In honour of the chat tonight on Twitter #masterychat that is focused on Student Voice and Choice and being lead by the awesome Cameron Carter (everyone should tune in) I wanted to take a few moments to reflect on what Choice and Voice really mean to me.
As a matter of pure coincidence a post came across my feeds this morning about Flex seating in the classroom and as I was looking at the different responses and accompanying pictures I reflected further on my experience in flex seating and if this really is an issue of student voice and choice. My next thought was how are we interpreting Student Voice and Choice and are we hearing all our students voices? Are we just hearing the ones that are the loudest? The ones that fit our educational philosophy? The ones that will make us get a lot of likes when we share their work on facebook or twitter? Or the ones that fit into our cute Pintrest classrooms that we love to share? I know this comes across at the moment as cynical but bare with me I am going somewhere with it.
A few weeks ago a coworker and I were discussing how much cooler it was watching my students work on their “choice” projects responding to Refugee by Alan Gratz. There were so many different options and kids were sitting at their high tables on high chairs or standing at their standing tables or rocking in their rocking chairs or sitting on the floor in the corner recording a youtube interview. There was so much going on and it seemed engagement was at a high, I was checking in on kids who assured me they had a great project being developed and unsurprisingly some did. What my coworker was moved to discuss was her own child. A boy who struggles with a learning disability that through a lot of work has over come so many challenges and is an honours student in every subject but two. Gym being one (did you know that some people still assign a grade for changing…) and another course that really perplexed this mom because her son enjoyed learning but said that he was very distracted and had a hard time focusing in this class. His mom, like involved parents do, went to the teacher with her concerns. The flex seating in the classroom (no traditional seating is available) was a problem for her son, his learning disability and his ability to succeed. The response the mom received was basically, “Well science shows kids learn better when they have different options to sit” when the mom challenged that for her child that was not the case and that changes should be made to make room for his learning the response was, ” So I am supposed to change how I like to teach for your one child that can’t adjust to my style?” …If you are a reader of my blog I am sure you can envision how I responded to this news but I will just say science does not support the reasons this teacher has employed flex seating, they are using the shield of “choice” to protect their own ideas and missing the voice of one student who otherwise could be achieving at a remarkable level, over coming struggles but instead this misunderstanding of Voice and Choice has added to this students struggles.
See when it comes to Voice and Choice we need to me looking at the why we are doing things so much more than the how. I gave my students an opportunity to respond to a question in anyway they thought fit. The “why” was built around outcomes on choice and character actions the how was wide open. Their “why” matters as well but it is our “why” as teachers, why are they doing the assignment, why are they being asked to complete it in a certain way these are real questions that need to be addressed in more than just because I heard Voice and Choice is important or because I saw some cool stuff on Pintrest.
Flex seating is one area that I have very large concerns as it comes to hearing the voice of all children in a classroom. In the past I was a supporter of the couches and recliners and wobble chairs and yoga balls and… the list is long. Kids would come in excited the learn (nope they were excited to get the fun chairs, but we like to say it is about the learning) they were focused so much more on their work because they had a comfortable place to sit (nope again they were just happy to sit there, the work did not change so much) classroom management became so much easier because those kids that bounce around distracting everyone settled right down with their choice seating (nope again they just found new ways to distract). What really did happen? Some of my students complained that the new seats made it harder to focus because it just became another thing in the classroom. I make room for the fact that I did not set expectations clearly enough at the beginning (another byproduct of moving to choice) and I accept that is on me but even with setting those expectations the endless seating options would still be a distraction and impact other learners. It brings me back to the why? Are we building a classroom that looks like a Pintrest ad with comfy seats and mood lighting because it is helping ALL our learners or are we doing it for the retweets and pats on the back? This year I was blessed with new furniture for a new room. No “comfy cute” just different types of plastic seats, some high, some low, some rock, some don’t. Kids that need them use them, kids that don’t need them don’t see them as a novelty. It is a better balance for me and I have not had the same voices of concern coming up around furniture.
On voice and choice in assignments. I do not have a lot to say here. Just that if we are giving students voice and choice we need to actually listen to what they are asking for. “Mr.Gilson can I just write a test?” this is something I have heard this year and wondered about, putting it out to the twitterverse and my amazing PLN I heard the response often “They are not use to choice so at first they resist just keep pushing and they will come around” While I jumped on that at first, today I was thinking, I don’t think that advice is addressing the issue. The issue is me not listening to that students voice. They clearly stated they wanted a traditional test and my first response was to listen to others to support my dream to have 30 different responses to the same assigned question. My dream to have this picture perfect voice and choice room closed my ears to the voice of a student wanting a traditional measure of their knowledge. My Bad.
As a teacher on a journey to celebrate my students voice and their choices I need to make sure my students know that I am listening to all their voice, we as teachers can’t say I choose to hear you but not you when a student has concerns. We need to analyze our practice, the “whys” around what we are doing but most importantly we need to listen to all the voices in our rooms. We can’t marginalize our students who prefer traditional seating, independent work and a test at the end of the day because WE want things to be different. If we do that we are not honouring anyones voice but our own.