests under desks and fight in the hallway. But when things go bad, and they can, facilitating student voice can be counterproductive and actually work against the very things it was intended to do.

Over the last 15 years, I have facilitated student voice in a many settings with a variety of students for literally dozens of reasons. I have also trained and taught thousands of people how to do the same. Following are some tips, concerns, and considerations I have compiled for people who want to become EXCELLENT student voice facilitators.

I share this out of love and respect for everyone who has ever sat through a poorly led student voice event and wanted to do it differently. If you are really committed to being an excellent facilitator of student voice, read on. If you’re not, well, good luck, and don’t give up.

Tip 1: Before You Start

Before you start down the road of facilitating student voice, youth should think about these questions:

  • Who were the best teachers, facilitators, or adults who worked with students you ever experienced? The worst? What made them that way?
  • What is your goal for being an excellent facilitator- productivity, interaction, fun? Do you think you can facilitate all those at once?
  • What assumptions do you have about facilitation?
  • Why do you really want to learn more about excellent facilitation?

After thinking about all this you are ready to begin learning more about being an excellent facilitator- but not before then! Take a little while and really consider those questions, and then read on…

Tip 2: Be a Facilitator- Not a Teacher, Speaker, or Preacher.

There’s a difference between a teacher, a speaker, a preacher, and a facilitator. A facilitator’s job has three parts:

  • Lead the gathering or group
  • Guide towards goals
  • Lead by example

A excellent facilitator always starts by setting the tone of the student voice group. A facilitator is not expected to know it all, nor are they expected to drive everything. Insecure leaders do this. Secure leaders follow the maxim that, “A good leader makes the people believe they did it themselves.” You have knowledge and experience that you can and should share; however, you do not have to be the expert. Allow students to teach you. Also, remember that the mood of the facilitator will set the tone for the entire workshop, and that enthusiasm is contagious. Strive to be positive, be human, and have fun in every student voice group, no matter what its about.

Six Tips for Excellent Facilitation

  1. Set aside your needs in favor of the needs of the student voice group.
  2. Establish a friendly atmosphere and open sharing of ideas.
  3. Encouragestudents to take risks. When in doubt, check with the student voice group. It’s not your responsibility to know everything.
  4. Be aware of student engagement: Observe what is said, who is speaking, and what is really being said.
  5. Respect is the critical ingredient in effective student voice groups.
  6. Successful student voice groups should be uncomfortable sometimes. Address conflict and do not try to avoid it. Create an atmosphere of trust so that disagreements can be brought into the open.

Tip 3: Create Guidelines and Goals

Many well-meaning facilitators come from cynical perspectives that disallow us from acknowledging the norms that make successful student voice groups work. We can overcome this by having students create ground rules or guidelines before you begin. Brainstorm potential rules and write them down – but avoid too many rules. There are three essential guidelines:

  • Stay on task. Every student voice group should have a clearly stated purpose and agenda. This allows us to stay focused, considerate, and action-oriented.
  • Avoid rabbit holes. Alice fell into a world away from reality – Your group doesn’t have to be that way. Stay aware of off-topic banter, read your audience, and consider other ways to share ideas before getting too far away from the point.
  • Look for diamonds by working through the coal. There are rough things to go through in some student voice groups. Instead of avoiding them commit- as a group- to getting in and going through them.

Every student voice group should have some specific guidelines that all students agree on. Some goals can include:

  • Accomplish the specific task at hand, and when we’re done say we’re done.
  • Build a sense of teamwork and purpose.
  • Show that everyone has different strengths and abilities to offer the group and that no one is better than anyone else.

Tip 4: Think about Framing and Sequencing

Framing. Facilitators introduce the purpose, or frame, the student voice group they’re leading. Framing happens when a facilitator sets a simple prompt that lets students know there is a purpose to the group.

Sequencing. An important consideration is the order in which you present student voice groups, or sequencing. If a group has never learned together, it might be important to follow the sequences laid out beforehand. If they spend time together a lot, following the formal sequence isn’t always necessary. If a group is more comfortable with each other, try bursting the bubble by digging right into deeper group times. It is important to try to put “heavy” activities after less intensive ones, to build a sense of rest and preparedness.

