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!
This workshop will be focused on Building a Professional Learning Network (PLN) Using Twitter. Using Twitter as a platform to learn, communicate, and collaborate with other educators has been valuable in my own professional development, and therefore, I believe it would be beneficial to share this with other educators. Currently, there are only a few other teachers at my school that use Twitter, which seems like a missed opportunity, given how beneficial it has been in my own growth as an educator. This workshop would be best facilitated in-person, as it allows the attendees to engage in hands-on activities, group discussions, and provides a forum for immediate answers to questions.
- Introduction (5 minutes)
- Building a Professional Learning Network (15 minutes)
- Understanding Twitter (25 minutes)
- Break (5 minutes)
- Hands-On Learning (40 minutes)
- Break (5 minutes)
- Connections (10 minutes)
- Conclusion (5 minutes)
- Post-Workshop Survey (10 minutes)
The Post-Workshop Survey could be sent virtually, or even as a Twitter DM to the attendees to provide them experience with this aspect of Twitter.
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!
Pedagogical documentation is “a process for making pedagogical (or other) work visible and subject to dialogue, interpretation, contestation and transformation.” (Dahlberg, 2007, p. 225). By engaging in this process of interpreting student thinking and conversing in professional conversations with our colleagues, we can gain a deeper understanding of student learning and our own teaching practice. When we engage in pedagogical documentation, we are “examining and responding to the interplay between learning, the educator’s pedagogical decisions, and the student’s role and voice in the learning” (Capacity Building Series: Pedagogical Documentation Revisited, 2015, pg. 2).
Assessment FOR and AS learning are both integral parts of the learning process, providing us with ongoing opportunities to give feedback to students, as well as guide them to become valuable self-assessors. Pedagogical documentation, assessment FOR learning, and assessment AS learning all have a focus on the students’ learning process. It is important that we reflect on and discuss our teaching process that led to our students’ work samples. Assessment FOR learning provides students with learning opportunities in which they can practice the skills being taught., while assessment AS learning allows students to self-reflect on their own performance and set goals. Assessments FOR learning also provide teachers with the opportunity to provide feedback to students, guiding them in their learning process towards success. Through pedagogical documentation, we can reflect on the moments of feedback that we provided our students and work with our colleagues to improve our current feedback practice.
Pedagogical documentation differs from assessments OF learning, as this type of assessment is based on the student’s achievement of learning curriculum expectations at the end of a learning cycle, rather than the process of learning that they engaged in leading up to the summative assessment. While we can use pedagogical documentation to reflect upon student learning displayed through assessments OF learning to guide future instruction, it is much more of a proactive approach to reflect on and adjust our teaching practice throughout the learning process, as guided by assessments FOR and AS learning.
I think I would choose to engage in pedagogical documentation because it would allow me to connect with other educators and discuss aspects of our current teaching practice, whether they could be improved or not. We know that learning is an ongoing process and therefore, there will be many moments of reflection throughout in order to guide future actions. It is especially important for educators to find time to reflect with each other, whether that be with another classroom teacher, Special Education teacher, administrator, educational assistant, or a consultant. “When engaged in collective reflective practice, teachers question, reason and probe ideas in order to push thinking of the group further” (Collaborative Teacher Inquiry, 2010, pg. 4).
This approach would also benefit students when they are invited into the process. When students are aware of what they are learning, how successful they currently are, and what they need to do next in order to achieve their goals, they can be contributing members of the learning process and have agency over how they learn (i.e., “I didn’t quite understand that task. Could I continue working on it tomorrow with a classmate?). Through pedagogical documentation, students “can develop and use metacognitive skills crucial for ongoing, lifelong learning” (Capacity Building Series: Pedagogical Documentation Revisited, 2015, pg. 2).
This approach can be incorporated into my plan for professional learning with colleagues by encouraging pedagogical documentation as a regular practice among our team. The Capacity Building Series article suggests getting started with this process by documenting some form of student learning for about two minutes a day. We are all able to find 2 minutes a day to focus on documentation, and by doing so, we will organically begin to make it part of our daily practice. We can keep each other accountable by having short-and-sweet check ins with each other to reflect on our documentation process and discuss future steps for student learning based on what has been recorded.
I think it would be a valuable professional development exercise to challenge our division staff to predict how their students will perform on a future assessment OF learning task based on their documentation and review of the assessment FOR and AS learning tasks that led up to the assessment OF learning. After making their predictions, they would mark the assessment OF learning task and could see how accurate they were. This would provide many opportunities for reflection: If student performance did not correlate with predictions, then why? Was it the task? What part of the learning process could have been improved to further student success? This action item following our meeting would encourage our staff to truly focus on the learning process, especially the assessments FOR and AS learning.
While at first it may be intimidating to open up my teaching practice and student work samples for other teachers to examine, it is important to remember that it would be for the ultimate benefit of the students’ learning process. When we open ourselves up to feedback from other professionals, it can be a bit scary, but it can also lead to incredible learning outcomes that can greatly improve our teaching practice.
Collaboration is a concept that everyone is aware of and participates in, but has a hard time defining. My working definition of collaboration is:
A reciprocal exchange of information during the process of two or more people working together in order to achieve a common goal.
In the education sector, there are many forms of collaboration, such as: teacher-teacher collaboration (working to improve practice, share strategies for supporting students), student-teacher collaboration (providing information and sharing strategies to help guide learning experiences), student-student collaboration (working to solve academic challenges and goals), and teacher-parent collaboration (discussing ways to best support student).
