Empowering Student Voice- 1/26/2020

What opportunities do you provide for your students to share their voices? Are you communicating that their voices matter? How do you create learning experiences that empower learners?

These are all key questions that we should consider as we plan engaging experiences for students. As George Couros and Katie Novak share in Innovate Inside the Box, "Empowering is about ownership and agency. Providing opportunities for voice and choice in learning experiences is how we create learning experiences that empower learners."

So how can we best do that? What are some ways that we can give students these opportunities for both voice and choice? As I have shared, this year giving students ownership and agency are two of my big goals this year when it comes to my learners. As I coteach lessons with the upper grade teachers at my school and teach the lower grades, I look for ways to walk the talk. Here are three of my favorite ways to empower my learners' voices.

1. Try an App Smash: Wixie and Flipgrid

When it comes to my youngest learners, appsmashing two of my favorite programs together is always a winning combination.

Last year, I discovered Wixie as I began working with primary students in my role as a School Based Technology Specialist. At first, I didn't understand why to use Wixie over other apps, but this app quickly won me over with its easy to use interface. This past summer, Wixie had a big update and its features continue to impress me more and more.

Two years ago, I discovered Flipgrid when I joined the Fairfax County Public Schools family. Like Wixie, at first, I didn't see the value in this app, but as I explored its uses with my students, I realized what a powerful tool it was. This past summer, it also had a big update and its features continue to grow on a regular basis.

See this Appsmash in Action...

During the month of January, my first graders used Wixie to create pictures of a force acting on an object. After, they learned how to download their creations and then upload them as custom stickers into Flipgrid. Last, they shared their voices as they explained why they drew the picture they did using Flipgrid.

Earlier in the year, second and third grade students created Digital Citizenship Pledges using Wixie. In this activity, they created a digital citizenship pledge based on how they would share, respond, work or play online. This activity was an extension to Common Sense Media's required third grade digital citizenship lesson. Like the first graders, they also downloaded their pledges and learned to upload them to Flipgrid where they shared why their pledges were a good idea.

2. Unleash the power of Flipgrid's Shorts Camera

As part of the updates this past summer, Flipgrid released its Shorts camera. The Shorts camera is truly amazing. It allows students to customize their videos to a whole new level with new features like whiteboard and blackboard features and even the opportunity to create multiple segments as part of one video.

These updates give Flipgrid new superpowers. Now, students don't just need to be on camera to share their thinking. They can show their thinking as they solve math problems or practice reciting several pieces of poetry. The possibilities are endless.

See this Power Up in Action

Sixth graders used Flipgrid's Shorts camera to share how they solved a task called Packing for Algebraland. In this task, they needed to determine how much more they could include in their packed luggage and explain why. Several of my sixth graders took advantage of these camera features as they created their responses.

Fourth graders used Flipgrid's Shorts camera to help them present and recite poetry as they began their Poetry unit. Reciting poetry can be overwhelming and using Flipgrid's features helped not only build their confidence, but also share their voice.

3. Partner up a Thinking Routine with Padlet

Taking a Project Zero thinking routine and amplifying it using Padlet takes our student voices to a whole new level.

Thinking routines are, “designed to promote students' thinking, such as asking students what they know, what they want to know, and what they have learned as part of a unit of study.” They take what students have read or examined and have them synthesize their thoughts to make their thinking visible.

There are so many thinking routines and they all have different purposes. Some facilitate understanding and creativity, while others focus on fairness and truth. For more information, go to Visible Thinking. Using these structures not only reveals student thinking, but also validate that their thinking matters.

Using a online wall display like Padlet takes their thinking and makes their voices visible to the rest of their learning community. Padlet is a freemium product and each account gives you access to 3 Padlet walls. Each wall is customizable and features many different formats- column, a feed, and many more.

See this Power Up in Action

Third graders used a thinking routine called See, Think, Wonder to help them examine an artifact from the Smithsonian Learning Lab. They used close looking to share what they saw, what they thought the artifact's story was and what questions they had about the artifact. They posted their See, Think, Wonder ideas on a columned Padlet so that all student thinking was visible.

Last year, sixth graders learned about using digital images appropriately and then created a Color, Symbol, Image to share their ideas using a Padlet tiled stream- this gave them the opportunities to share their thoughts and practice appropriate social media etiquette in a protected forum.

The examples above share just a few ways that we can use technology tools to empower student voice. They are by no means an all inclusive list. They are just some tools that help me as an educator walk the talk. This list is always growing and I can't wait to see what I can add to my toolbox next.