Tip 5: Reflect, Reflect, Reflect

One way make student voice group events matter is to reflect before, during, and after the reflection. You can see reflection as a circle: You start with an explanation what you are going to learn and frame its purpose and goals to the group. As the activity progresses, the facilitator taking a more hands-on or less guiding approach as needed. Finally, group reflection helps students see how they met the goals of the workshop, and helps them envision the broader implications. Then the group has came full-circle.

Five Types of Reflection Questions

  • Open-Ended Questions – Prevents yes and no answers. “What was the purpose of the activity?” “What did you learn about yourself, our team, our program, our organization, or our community?”
  • Feeling Questions – Requires students to reflect on how they feel about what they did. “How did it feel when you started to pull it together?”
  • Judgment Questions – Asks students to make decisions about things. “What was the best part?” “Was it a good idea?”
  • Guiding Questions – Steers the participants toward the purpose of the activity and keep the discussion focused. “What got you all going in the right direction?”
  • Closing Questions – Helps participants draw conclusions and end the discussion. “What did you learn?” “What would you do differently?”

Tip 6: Make Meaning With Students

At their best, student voice group events can serve as bridges between students and promote learning through community building. They can reinforce the need for communication, co-learning, and collective action.

At their worst, group events can actually be tools of oppression and alienation and serve to support vertical practices that isolate people from each other everyday. As Paulo Freire wrote, “A real humanist can be identified more by his trust in the people, which engages him in their struggle, than by a thousand actions in their favor without that trust.” In this sense, excellent facilitation requires that we all become humanists who engage students with each other, followers with leaders, and teachers with students.

Tip 7: Create Safe Space

It is vital to create, foster, and support safe spaces where students can learn together. In a society that is openly hostile towards critical perspectives, participants in any activity need support when they make their voices heard. Establishing a safe space is powerful, positive, and hopeful, and hope is a requirement for excellent facilitation.

Seven Ways to Create Safe Space

  1. Acknowledge that everyone has preconceived ideas about others– or prejudices– that can damage others and ourselves.
  2. Ask students, “Who should be in this group but is not?”
  3. Focus and limit our conversations until trust increases (sometimes it is better to agree not to talk about specific issue/problem right away.
  4. As the facilitator, seek true dialogue and ask real questions.
  5. Encourage students to examine their personal assumptions by checking in with others rather than hiding or defending them.
  6. Speak from personal experience by using I statements and do not generalize about others.
  7. Be open to a change of heart as well as a change in thinking.

Tip 8: Seek Consensus

Whenever a student voice group is discussing a possible solution or coming to a decision on any matter, consensus is a tool excellent facilitators turn to. Following is a popular consensus-building technique.

Fist-To-Five Decision-Making

Start by restating a decision the student voice group may make and ask everyone to show their level of support. Each person should responds by showing a fist or a number of fingers that corresponds to their opinion.

  • Fist is a no vote – a way to block consensus. It says, “I need to talk more on the proposal and require changes for it to pass.”
  • 1 Finger says, “I still need to discuss certain issues and suggest changes that should be made.”
  • 2 Fingers says, “I am more comfortable with the proposal but would like to discuss some minor issues.”
  • 3 Fingers says, “I’m not in total agreement but feel comfortable to let this decision or a proposal pass without further discussion.”
  • 4 Fingers says, “I think it’s a good idea/decision and will work for it.”
  • 5 Fingers says, “It’s a great idea and I will be one of the leaders in implementing it.”

If anyone holds up fewer than three fingers, they should be given the opportunity to state their objections and the team should address their concerns. Continue the Fist-to-Five process until students achieve consensus, which is a minimum of three fingers or higher, or determine they must move on to the next issue.

Tip 9: Embrace the Journey

Learning is a process, not an outcome. Encourage students to view the student voice group process as a journey that has no particular destination. However, even experience cannot teach us what we do not seek to learn. John Dewey once wrote that we should seek, “Not perfection as a final goal, but the ever-enduring process of perfecting, maturing, refining is the aim of living.” This is true of excellent facilitation.

Students should use student voice group action as a starting point for a lifelong journey that includes learning, reflection, examination, and re-envisioning democracy in our communities; facilitators help groups down that path, and encourage students to embrace the journey.

