Student voice and choice is of utmost importance in our classrooms, whether you teach the youngest Primary division students or the oldest Senior division students. Elementary school is a crucial time in a student’s life, as it is where they begin to develop their sense of identity and learn essential social and emotional skills. When students feel empowered to share their thoughts and opinions, they are more engaged in the learning process and are better able to take ownership of their education.
One way to support and encourage student voice in school is through student council, which provides students with the opportunity to become involved in their school’s decision-making process and represent their peers. Oftentimes, high schools have student councils, but they are not always commonplace in elementary schools. How can we effectively implement a student council in an elementary school to foster student voice? Let’s explore this further!
Benefits of Student Council in Elementary School
There are a number of benefits of student council to both the students and the school community. Student councils allow students to develop leadership skills as they take on the responsibilities of representing their peers and making decisions that impact the school. By allowing students to have their voice heard and to be an active contributor to their education, they will come to realize that their actions and decisions can make a difference and they can bring positive change to the world around them. Being a member of the student council gives these students a sense of empowerment and encourages them to become active members of their community.
We don’t want our school systems to create passive learners; rather, we want to empower and inspire our students to develop and implement meaningful change in the world! Student council is a great strategy to promote student voice and agency. It provides a platform for students to voice their opinions and ideas, which can be used to determine some school policies and processes, fundraiser ideas, theme days, and special events at the school. This promotes a sense of ownership and involvement in the school community, which can improve student engagement and academic outcomes.
Assembling a Successful Student Council
A successful student council should be diverse and inclusive. “The overall goal of the student council is to represent each grade and the students as a whole and provide leadership for the student body” (classroom.synonym.com). The leaders of the student council could be students from the highest grade, depending on the structure of your school (mine would be Grade 8 students). One way that these student leaders could be chosen would be through an election or vote process, allowing their peers to identify and select which students best represent their class and school community. This strategy in and of itself allows students to exercise their student voice and make the council representative of them.
Another way to assemble a council is through teacher nominations. Teachers could nominate students who they believe would make effective leaders and represent the diverse needs and perspectives of their peers. I believe that it would be beneficial and important to have 1-2 students from each class be “class representatives” on the student council. This allows all voices to be heard from various classes and grades, while also making it easier to communicate information to the larger school community (i.e., class representatives can promote the upcoming fundraiser to their own classes).
Twinkl has curated a few helpful resources to get you started on assembling your own student council (Twinkl – How to Start a Student Council):
The American Student Council Association is a great starting point for your research: https://www.naesp.org/asca.
Many states have their own student council associations, such as the Texas Association of Student Councils: https://www.tasconline.org/what-is-a-student-council-.
The National Education Association has some helpful hints for starting an elementary school student council: http://www.nea.org/tools/tips/Elementary-School-Student-Council.html.
Supporting Student Voice
The more that we as educators can give our students “choice, control, challenge, and opportunities for collaboration, the greater their motivation and engagement will be” (Student Voice: A Growing Movement Within Education That Benefits Students and Teachers, pg. 2). Student council can be a great way to encourage students to share their thinking by creating a safe and inclusive environment where all ideas and opinions are valued. Through regular meetings with teachers and administrators, students can help to plan and facilitate school activities that they would want to participate in. These could be fundraiser activities, like book fairs or dance-a-thons, or community service initiatives, such as food and clothing drives.
Student council could also plan fun events, such as theme days (e.g., jersey days, pajama days), which would help to foster a positive and unified school community. During meetings, students could provide feedback on school policies and programs and have a say in decision-making, such as improving school facilities (e.g., recess equipment) or promoting environmental sustainability (e.g., composting program). All of these different examples of involvement provide students with a sense of agency and allows them to actively contribute to their school community, rather than being passive learners and products of the system.
Student councils can be a valuable resource for educators looking to differentiate instruction in their classrooms. One way the student council can help educators differentiate instruction is by gathering and analyzing student feedback on learning experiences. Student council could create a student survey where they assessed their learning environment and experiences at school, while also suggesting ways that their learning experience could be improved (i.e., hands-on learning, field trips, outdoor learning experiences, etc.). With this information, educators can tailor their instruction to better meet the diverse needs of their students.
The student feedback could also be used to help guide the student council’s programming. For example, student council members could create and participate in a peer mentor or tutoring program at school, providing additional support to students who need it. This can be particularly helpful for students who may be struggling with specific concepts or skills. Survey feedback about representation could be used to guide in-school initiatives, such as Black History Month programming or a Girl’s Coding and Robotics Club.
Developing Global Competencies
Participating in the student council would provide countless opportunities for students to develop global competencies. Collaboration and communication are at the forefront of the council, allowing students to use their voice to share ideas and communicate change to the larger student body. There will be plenty of opportunities to work through challenges and find solutions to issues occurring within the school. This collaboration will encourage students to exercise their creativity and problem-solving skills.
