by Mark Danforth, PenPal Schools Chief Learning Officer
Student voice helps shape the learning experience by encouraging students to sharing their opinions, beliefs, perspectives, and cultural backgrounds. As a result, units, lessons, and projects become more relevant to students. Student voice is at the core of project-based learning (and every PenPal Schools project), and it requires more than simply allowing students opportunities to speak during class. Here are four ways you can nurture student voice in all of your PBL units.
1. Let Students Choose Early and Often
Student choice makes learning more personal and aligns instruction with an individual’s interests and strengths. Students choice also makes students more accountable and motivated in their work.
There are many ways to add student choice to project-based learning units. When introducing a unit, ask students to choose what type of project they want to create to share their learning with others. You can also ask students to choose what resources they would like to use when exploring a topic or whether they would like to work individually, in small groups, or with the whole class. You can even ask students to choose how their work will be evaluated.
Because student choice is new for many young people, start by providing students with a menu of options to choose from. For example, after introducing a subject or theme for a project-based unit, let students choose the type of deliverable they want to produce. While older students might quickly brainstorm outputs like a presentation, a service project, a video, or a podcast, presenting a list to younger students gives them specific ideas while also allowing room for student choice. Here are the options given to students at the beginning of the Robotics project.
2. Ask Questions
A culture of questioning will help students practice speaking and listening skills. Students will naturally ask questions that are interesting to them which will help motivate them in their work.
Start each lesson or unit with a strong essential, or driving, question. Framing lessons and units with driving questions can show students how questions can direct learning. Use these sentence stems to design a great essential question, then model how asking questions can help lead to new ideas and perspectives. Once students are comfortable using essential questions to direct learning, encourage each student to begin the day by stating a question that they would like to explore. Daily questions can lead students to analyze the accuracy and relevance of the work they’ve already done. Other times, daily questions might help students identify additional resources or counter-arguments to explore.
3. Connect with Authentic Audiences
Connecting with an authentic audience helps students develop language and collaboration skills. An authentic audience also makes learning more engaging and fun while allowing students to get critical feedback on their work.
Connecting with an authentic audience might involve bringing subject-matter experts into the classroom or presenting student work to others. Students might also engage with an authentic audience by sharing work with classmates and asking for their feedback. Teachers around the world tell us that one of their favorite things about PenPal Schools is how easy it is to connect with an authentic global audience!
4. Allow Space for Reflection
Reflection helps students identify their own strengths and weaknesses as well as generate future questions to explore individually or with their peers.
While most educators agree that reflection is an important part of the learning process, many educators only make space for reflection at the end of a project. Great PBL includes regular opportunities for reflection “check points.” After every lesson, students should reflect on 1) what they did well, 2) what they wish they could have done differently, and 3) what questions they want to explore during the next class. Help students get into the practice of regular reflection by asking a couple students to share their answers to each of these three questions at the end of the class.
So are you ready to use these tips to add student voice to your lessons and project based learning units? Like any change in instruction, making space for student voice will take time. Let us know how you add student voice to your classroom in the comments below! Or, connect with other educators who are working to increase student voice through project-based learning from the PenPal Schools Teacher Dashboard or Facebook Community of Global Educators.
Learn more about project-based learning from PenPal Schools Chief Learning Officer Mark Danforth at @MarkDDanforth