True, authentic voice rarely comes from one-size-fits-all assignments. While there are standards and expectations of what I am teaching my Middle School English and history students, I find that there are often many different ways students can demonstrate their learning of these standards.
For example, in my sixth grade English class, students are expected to develop a product that exhibits their ability to write persuasively. One way student voice comes through is how they choose for that learning outcome to take shape. Maybe their persuasive piece turns into a podcast, or maybe its final form is a letter to the editor, or a call to action to their government. Regardless of the product, they are not only getting a choice, but they are also stretching past the walls of the Ellis community and reaching real-world audiences.
Students can show their understanding of a piece of fiction—its plot, theme, and conflict—by creating a children’s book or a board game just as comprehensively as they can by writing a traditional essay. The guiding principle is that when students have ownership of their learning, it increases not only their engagement but their passion for what they are doing. Giving students different ways to present their ideas and use their individual voices allows them to showcase their unique talents.
Letting students have some choice in the final learning outcome also gives them the chance to decide whether they want to work individually or collaboratively. A girl who wants to work alone on a piece of writing that indicates her understanding of a concept can do so at the same time that a group of her classmates are filming a piece that demonstrates theirs.
In addition, student voice is a necessary component in each of Ellis’ four guiding pillars. Students cannot be changemakers if they are not given the opportunity to speak out about the issues that matter to them as individuals. They are not going to feel secure and confident in their classrooms if they do not believe that their voice matters to the very people tasked with teaching them. Giving students the opportunity to share their authentic voices in the classroom and in the school community is the very thing that makes them vibrant intellects and positive community members.
Ellis is a school that understands the importance of student voice. It is a community that relishes in giving its students the room they need to grow. Every day I am thankful to work in an environment that nurtures student expression, because we need young adults who use their authentic voices now more than ever.