‘Food for Thought’ on Student Voice

Over the years so many students have had an impact on my approach to learning and teaching. When I hear the phrase ‘student voice’, there is one particular past student who pops into my head. A couple of times a year I get a surprise email to let me know about the great things she is up to and what she has achieved, always signed off with Lucy Lu.

Regularly in conversation with teacher friends, I hear the phrase “sure you could write a book on it”. Many of my memories from the classroom have had a huge impact on me, both, professionally and personally. There is one specific memory that had a profound effect on me as a teacher. This is how the impact of Lucy goes…

One evening I was lurking on Twitterverse, and there were a couple of global educators sharing their thoughts on a new digital tool called Flipgrid

What is Flipgrid?

If you have never heard of Flipgrid before… it’s Microsoft’s social learning platform. An easy to use, safe and secure video recording and sharing application based in the cloud. Synchronously or asynchronously, Flipgrid allows educators to facilitate class conversations whilst providing students with choice, autonomy and creativity with how they respond. Stickers, backgrounds and filters bring a serious level of fun to content creation and learning. Green light for accessibility, too, as Immersive Reader is built in. 

Even better for me, the educators on Twitter were sharing how they were using Flipgrid in their classrooms. Instantly intrigued by the potential for vlogging in my classroom. All the while I was utterly terrified of it being a complete flop. How would I ‘manage’ it and where would I start?

Bitmoji graphic containing quote by sir Ken Robinson: “For most of us the problem isn’t that we aim too high and fail 
- it’s just the opposite - 
we aim too low and succeed.”

How would I introduce Flipgrid? Would students engage? How could I introduce video to my classroom without intimidating, terrifying, embarrassing or sending anxiety levels through the roof? These were the questions going around in my head. What I have now come to realise is; these were my fears and anxieties and I was projecting them onto my students – I will come back to this later in this post.

Meanwhile, I find myself searching Twitter using the hashtag #Flipgrid, educators in this space only had positive things to say. I set myself a challenge. I was going to introduce Flipgrid to my students, design-in more opportunities for student voice in my lessons and I was going to lose my projections before doing so! I would encourage you to call yourself out and hold yourself accountable if projections are stopping you from adopting new teaching strategies or introducing new digital technologies… watch out for “my students wouldn’t be able…” I know we have all heard this line before and it can be disabling for students. Here comes the starting point in changing my mindset…

“Would you rather?” a change of mindset 

Flipgrid has a bank of pre-made prompts, in the ‘Discovery Library’ that you can copy to your teacher dashboard. You can then setup the topic prompts for your students to respond to with video. I sat down to explore the topics and to look for some inspiration. Very quickly I began to realise, introducing Flipgrid to my teacher toolbox was going to be a gamechanger. All I needed to do was stop worrying about what may or may not happen and take the risk for a potentially huge reward for my students. Introducing Flipgrid could provide more meaningful opportunities to promote student choice and elevate student voice in my classroom. Author, Adam Fletcher, talks of this in his work on student engagement, in particular, how we create optimal opportunities for students to take ownership of their learning experience. 

Bitmoji graphic containing Adam Fletcher's quote: “It's really seeing student involvement … as a variety of opportunities that are appropriate for each given student and responsive to their individual needs and their desires for their educational experience.”

I wanted a prompt that was a bit of fun. Ann Kosma’s ‘Would you rather?’ prompt was perfect! After some tweaking, one of the options was “would you rather a watermelon or a Kinder Bueno doughnut?” For me, the answer here is pretty obvious but I will leave that to your imagination. One of my golden rules in the classroom; never ask a student to do something that I haven’t already done myself. Sat at my kitchen table, I recorded my very first Flipgrid video response donning unicorn shades! This was going to be my hook.

Bitmoji Graphic quote: "One of my golden rules in the classroom; never ask a student to do something that I haven't already done myself"

The next morning in class, I played my Flipgrid video and spent some time exploring the platform with students. We had a chat about the functionality and I asked them what they thought? One noted that it was like a ‘Snapchat for school’. Then I set my class the challenge of recording their first Flipgrid video response to my custom ‘Would you rather prompt’.  

Back to Lucy Lu. As a student, Lucy was always engaged in my classes. First to volunteer, happy to come up to the board or even lead collaborative activities and she always contributed to class discussions. Until that moment. Lucy came up to my desk and she quietly said “Ashley, I can’t do this. I am not doing the recording.” To be honest, I was surprised and I asked “why?”. I got an instant response “who wants to listen to me…”. Which after a short pause to think, I followed with something along the lines of “For starters… I do.. and if you would like to share I’m interested in why you think that?”.

Lucy went on to share an experience from her primary school classroom. It seems she was a bit of a chatterbox as a young child, and her teacher named this in the class. After that, Lucy had learned to stay quiet. I could feel the depth of the impact years later as she recounted her story; under the impression that being a chatterbox or speaking without being asked was a bad thing. I have no doubt that this was far from the intention of the teacher. There it was, in that moment, the stark realisation of the power and the potential for how we, as educators, use language to converse with students together with the potential for lifelong impact. 

Up to this point, I was confident that I knew my students well. I provided a broad range of meaningful activities to promote student voice. I had assumed that the class discussions, time spent in conversation and building relationships, asking students their opinion and for feedback at the end of lessons gave me a picture of confidence levels – what I had failed to consider was, for some, this confidence was within the safety of the walls of my classroom.

The first of many: the journey of a student and teacher!

That evening, Lucy recorded her first Flipgrid video, the first of many that year. I believe the impact of that class and that one, why?, question of Lucy was as profound for me in my journey as an educator as it was for her in her journey as a student.  

Years later, I can’t help but reflect back on times where I know I put my foot in my mouth in the classroom and I know that this is something that most teachers become very mindful of, generally on the back of experience. Overshadowing this is the question… How many other students would have grown in confidence or had an opportunity to share their voice in a safe space if I had given Flipgrid a go a year earlier?

If you haven’t tried it yet, 2022 could be your year to elevate student voice! As a very important colleague of mine would say.. “Feel the fear and do it anyway!”. If you are thinking of trying a new digital technology in your classroom or introducing a new tool, stop putting it off – I believe in you and you can do it, one click at a time. The worst thing that can happen is a tech gremlin. Breath and start again. As an educator, one of the greatest experiences you can share with your students is the gift of learning.

Bitmoji graphic with quote: "As an educator, one of the greatest experiences you can share with your students is the gift of learning."
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