By working as a student community to represent the diverse needs and perspectives of their peers, student council members develop empathy and respect for others, which strengthens their citizenship competencies. To further this sense of citizenship beyond the school walls, student council could facilitate initiatives that promote global issues such as environmental sustainability, social justice and equity. This can help them develop a global perspective and prepare them for an increasingly interconnected world.
From leadership roles that encourage student voice to developing students’ global competencies, student council provides numerous benefits to elementary school students. Does your elementary school have a student council? How does your student council promote student voice, choice, and agency? What are some important considerations when facilitating a student council? Share your thoughts in the comments section!
Technology in the classroom can allow students to be self-directed learners in many ways. There are many types of assistive technology software that can help students. However, even with these softwares, common technology, such as Chromebooks, can sometimes have physical restraints that younger students or students with physical disabilities may struggle with. These restraints can hinder the students ability to use the technology effectively, therefore making it less self-directed.
Touch screen technology, such as touch screen computers or iPads, has proved to be an effective assistive technology tool for these students. The touch screen can help them overcome the physical struggles of using certain technology and provide them with the ability to be self-directed learners. With touch screens, students can use their fingers to navigate through their devices, making it easier to use technology without the need for a keyboard or mouse. This can help remove physical barriers to learning and enable students with physical disabilities or underdeveloped motor skills to engage with technology in the classroom.
In addition to helping with the physicality of using technology, touch screens provide an interactive and engaging way for students to learn. With the ability to touch and manipulate the screen, students can interact with learning materials in a more hands-on way, which is especially beneficial for younger learners. Touch screen technology allows students to drag and drop items on the screen (i.e., digital manipulatives, sorting activities, etc.), zoom in on images, or even draw on the screen to illustrate their ideas, all with their fingertips.
Arguably the best part of touch screen technology is that it is useful for all types of learners to use! Universal supports are a great way to meet the needs of all students, and touch screens offer just that. While all students may not rely on using touch to navigate technology, or they may prefer to use a trackpad or mouse, the option is still there to use whenever they would like, while also being available for those students who do rely on it. Therefore, I believe that, while often more expensive, schools should prioritize integrating computers and tablets that have touch screens into their arsenal of technology.
There are a multitude of ways that training can be delivered to education staff, both formally and informally. It is important to acknowledge that the education system is changing (e.g., new pedagogies and types of technology, while also adjusting to staffing concerns, etc.) and we must adapt to these changes in order to maintain innovative as lifelong learners. A creative approach to teacher training that I have read about and would be interested in trying is Pineapple Charts.
What is it?
Pineapple Charts provide an open invitation for other educators within your school setting to pop into your classroom and watch you facilitate a specific activity or lesson. The goal would be that other educators might learn something from watching and/or participating in your classroom that could be useful or integrated into their own classroom. Simply put, Pineapple Charts provide a space for “meaningful and affirming collaboration” for educators (Edutopia, Opening the Door to Professional Learning).
How does it work?
Let’s say you have a tried-and-true lesson that your students enjoy every time you use it. Or, you have designed a new lesson that has your heart and mind pumping with excitement to try. Or, you are going to use a teaching strategy or technology tool that you think other teachers might benefit from seeing in action. Really, any sort of lesson that you think other teacher’s might be interested in, you post that information on the school’s Pineapple Chart. A Pineapple Chart is a blank chart with each day of the week and each period of the school day that is posted in the staffroom (or anywhere teachers gather) or digitally (shared Google Doc) where teachers can fill in information about their lesson (TECA, Pineapple Charts: Learning from Your Peers).
For example, if I know that I am going to teach my students about coding on Spheros on Wednesday right after lunch, I will write that in the Pineapple Chart (e.g., Mr. Burton – Sphero Coding). If this is something that another teacher has been interested in learning more about or seeing in action, but hasn’t found a way of learning that works for them (e.g., online training), they can come attend my lesson at that time. Teachers can either use their planning time, or can rearrange their planning times with other colleagues in the building, to attend this valuable, yet informal professional development.
But, what’s with the pineapple?
Well, pineapples are a symbol of welcoming and hospitality, which fits well with the overall theme of the Pineapple Chart! This approach to teacher training is built on organic, staff-led collaborative learning. When a culture of open-doors and teamwork is fostered and embraced, the level of deep learning that can be achieved is unmatched.
How can this strategy be implemented successfully?
This strategy to teaching training only works if teachers are willing to open their classrooms up to their colleagues. That being said, there may be some things that have to be put in place in order for staff to buy-in. Adrian Cargal, an Instructional Coach and author at Edutopia, outlines 3 key components to successfully implement the Pineapple Chart:
(Edutopia, Opening the Door to Professional Learning).
- It’s a voluntary endeavor: Pushback will be inevitable if it’s a required task.
- The Pineapple Chart is accessible by all employees: A shared document via Google Slides or an equivalent is optimal.
- It’s a connected call to action that inspires others to join in on the fun: Highlight the positive things that you’ve observed in your classroom at every possible opportunity. This will encourage your colleagues to participate and will make the PD experience more collaborative.