The article “Collaborative Teacher Inquiry” from the Capacity Building Series outlines 7 characteristics of teacher Inquiry:
- Relevant → Student learning guides inquiry
- Collaborative → Teacher inquiry is a shared process
- Reflective → Actions are informed by reflection
- Iterative → Progressive understanding grows from cycles of inquiry
- Reasoned → Analysis drives deep learning
- Adaptive → Inquiry shapes practice and practice shapes inquiry
- Reciprocal → Theory and practice connect dynamically
There are correlations between my working definition of collaboration and these characteristics of teacher inquiry. Collaboration is relevant in that the individuals working together have a common goal; they both have something invested in the process, such as a teacher and parent both wanting the learner to succeed. This, in turn, makes it a very reciprocal experience as all individuals have something to contribute and/or gain from participating in the collaboration.
It was interesting to consider reflection as an ongoing part of the collaboration process, as we typically think of reflection as an action after the collaboration process has been completed. However, we know that learning is an ongoing process and therefore, there will be many moments of reflection throughout in order to guide future actions. It is especially important for educators to find time to reflect with each other, whether that be with another classroom teacher, Special Education teacher, administrator, educational assistant, or a consultant. “When engaged in collective reflective practice, teachers question, reason and probe ideas in order to push thinking of the group further” (Collaborative Teacher Inquiry, 2010, pg. 4).
Assistive technology is a great way to provide support to students within the framework of the same learning task. In my teaching experience, I have only had students on IEPs that are modified at grade level. Therefore, the assistive technology that I use helps these students to “perform and complete” the same, or very similar, tasks as the rest of the class “with efficiency and independence” (Assistive Technology Tools, pg. 1). As I look at my class list for next year, I know that I have students on alternative programs and modifications at various grade levels, so the study of assistive technology is one that will greatly benefit my teaching practice for many years to come.
In my primary classroom, students incorporate the use of technology to share their understanding or learning of a topic in a variety of ways. I am big on using Google Applications on a regular basis with my students. This proved to be very beneficial as we transitioned into distance learning this past school year. Students in my class were proficient in using Google Docs to type out their thinking, Google Slides to present their information in creative ways, and Google Forms to answer comprehension questions. Each of these platforms provides internal supports for students, such as voice typing capabilities (Tools > Voice Typing), as well as spell check. We also were able to utilize Google Read & Write, which allows students to use voice-to-text or text-to-voice to help them with their reading and writing. When creating products of learning with these Google Apps, students were also able to freely share their assignments with others for real-time collaboration and feedback. By providing immediate feedback, especially with Google Form’s self-marking abilities, students are able to adjust their thinking and make corrections.
Students also used various digital libraries and online literacy activities to assist them with research and/or their daily reading tasks. Programs such as GetEpic, Raz-Kids, and Lexia, contained many assistive tools, such as “read-to-me” capabilities, highlighting text when reading, and immediate definitions of unknown words. These programs definitely helped my struggling readers to be able to learn and perform grade-level tasks independently.
I also found that when my students used technology in new and innovative ways, their typical performance levels changed. For example, when using Scratch coding to create 2 sprites and have them teach each other about something we’ve recently learning in our Social Studies unit, the students who would normally struggle with brainstorming ideas and communicating their thinking in words were able to enter the task at various points and use images to drive their communication and thinking. It was very interesting to see how the “playing field” leveled when we tried something out of the ordinary.
Assistive technology can enhance the learning and ultimate sharing of your students’ thoughts by providing supports for students that would otherwise be hindered from success. By using voice-to-text or text-to-voice, students are able to focus on the content, rather than the spelling of words, typing on the keyboard, etc. Assistive technology helps students to be more independent in their learning, in situations when they would normally be sitting and waiting for teacher support. Not only that, but the integration of technology creates a learning environment in which the learning isn’t so “assign-and-complete” oriented. Technology can provide opportunities for deeper learning. When time is given for students to work on meaningful tasks that cover multiple curriculum expectations, it allows students to truly demonstrate their passion for the subject and a willingness to share their learning with others.
Student voice and choice is of utmost importance in our classrooms, whether you teach the younger primary students or the oldest senior students. Student voice is valued in classrooms where the student and teacher roles are flipped, in that students are becoming the experts on a topic and teaching their peers what they have earned. With technology, teachers no longer have to be the “keeper of wisdom” and teach their students in lecture-based lessons; students have the world available to them online and are able to research, discover, and share their learning with others. Student voice can also be fostered through a partnership between the educator and students by co-constructing success criteria. This can, in turn, go one step further and lead to student choice by having the students have some control over the assignment itself (e.g., How would you like to demonstrate your learning on this topic?). This allows students to choose their medium for communicating their learning in a way that satisfies the co-constructed success criteria. These are all ways that we can continue to foster student voice and choice in authentic ways in our classrooms.
This is a Grade 3 Probability lesson taken from the Math Makes Sense textbook. This lesson explores themes of conducting probability experiments, which include the use of tally charts, number cubes, coloured counters, marbles, and spinners. The lesson is divided into 4 parts: Explore, Connect, Practice, and Reflect. Some suggested activity differentiation is outlined next to the lesson instructions.
In conclusion, there are multiple ways for each part of the lesson to be differentiated for different students, given their specific academic and behavioural needs. Many parts of this lesson require hands-on manipulatives, which provide students with concrete tools to help with their learning. Visual examples and cues would be beneficial in communicating and retaining the vocabulary necessity for understanding and completing each activity. Many of the lesson activities could be differentiated by reducing the number and complexity of expectations to assist students with their operational sense, time management and ability to attain to a task. Small groupings or pairings are a beneficial way to assist students in completing each task, using the unit terminology in their vocabulary, and sharing strategies with each other. Check-ins and rephrasing of expectations are useful strategies for whole or small group comprehension.