Encouraging Learner Voice in Your Classroom

How do you encourage intrinsic motivation in your students?
How do you engage every student in your classroom?

There is no magic answer to these questions but learner voice may be a big piece of the puzzle. According to the National College for Teaching & Leadership, “learner voice is about considering the perspectives and ideas of learners, respecting what everyone has to say, taking risks, sharing, listening, engaging, and working together in partnership.” The key idea is that every student feels safe to express their thoughts and opinions in the classroom. 

This starts with creating a positive classroom culture from day one. This means working with your students to establish an environment where students know they can respectfully disagree with you and each other, where differences are respected and looked at as an opportunity to learn, and where everyone has an equal opportunity to learn and succeed. Edutopia’s Thom Gibson offers some suggestions here, and this video from Teaching Channel is a great place to follow up.

But encouraging learner voice should continue beyond day one and throughout the school year. There are key instructional, learning, and assessment strategies that teachers can use in their daily practice to encourage learner voice. 

First and foremost, using basic instructional strategies like a think-ink-pair-share provides all learners with an opportunity to answer questions in class discussions. Remember the old popsicle stick trick you were taught to make sure everyone was engaged? What if you flipped this strategy? Pass out popsicle sticks at the start of class and ask each student to contribute to the class discussion at least once before they return the popsicle stick. Once you have all of the sticks returned, start over. What about asking students for an incorrect answer? This is far less intimidating to some learners but still requires deductive reasoning. Finally, using an interactive journal can allow all of your students to engage with you, but in the interest of your time and sanity, provide quality feedback to 20% of journals each day or each week.

Speaking of feedback, assessment is another place where you can encourage learner voice. Share your learning objectives with your students. Be clear about your expectations and make sure your students understand what they should know and do. Once the instruction begins, formatively assess frequently to ensure accurate instruction. Allow students to take tests as a team. Find other creative ways to assess student learning by making students a part of the process through portfolios, and self and peer assessments. Finally, make sure to use rubrics to ensure objective evaluation of learning. 

How do you encourage learner voice in your classroom? Share your strategies in this blog’s Comments section.

Additional Resources:
Developing Learner Voice
Including Student Voice
Establishing a Culture of Student Voice
Three Strategies for Encouraging and Developing Student Voice

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