Have you used Pineapple Charts in your school setting? What are some ways that staff buy-in could be fostered? What other uses could this strategy be used for? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
This past year has come with a great deal of professional learning. As I navigated through my first year as a permanent teacher, I made an effort to try new things, get uncomfortable in my teaching, and integrate more technology into my teaching practice. Little did I know that COVID-19 was right around the corner, waiting to make everyone in education try new things, get uncomfortable, and use more technology. By taking the Additional Qualification course Integration of Information and Computer Technology in the Classroom Part 2, I was able to reflect on how I responded to Distance Learning, while also preparing myself for the unknown teaching climate of the near future.
A significant topic explored in the course was that of the SAMR Model. This model outlines the depth of technology integration throughout the learning opportunities provided to our students. While the purpose of this model is not to force educators to teach primarily in the Redefinition stage, it does provide a framework in which we can reflect on our own current usage of technology while thinking critically about how we can improve.
This model also sparked some good discussions on Twitter. Some fellow educators were not so keen on the use of the model, as some schools were beginning to use it as an evaluation criteria for their staff. Others were concerned over education apps/programs being categorized into the SAMR model. Both of these situations were not the intent of the model, nor the takeaway message that I gather from learning about the model. I find that this model challenged me to analyze how I have been using technology in the classroom, made me evaluate ways in which I can take the learning opportunities further, and think about how I can foster further innovation from my students. At the end of the day, reflection on our professional practice and the learning opportunities that we provide to our students is the goal, and the SAMR model provides one opportunity for just that.
Throughout the IICT Part 2 course, we were asked to analyze, utilize, and evaluate many different tech tools. This in and of itself was a very beneficial moment of learning for me. I often find that I’ve read about or have seen other educators using different digital tools, but it takes me some time to actually take the jump and try it myself. One way that this course has helped me to branch out of my comfort zone was seeing my instructor practice what he preached! He regularly used the program Loom to provide personal and detailed feedback on the various course work that we completed. This not only made it much more engaging than a written post, but it also provided direct visuals and examples from our course colleagues.
One way that I was able to integrate this practice into my own assignment was by using Loom to record a tutorial on how to use Tour Creator – Google VR. I had recently used this program and was prepared to write up a tutorial about how to use it, but after seeing my instructor regularly use Loom, it made much more sense to record a video tutorial. I feel as though this video tutorial was easier to follow than a written set of instructions, and it provided real-time images that would have otherwise been screenshots in a document. Beyond this assignment, I feel more comfortable using Loom and/or other screen recording softwares in my teaching instruction, especially if we return to Distance Learning. Take a peek at my tutorial for Tour Creator – Google VR below:
As partners in education, our course colleagues were able to connect and discuss many topics related to the integration of technology in the classroom. I have begun following and communicating with others on Twitter, adding them to my continually growing PLN. Through Twitter, visiting their blogs, and participating in online discussions, I have been able to see and read about many examples of ways in which technology can be used in the classroom. Above all else, this has been a significant takeaway for me, as I am not equipped with numerous ideas and activities that I can implement throughout the school year.
We were also able to connect digitally on a Google Meet! In this meeting, we were able to share our learning experiences from the various MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) that we attended. Not only was this beneficial in learning from others about their takeaways from the courses, but it also taught us about the many MOOC providers around the world. Not only are many of the courses free of charge, but some are live, others are posted after the live session, some are short and quick, others have modules that span over a few weeks… The learning opportunities are essentially in our hands and we are able to pick and choose a topic and a platform that best suits us! There is a wealth of learning available through MOOCs and PLNs, and I am excited to continue my self-directed education as I continue “learning about learning”.
One of the next steps that I hope to take to further explore my interests in technology is building upon cross-curricular ways to integrate robotics/coding into teaching practice. Sometimes, as these types of activities are typically brand new for the students coming into my Primary class, there is a lot of time spent on coding as a separate entity. My goal is to move past using “coding to code”, and finding ways in which it can be so ingrained in our learning that the focus moves towards a deeper outcome. This would allow students to continue developing their coding skills, while also connecting it to other curriculum areas (e.g., angles in Math, story animation in Language, environmental innovations in Science, etc.). This learning curve for students could be shortened by encouraging other teachers to use coding in their teaching practice and helping to guide them in their own professional learning. Students would then come to my class knowing the basics so that we can spend more time on the deeper learning tasks.
My hope is that through my professional learning gained in the Integration of Information and Computer Technology in the Classroom Part 2 Additional Qualification course, coupled with my passion for teaching with technology, I am able to further my student’s abilities to use technology effectively and efficiently in their own lives. I mean, that’s the goal of any of this, right? As an educator, I hope to provide my students with the knowledge and skills required to be the best person and member of society as they can be. In order for me to do so effectively, I must continue my own lifelong learning, gaining new insights and strategies that will directly benefit my students. And that’s just what I’ll do!