My debate students are preparing TED style talks, and so I modeled one for them. It went long, because when you do something you love, time flies. So I wanted to post this talk here, in case anyone wanted to hear what I hope will someday become a real TED Talk.
Each year in my psychology class, I show two movies. One is the Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It features great examples of states of consciousness, motivations, stress responses, and identity formation. Central to the movie plot is Walter Mitty's devotion to his soon to be extinct employer. The movie tells us that the motto of Life magazine (in reality, it ended in 1972 and had a much shorter motto) is this:
To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, draw closer, to find each other, and to feel. That is the purpose of life.
I love this movie. If you've not seen it, you really should. The clip below shows how the motto plays a role in Mitty's character development:
This is a vision statement if ever I saw one.
I am loving exploring vision statements. My class vision statement, prominently displayed in front of my class is this:
Don't tell me what I can't do.
I have to give credit to the TV show LOST there, but I use it to inspire students to think just how much they are capable of. It worked so well that at several points, when I was expressing something I felt limited by, my students pointed to the sign and quoted it back to me.
There is power in a motto, in vision statements. Yet, after a recent Twitter chat, I came to realize how few teachers have a vision statement for their classroom. Sure, they have a campus vision statement, but do they have one for their own unique culture?
And so, as I watched Walter Mitty again, I was once again struck by the motto of Life, and thought how it could apply to, and maybe inspire, our teachers. So, here is my paraphrase:
At the heart of this motto is not content. It is not curriculum. It is not instruction.
It is relationships.
How do we teach? With fact streams? With textbooks? With lectures? With discussion? With powerpoint or Prezi?
If we do not teach with heart, with vision- it doesn't matter.
So, if you do not have a vision statement for your class, what would you like it to be? I want to challenge you to seek vision, to define your purpose and goal- beyond teaching the curriculum.
Vision and heart- the two ingredients for great teachers that cannot be left out.
I say "student voice," and you hear a lot of things. Some people hear a music component, some hear discipline, others hear political activism.
Some just hear white noise.
This is last one concerns me. I am not a fan of insider talk or jargon, because it can alienate those not initiated to the terminology. It becomes white noise. I don't want people to lose sight of the powerful things happening in student voice- so I need to define what I mean when I say it.
In my classroom and my observations of other educators' work in student voice, I have identified four levels: student talk, student inquiry, oracy, and empowerment. I'd like to take this opportunity to check these levels- and clear up any fuzziness about student voice.
I think many teachers hear "student voice" and this image comes to mind:
Honestly, that's what I thought it was when I started this journey. Student voice equaled engagement in my mind- that was the goal. But I've discovered that getting students to talk- to engage- is just the beginning. It's no higher than level 3 on the dial.
But its still student voice, it is still important. My students often report classes where they don't get to or don't attempt to talk. They report that classes where they get to talk, even if it is only to respond to direct questions, are still more engaging than straight lecture. The reason that the level of student voice is low for student talk is because it lacks depth. It's not about the student analyzing and interpreting, just communicating and trying out answers. So, let's turn it up a level.
If student talk is about answering questions, inquiry is about students asking the questions. Here, students create questions, problems, and scenarios and pose these questions to themselves and each other. The student led discussions I start my class with are often at this level of student voice- up to a level 5. I've seen Dan Meyer talk about students designing math questions for their peers, and I image it's a small step to students designing experiments in their science classes.
Here, the levels begin to mix, some students inquire, others talk- but the basic engagement now begins to add up to a fuller sound, a more robust voice experience.
Ah, now we're talking!
Students are asking and answering their own questions and it is...chaos?
That is what some teachers fear- "I loose my grip on the class and it goes off topic, or the students don't actually listen to each other and no learning happens."
Enter oracy, and we go to level 8.
Oracy is defined by Merriam Webster as "proficiency in oral expression and comprehension." Why does that matter in math or science? Because if we can learn to be proficient in our math and science talk,we can gain deeper understanding, just like in language arts, debate and social studies.
But I still come back to how School 21 in England defines oracy, in this video:
I remind you- those are elementary students.
Our political leaders do not speak that respectfully or artfully.
Now imagine what you could do if your classes successfully combined talk, inquiry and oracy!
To paraphrase Spinal Tap, "Let's turn it up to 11!"
That is empowerment. Students talk with each other, ask the questions, communicate with skill and now we give them a chance to do something with it. Invite them to sit on school committees, have them write their politicians, gain an audience with the administration and school board.
