Student Voice Matters: Three Takeaways from the Adobe Spark/Flipgrid Student Voice Summit

Education is famous for its buzzwords–new, trend-setting terms emerge every couple of years. Lately, the term “Student Voice” is one of them. But how important is it? According to the United Nations, vitally important. Students have the power to use their voice to make a difference in the world. To that end, the UN advocates for Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) in classrooms around the world that help students connect their learning to a purpose greater than themselves. Head over to teachsdgs.org for ideas and lesson plans.

So how can we honor and amplify student voice? Adobe Spark and Flipgrid teamed up on December 7, 2019 at Park Maitland School with 70 educators to host the first-ever Student Voice is Magic Summit to help teachers explore what student voice really looks like in their classrooms, and empower our students to use their own voices. Educators shared practical ideas and experiences that could quickly be implemented in classrooms. But this day did so much more. It convinced me and all the participants that learning and student voice are inseparable. There were so many great ideas and passionate conversations about this topic–I am inspired!

My Top Three Takeaways on Empowering Student Voice Are:

1. Build a culture of empathy. Cristen Magaletti of Boca Raton, FL challenged us to think about “That Kid”: the one that might be shy and reluctant to raise a hand, so they go unseen by teachers and fall through the cracks of education. That kid needs to be at the forefront of our thinking. We need to ask ourselves how we can see those unseen students before we ever connect our practice to pedagogy or routines. All students need to use their voices in a safe and supportive learning environment. For this to happen, we must give them an opportunity to share their interests and the freedom to determine the way they learn best. Most importantly, we need to take that information and actually use it in the way we design experiences for our learners. Help them tell their authentic story to honor their voice. This may mean abandoning or discontinuing a practice in your classroom that is no longer relevant, like standing at the front of the classroom to deliver instruction or rigidly adhere to a pacing plan. Empathy must be built into the scheme of your instruction to get a good understanding of your learners, and then we invite students to be co-designers in their own learning.

Helpful Tool→ Build empathy on a regular basis in the classroom with “Innovators Compass,” designed by Ela Ben-Ur. An IDEO veteran and Olin College Professor, Ela has created this handy tool that helps people work toward solving problems, big or small—in one usable, shareable picture. This process makes empathy visible and can be integrated into any lesson plan. Learn more at innovatorscompass.org

2. Think about pedagogy – Once you understand who your students are, their interests and how they learn best, you have included them in the process of their own learning. When a culture of empathy is firmly established in the learning environment, then we need to think about how we are designing curriculum, instruction and the classroom experience. We tailor the art of teaching to make the most of the precious moments in our classrooms. Admittedly, this is often our biggest struggle, as creating thoughtful curriculum takes time. So we have to be empathetic with ourselves as well. Go easy on yourself; start small and think about ways you can make little tweaks in the instructional time to check in periodically with your students for their feedback and impressions. This is valuable information as you progress through a school term. And remember to incorporate student feedback for an authentic understanding of student voice.

Helpful ToolHeidi Hayes Jacobs, author of Bold Moves In Schools shares a thinking process around empathetic curriculum that is a good place to start. Learn more here.

3. Helpful tools are available to amplify student voice, honor empathy in learning and connect your students to something bigger than themselves. Students whose voices are heard feel they have something to contribute–it gives purpose to what they are doing on a daily basis in a classroom. And there is no limit to what kids can create when they have the setting and tools to use their voices for something with meaning and purpose. Educators have to provide them with experiences that matter–so they know their voices matter–and the tools to accomplish this. Adobe Spark and Flipgrid are just two of the technology tools that amplify student voice.

Helpful Tool→Adobe Spark Student Voice Spark page has many examples of how to use Adobe Spark to amplify student voice in the classroom in a creative and beautiful way. With these tools, students can do amazing things, like create a collaborative documentary aligned to goals using Adobe Spark and sharing it worldwide using Flipgrid. Or they can partner with other schools to produce a news magazine with a wide distribution with Adobe Spark Page.

Student voice should not be just a buzzword–it should be a guiding concept in our learning culture. Now, Adobe Spark can work seamlessly with other platforms to beautifully and meaningfully amplify student voice, keeping it at the forefront of classroom planning and practice.

Follow me and these exciting educators on social media to learn more about Student Voice: Tanya Avrith, Cristen Magaletti , Jornea Armant, Evelyn McCulloughJoe and Kristen Merrill, Dr. Jennifer Williams, Matt Dombrowski.