Blended Learning, Online Learning, Professional Development, Teaching

Space for Student Voice

studentvoicePost by: Marita Damghani, online learning consultant for Christian Schools International

In a classroom full of a variety of students, it’s important for educators to find creative ways for individual students to have a voice in classroom conversations. For some educators, like Tyler Amidon from Denver (Colorado) Christian, it means giving students a platform to share their ideas and express themselves. For Tom Deelstra, high school vice principal at Chatham Christian Schools in Chatham, Ontario, it means students are actively involved in their learning as givers and not just receivers of information and ideas. And for Rachel Diephouse, a middle school teacher at Holland Christian School in Holland, Michigan, it means giving her students the opportunity to share what they know, think, and believe. In an environment where ideas like these are shared, questions can be asked and ideas can be stirred up by others. For great teachers, this is optimal and exciting learning. But Dan Meester, superintendent of Holland Christian Schools, points out that before any of that can occur, students need to care about what they’re learning enough to want to share it.

Some Christian Schools International member schools have teachers busy at work already giving student voice a place in their classrooms (search Twitter for #CSI4EDU). At Denver Christian, 5-8th graders are in the beginning stages of blogging, and administrators are encouraged by what they see. Patrick Boyd from Denver Christian School is moving to business models for his graphic design class, with a focus on paper craft, shirts, and home business starters. Dan Meester sees it creatively expressed at Holland Christian through poetry slam events and film festivals. Academically, they also encourage students to share during their World Cultures Night and through regular classroom discussions.

Increasing students’ voices equips students to go out and transform the world for Christ. “We do Compassion Crash Courses,” said Claudia Amendola, a teacher from Toronto, Ontario, “and students take them in a direction that’s meaningful for them and allows them to grow in their faith walk.” NorthPointe Christian School has Senior Presentation Nights for students to share reflections with friends and family following fundraisers, faith exploration, volunteer opportunities, personal reflection, and one-on-one mentoring between staff and seniors. These are opportunities that will hopefully spark new conversations, growing the initial “investment” from the schools ten-fold. “This is why in good project-based learning, half the time should be spent framing the right question or problem. It breeds further engagement,” said Dan Meester.

The use of technology has given students a new kind of voice in the classroom and created opportunities for teachers to engage students. CSI member schools are using Google Classroom to engage students in explorations and collaboration. This platform gives students a virtual space to share on discussion threads, post on shared documents, and share data on collaborative spreadsheets. It also gives teachers the chance to observe the middle of the process of any project as opposed to just grading the end result. Google apps for education (GAFE) are growing in popularity.

Others educators, like Rebekah Schipper, instructional and technology specialist at Holland Christian, are using Poll Everywhere for instant student feedback during projects or lectures using personal devices and the web-based app. With this tool, students log on to a virtual space set up by their teacher. The teacher can then launch pre-scripted or on-the-fly class questions with multiple choice answers. The students then use individual phones, iPads, or computers to answer the questions, giving immediate feedback. Analytics allow teachers to see who has answered and how they answered.

Tyler Amidon encourages Denver Christian teachers to use Newsela to allow for collaborative discussion around current events, no matter students’ reading ability. Newsela is run by a group that has hired journalists to rewrite news stories at different grade levels. Each story is published in the original newspaper format and an additional four different reading levels to best meet the needs of all readers.  According to edSurge’s product review, “Students take short quizzes, aligned with Common Core standards and associated with the different levels, to assess their comprehension. If they struggle with the quiz, they can read the story at a lower [reading] level (or similarly at a more complex level if they ace the quizzes). Because all students get a chance to absorb the same material, teachers can lead class discussions on the article topics with all students, no matter what their reading level.”

When teachers fear students will opt out of creative homework options like presentations or utilizing digital applications, some teachers, like Claudia Amendola, have them available but don’t force them on students if they would prefer to go the “old fashion way.” Teacher Rachel Diephouse at Holland Christian Middle School has encouraged her students to use short films or performance videos. In other classrooms, teachers report they lead by example when they teach utilizing new platforms and methods of communication like Todaysmeet, Socrative, and Doodle. They then ask students to at least give it a try on certain assignments. They often find these new methods of response become favorites among the students.

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