And then we listen. And then we respond.
And then we are changed.
See, if student voice gets turned all the way up, there will be change. There will be innovation.
We must not fear student empowerment, but embrace it.
Our classrooms should be laboratories that develop leaders and let them test their skills. Student voice is how we do it. And there is no better place to explore the road to empowerment than our classrooms- we can guide the students so that they use their voice not in selfish ways, but in ways to help others. Student voice creates collaboration, unity, and a family. And we will raise the level of voice together, as our students learn to count and analyze and read and argue and learn from the past and create with open minds and words from the heart.
Let's raise the volume!
Over my teaching career, I have had a lot of observers. Administrators, teachers from my campus, teachers from other campuses, college student observers, Central Office administrators. On Friday, I had the most important observer I've ever had.
My 12 year old daughter Leslie.
She woke up with a migraine, and since neither her mother or I could really miss that day, we decided she could come to my class since it had low lights, and see if that could help. Fortunately, it did, and before long, Leslie felt well enough that I made a suggestion- why don't you take notes on the classes, and tell me what you think.
Boy, did she.
For each class, she made observations on student engagement, student behavior, and measured student understanding. Throughout the blog, I will post pictures of her notes- with class designates removed. Since most of these notes were about the students, I wanted to take the chance with this blog to get her thoughts on me as a teacher, and the classroom environment and culture as a whole. Here are the responses:
Me: Alright Leslie, let's start- what where your thoughts on the physical design of the classroom- seating, lights, smells, and stuff?
Leslie: I think that it can make kids feel more at home like with the couches and the comfy chairs, rather than in a classroom with desks and regular chairs. I think that flexible seating helps students focus because the pick where they sit so they can see better and hear better. I like it better because after a little bit you can get sore and lose focus because it's an uncomfortable seat.
Me: OK, so you also saw the Coffee Talk- our student led discussion. What did you think about that?
Leslie: I think that it's a smart idea to let the kids recap what they have already learned about, then tell the other kids to tell the leader something they like about them.
Me: Why is it important to let the students recap, instead of just doing review questions that people do individually, like in regular bell work?
Leslie: I think that it's better than bell work because you can say what you want to say with more emotion rather than writing it on paper.
Me: We are also doing the positive "Say something nice" version. Did this work, and why do you think it is important to tell each other nice things about each other?
Leslie: I think it is important because it can help people feel confident in them self and i do think it works very well.
Me: You saw classes of debate and Psychology- did you think the students and I connected well regarding the lessons- did they understand what they were supposed to?
Leslie: I saw that y'all understood what each other were trying to say, and the way you worded your questions helped the students understand what you were asking.
Me: Would you say the students had a lot of say in what and how they learned, or did I just tell them?
Leslie: I think they had it in control and you just help move the conversation along and keep them on track.
Me. Alright, so here is the toughest thing I am going to ask you- as a teacher- how did I do? Also, what did I do that you DID like, and what did I do that you DID NOT like? Be honest!
Leslie: You did a good job as a teacher, I would definitely want to have you as one of my teachers. I liked how you would try to get to everyone who had their hand up and then try to get to people who didn't have their hand up. Maybe something you could work on is trying something like a hand motion or chant to get the students attention.
Me: In your opinion- what makes a class a good class to be in? If you could tell your teacher 3 things that would help you learn more effectively, what would they be?
Leslie: The 3 things to help me learn more effectively would be flexible seating because I like pick where I can sit so I can be more focused, the second thing is the teacher being able to laugh with the students about something they said or did or anything like that, and the third thing is making the class laugh at a story that happened to them or in their lives or at a video or something like that. Something that would make a class a good class to be in would be to let the kids tell the class (if they want to) about something that happened to them whether it be something good or bad.
I believe strongly in the power of student voice- even when the student is my own child. I must admit, I was a bit nervous asking her to share- I had no idea whether or not she'd like my class or me as a teacher.
But that isn't the point, anyway. The biggest point to make here is this- students of any age can and should have a voice in how their classes work. That is student voice, that is student empowerment.
I teach Psychology, Sociology, World History Honors and Debate at College Station High School, as well as coach the debate team, sponsor the TED Ed Club, and I am the Lead Innovator for LEADS CSISD (A student leadership empowerment program for 5th-8th graders). I am an aspiring administrator.