Tip 10: Embrace Challenges

Since excellent facilitation is a process, it is important to understand that there will be difficult times ahead. One of the keys to excellent facilitation is knowing that criticism will come – and that can be good. We cannot grow without criticism. In a society where criticism is often a one way street, we must be aware of the outcomes of our actions, embrace these challenges, and learn from them. Following are several strategies for fostering critical thinking with students.

Seven Ways to Grow Student Voice Groups

  1. Use think-pair-share. Have individual thinking time, discussion with a partner, and presentation back to the student voice group.
  2. Ask follow-ups. Why? Do you agree? Can you elaborate? Can you give an example?
  3. Withhold judgment. Respond to answers without evaluating them and ask random group members to respond to them.
  4. Summarize. Asking a student at random to summarize another’s point to encourage active listening.
  5. Think out loud. Have students unpack their thinking by describing how they arrived at an answer.
  6. Play devil’s advocate. Asking students to defend their reasoning against different points of view.
  7. Support students’ questions. Asking students to formulate their own questions and build off your questions.

Remember

These are the plainest steps I can write down right now for becoming an excellent facilitator. There is plenty of information about facilitation online, and some of it is good. This is meant for those who want to be Excellent. I hope you join us!

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Experiential Education and Meaningful Student Involvement

Since it is one of the things that can make student involvement meaningful, experiential education is a at the center of Meaningful Student Involvement. Experiential education is any learning that happens through direct experience, whether it has intentionally stated learning goals or whether learning remains nebulous, interpretive or unspoken. Students create knowledge, skills and values from active, hands-on activities both inside and outside classrooms.

 

Details

The key idea in experiential education is engaging student voice in action in order to foster learning. Both through teacher-facilitated activities and student-led action, students experience real situations with real outcomes. Meaningful Student Involvement encourages students and educators to see each other as learning partners, refusing to put either role in an inferior position. Instead of seeing learning as a passive, receptive activity, experiential education can encourage students and educators to see learning as interactive and limitless.

 

Roles for Students

When learning moves from focusing on rote memorization and desk time (time-on-task) towards interactivity, engagement and solving real-world problems, students have to begin seeing it in different ways. They quickly assume ownership of learning, teaching and leadership. Becoming immeshed in activities, they can learn to see education as a non-linear, lifelong activity they’re capable of initiating, building, sustaining and critically examining. Through Meaningful Student Involvement, they can become education researchers, school planners, classroom teachers, learning evaluators, systemic decision-makers, and education advocates.

These roles, and many others, allow students to see knowledge as an active, engaged process they can invest in. Active learning can also move students into the broader community outside the walls of schools. Students interact with the surrounding area, whether in the geographic features, natural spaces, built environment, social gatherings, political and government, or other activities and places. Interacting with adults in dynamic, new roles, they can actually transform adult perspectives of students and alter expectations for learning and the school in the larger community. Experiencing increasingly independent and self-directed learning, experiential learning can also lead to extensive use of technology, different and more collaborative relationships between students and adults, and several other features. (Schroeder, 2005)

Whether learning through life or lifelike situations, in experiential education opportunities, students can develop views of educators as facilitators or co-learners and views of themselves as owners and facilitators of their own learning. This is a key outcome of Meaningful Student Involvement.

 

Roles for Teachers

In order to effectively facilitate experiential education, the roles of teachers have to transform, too. Without the ability to predict direct outcomes from chosen learning activities, teachers have to become nimble facilitators and co-learners. Working alongside students, teachers reflect with students and respond to outcomes throughout learning activities. Instead of being mechanistic curriculum deliverers, teachers respond to students’ diverse engagement styles by adapting their approaches, activities and expectations.

In experiential education, educators also move from being traditional knowledge transmitters towards becoming learning coaches. Acting as student learning support specialists, experiential education can allow educators to see the entirety of students. This is one reason why its key to Meaningful Student Involvement.

Ultimately, teachers may need different supports in order to meet the demands of experiential education. Sizer (1984) suggested they include, “altered teaching loads, new student activities, diplomas based on achievement, and curriculum simplification”.

 

Experiential Education Activities

Depending on the situation, teachers using experiential education approaches can use a variety of activities, such as:

 

Types of Experiential Education

Experiential education can include many different learning approaches that can also make student involvement meaningful. They can include:

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Citations

 

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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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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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.

