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5 Ways to Amplify Student Voice With Technology

5 Ways to Amplify Student Voice With Technology

By Chawanna B. Chambers, PhD

reading too much? Whooos ReadingWe talk continuously about student motivation, engagement, and achievement as education professionals.

We share countless anecdotes recalling forward thinking and activities that we believe captured the hearts and minds of our students.

We attend conferences and workshops around the country and select breakout sessions that promise to show us new ways of enticing them to participate in our selected activities ungrudgingly.

We do all of these things from a good place in our hearts because we truly care about our students, but we often forget about the most important element—student voice.

If we were to reflect on our lesson planning and curriculum development, how much influence from student feedback would we find? I don’t mean what you or I thought the kids would like or want to do; I mean which concepts, topics, and activities were added to the curriculum specifically because student feedback forms, interviews, or focus groups yielded those suggestions.

More: 10 Ways to Use Google Forms in the Classroom

The key to the breakthrough we’re seeking in education rests in empowering our students and encouraging them to take an active role in their learning!

Modern education champions Bruner, Dewey, Piaget, Vygotsky, and the constructivist learning theory suggest that children acquire knowledge by being active participants in the learning environment.

Unfortunately, a majority of classroom curricula and lesson plans reflect a more passive approach to the learning process in which adults control the content, topics, and methods of knowledge acquisition while students do what they’re told.

What if we extended the Montessori method into upper grades and included students in the shared decision-making model by collaborating with them in the curriculum development process?

What if we used technology as a vehicle for collecting student feedback and cultivating classroom learning while promoting student voice?  

What if our approach to education made student-centered span all facets including the curriculum writing?

We start small, but we must start.

We Must Start

1. Blogging: Concept reflection and peer engagement

Classroom blogs offer students their own personal space to reflect on classroom practices, learning objectives, personal engagement, and a host of other topics. Curating blogs also provides ample opportunities for students to exercise peer review and practice feedback skills with one another.blogging_student voice

Building community online, as well as in the traditional setting, gives the relationship between you and your students, and students and their peers, another dimension.

The writing intensiveness of this activity is a plus too. Kids don’t need to blog every single day, but a few times a month keeps the novelty and boosts their engagement, especially if you tie in incentives.

There are a variety of platforms for blogging such as:

Kidblog.org is education-friendly and has privacy measures specific to minors.

More: 50 Creative Writing Prompts for Student Blogging

2. Online Community: Sharing ideas and feedback

Outside of school, students have communities of friends and family with whom they exchange conversation and ideas on a daily basis. When they’re in school, they often retreat to their “circle of friends” without interacting with others.

Campus-wide use of a safe, free, tech tool like Edmodo can bridge that communication divide within and among grade levels, even branching out to other campuses. These online groups and promoted discussions give teachers and administrators new information and insights into what students would like to see and do within the classroom.

Edmodo looks quite a bit like Facebook, which is helpful for navigation, but there’s far more security and it’s strictly for teachers, students, and parents. As an added bonus, the platform has Office365 and a number of apps that users can access for studying and enrichment purposes.

More: How Online Communities Enhance Learning

3. Response (clicker) Technology: Instant feedback

I can’t stress enough how excited students get when they walk into the classroom and see the response pads (clickers) on the desks. Something as small as being able to point a remote at the board and give an answer with the touch of a button makes them want to complete the day’s lesson.

The most obvious benefits of this clicker technology are:

  • Being able to provide immediate feedback when checking for understanding
  • Allowing the computer to grade each student (and import to your gradebook)
  • Tracking growth over time
  • Going “green”
  • Having constant student engagement in the lesson

More importantly, teachers and administrators can employ clicker technology to collect large numbers of student opinions and perceptions. These can be used in school and classroom modifications, which reinforces the value of student voice and adult appreciation.

Companies like Turning Technologies are well equipped to outfit your campus with clicker sets if you don’t already have them.

4. Photo Journals: Perspective illustration

Sometimes creativity gets lost in the classroom. Luckily, there are many ways to get it back while being an advocate for student voice.

In the age of Instagram, SnapChat, and “selfies,” students are more than familiar with cameras, filters, and retouches. To harness this, have students create photo journals about major topics in the community or world, including text discussing how they feel and what they think about it. This is a fun way to foster technological fluency while nurturing students’ personal expression.

Today’s cell phone cameras can take million-dollar shots, but if your library also has a set of digital cameras or newer iPods, consider building a yearlong photo journal project centered on student voice.

365project.org gives students a free place to upload images and create their photo journal that can be set to private. Don’t hesitate to look through the other apps and resources to find the best online journal for your students.

More: 9 Interactive Tools to Encourage Creative Learning

5. Webcams/Recording: “Confession Booths”

I might be dating myself here, but consider using “Confession Booths” like MTV’s Road Rules and Real World or modern-day reality television shows. The process is simple: Set up a webcam or regular video camera in a secluded corner of your room and allow students to take turns sharing their thoughts with you throughout a particular unit of study.

At the end, have different groups of kids edit the footage using iMovie, Windows Media, or another editing tool and produce their own mini-documentary/confessional. The final products can be uploaded to SchoolTube as student voice projects.

You can also use the videos to reflect on your unit and plan revisions you want to make based on student response.

There are several ways to begin promoting active student engagement in the educational process, and these tech tools are just a few of them. We have a gold mine of ideas and achievement waiting to be tapped via student feedback, and with a bit of planning and front-loading, we can use a variety of tech tools to encourage students and amplify their voices within the field of education.

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5 Tech Tools to Amplify Student Voice

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