“The future belongs to young people with an education and the imagination to create”
– Barack Obama, 44th President of The United States of America
I believe no one is ever too small to make a difference. Just like how a small portion of yeast can raise the dough to become bread; likewise, is the voice of every student in a classroom that can make significant changes. Often these young ones are deemed lacking in experience, incapable of making their own decisions, or are not insightful enough. The truth is they will continuously be labeled as such, or worse become everything of the above if they are not given space to voice out their opinions and beliefs.
This is where educators need to embrace responsibility and engage students to be active partakers in the classroom. Though it might seem that we are doing less by giving up control, I would love to play devil’s advocate and argue the contrary. Encouraging students to take charge of their learning could in fact be the first step in cultivating more of their potential.
Adam Fletcher, a renowned writer, speaker and consultant on youth engagement and social change explains, “It is not enough to simply listen to student voice. Educators have an ethical imperative to do something with students, and that is why meaningful student involvement is vital to school improvement.”
Therefore, I believe that creating learning experiences that promote student’s voices enables teachers to leave their prominent place in front of the class in exchange for an engaging position alongside their students. A position where teachers can witness their students transforming their learning themselves through self-initiated effort and engaged strategies.
Teachers need not be mere ‘lecturers’ in the classroom, taking centre stage, and focused on force feeding content while the student’s only significant role is to sit and listen for hours. Instead, teachers need to be taking up a listening and supportive role, hence allowing more opportunities for students to be expressive.
Teachers need to be ‘less’ and become facilitators in the classroom while making our students to be ‘more’ as they become active speakers, learners, innovators, critical thinkers and problem solvers. School becomes more meaningful to students if they are given the opportunities to engage and question matters that are often downplayed or overlooked. These include complex matters of society, culture, religion, environment, policies, politics which are often lacking and not comprehensive in syllabus.
Only then can they add substance to their ideas, empower themselves and apply those matters in real life. When I set up lessons for my classroom, I make sure students can facilitate their own discussions and speak to each other more than they speak to me. This enables them to question each other’s ideas and respond to them by quoting sources and mentioning facts. Thus, making each group to self-evaluate their output and learn more about agreeing to disagree and at the same time find common ground that they can agree and work on.
I remember a couple of years ago during one of my Science classes where I was teaching my students about environmental sustainability through technological advancements. Prior to the lesson, I gave them some videos and critical questions for discussions related to the topic.
A few days after, I conducted a lesson by first sharing a review about a movie I watched entitled ‘The Black Panther”. A fictional, superhero movie of how a minority group in a country called Wakanda was so well advanced in technology that they used it to develop their state and preserve their environment.
My planned outcome for the lesson was how they could negotiate examples taken from that movie and apply it in the conservation of our environment and suit it to the complexity of our society. As they started discussing their ideas and thoughts in their respective groups, it developed into much deeper discourse, exceeding the outcomes I planned. Their upgraded discussion included additional themes such as inequity and inequality, systemic racism and its cost, and how they all intertwine with the construct of environmental sustainability.
Did I stop them when they developed into a more complex discussion? No, I did not. Instead, I allowed them more autonomy, as they took charge of their own learning. Like a true facilitator I was enthusiastically observing their session whilst contributing critical feedback and probing questions.
Occurrences such as this is a firm reminder that in my practice, my duty is to grant frequent opportunities and mediums for students to enter and develop deep learning. I believe, deep learning only takes place when students are given space to be creative and critical, while challenging themselves with relatable and meaningful constructs. “Young people of today are the future of our country tomorrow” – a phrase we’ve heard for years and yet have never seen the fulfilment of ‘tomorrow’ to bear fruit as ‘today’.
That status quo will continue to remain if the leaders that we’ve been hyping about for years, which are our students, the true classroom heroes are not given a voice today. It all begins in a classroom where educators are shepherds entrusted to give our students a voice, regardless how small it is – because it matters.
OBAMA, B. (2009). Obamas Speech at the New Economic School. July 7, 2009.
Prior, S. (2011). Student voice: What do students who are intellectually gifted say they experience and need in the inclusive classroom?. Gifted and Talented International, 26(1-2), 121-129.