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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Student Voice Reflection Questions

It is important to reflect. The final part of the Cycle of Engagement, reflection provides student/adult partners an opportunity to identify what they’ve learned, why they’ve learned it and what difference it can make. Students and adults should reflect on student voice together, as equitable partners. Without reflection, student voice activities can feel like a dead end.

Whether happening in classrooms, hallways, boardrooms or other places throughout education, reflection is a powerful tool in learning. Student voice requires participants learn from it too, instead of simply pretending like they’re learning anew every single time. When people do this, it forms an important continuum of action. Following are some reflection questions for student voice activities.

 


Student Voice Reflection Questions

  • Are barriers to student voice and Meaningful Student Involvement being addressed?
  • What steps are taken to ensure that student voice is meaningful?
  • Do students understand the intentions of the process, decision, or outcomes?
  • Do students know who made the decisions about their engagement and why they were made?
  • Is the input of students recorded, reported in writing, and distributed?
  • Do students receive a report (verbal or in writing) on the decisions made in the light of their input?
  • Were false and negative assumptions about students’ abilities to participate deliberately addressed by students and/or adults?
  • Are all adults clear about the class or school’s intent to foster Meaningful Student Involvement?
  • Do adults support Meaningful Student Involvement?
  • Do adults provide good examples of being personally and systemically engaged?
  • How was students’ inexperience addressed?

 

  • Did students work on issues that they clearly identify as important?
  • Did students participating start with short-term goals and activities?
  • Have students and adults identified and, when possible, corrected negative experiences students have had in participation?
  • What steps were taken to reduce the resistance from adults?
  • Has there been a written policy statement developed from the governing body?
  • Has there been a memo/document from the school leader stating their support, encouragement, and commitment to aningful Student Involvement?
  • Has the principal or superintendent introduced Meaningful Student Involvement at a meeting?
  • Have there been social events organized to increase positive interactions between students and adults?
  • Have joint workshops with students and adults been held?
  • Has a plan been put in place to bring students into the mainstream, core activities of the class or school?
  • Have steps been taken to help students fit into adult structures?

 

  • Have students been placed on an adult decision-making body with support from a designated adult?
  • Does someone meet with students before meetings to help them clarify their objectives for the meeting?
  • Do students feel comfortable about asking for clarification?
  • What steps have been taken to make the location and times of meetings convenient to students?
    • Consulting with the students involved about times/dates of meetings?
    • Choosing locations that are accessible to students and public transportation?
  • Are there any other initiatives or changes going on in the class or school (new programs, restructuring, etc.) that will compete for attention with the goals and processes of Meaningful Student Involvement?
  • How are the student members selected so that they are credible to the student body?
  • How do you know that they are credible?

 

These are some of SoundOut’s recommended reflection questions for student voice activities. What are some of yours? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!


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Social and Emotional Intelligence and Meaningful Student Involvement

Social and emotional intelligence is the way we understand how we feel and act, and how others feel and act. It can be distinctly obvious in Meaningful Student Involvement.

In modern schools... Belonging happens through Meaningful Student Involvement. Learn more at SoundOut.org.

What It Is

Some people are more able to understand their own feelings and others’ feelings and use that understanding for good. These skills and abilities can be nurtured and increased, and can affect the experiences of students in schools greatly. Meaningful Student Involvement embraces and can maximize social and emotional intelligence by providing enhancing, enriching experiences for students and adults to work together in empathetic, compassionate ways.

What It Does

When students and adults use their social and emotional intelligence throughout the education system, Student/Adult Partnerships are obvious to outside observers. Respect and safety in schools become just as important as literacy and critical thinking skills anywhere and everywhere, including learning, teaching and leadership. When students feel both physical and emotional safety, school climates become absent of adultism, other discrimination, harassment and exclusion.

How It Happens

Social and emotional intelligence can be innate and nurtured among students of all ages, as well as adults throughout education. Some activities do that better than others, including:

  • Active teaching of social-emotional skills
  • Attention to creating positive relationships
  • Bullying prevention and intervention
  • Community building
  • Overt focus on understanding and appreciating differences
  • Meaningful conflict resolution
  • Teaching students to challenge bias and exclusion

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