Book Review: Student Voice Revolution (Fletcher)

“This is the hope represented by Meaningful Student Involvement, that schools can move from being done to students towards being done by and with students. That’s the future of learning.”

(Fletcher, 99)

You would be interested in reading this book if you:
* are looking to refine your understanding of, and implementation of student voice and engagement in education
* are involved in student life at your school
* are looking for concrete ways to strengthen engagement of students in classes, extra-curricular, and whole-school
* want to explore ways to recommit to putting students first in all aspects of education

The big take-away for me from this book is that I need to work harder to find spaces and places that honour student input into decisions, and that offer opportunities for partnerships between the adults in the building and the students. And this book provides the tools,  examples, ideas and strategies for how to frame and increase student involvement at my school.

Fletcher sets out many frameworks that support the aims of this movement. While at times I think that his message misses the mark and becomes too dogmatic, the overall prompts, frameworks and ideas are indeed very powerful. Using them to reframe the work that I am doing has been a great exercise as I begin to plan what next year might look like in my portfolio.

The aim of this book is to inspire to action all educators to: (paraphrased from Fletcher, 119)
* Deepen learning for all students all the time
* Engage students as contributing stakeholders in all aspects of education
* Expand the expectation of every student to become and active and equitable partner throughout education
* Promote a core commitment within all members of the school community to meaningfully involve students as learners, teachers and leaders throughout every part of schools
* Engage adults as partners and allies with students
* Foster appreciation of student perspectives, experiences and knowledge and avoid adult interpretation
* Recognize the right, responsibility and need for students to experience ownership of their learning

How might an educator truly engage their students in their learning?

First, let’s begin with key definitions:

Student voice: any expression by any learner about education
Student engagement: is a sustained connection a learner has to any part of the educational experience
Meaningful Student Involvement: a systematic approach to engaging students as partners in learning throughout every facet of education for the purpose of strengthening their commitment to education, community and democracy

What student voice is, and what it is not

There are 5 pathways that Fletcher outlines to authentic Student Voice: 1) Acknowledge: acknowledging the real ways people express themselves right now throughout their own lives…voice happens all the time
2) Commit: Foster genuine commitment within your organization to engage young people beyond simply listening
3) Promote: Create interest among constituents to contribute their voices
4) Empower: Position young people in sustained opportunities to impact real change as a real doers and decision makers
5) Expand: Educate young people about the whole issues that affects them

I believe that this is the first step, this ensuring that student voice is authentic. In what ways do our schools allow for this happen already, and what might we extend or deepen in what we already do to ensure students have these pathways to meaningful involvement?

How might we extend what we are already doing to ensure students are meaningfully engaged?

Fletcher addresses the necessary shifts in thinking and mindsets that are required

Pg. 30 of Growing Success

to deepen student engagement. His prompts remind me of the fundamental principles from Growing Success (Ontario’s Ministry of Education document that guides teaching, learning and assessment practices) In essence, educators and students must rethink their position in the pathway of learning of their students. To do so effectively “Adults are required to acknowledge their appropriate amounts and types of responsibilities, while students are compelled to assume more authority, purpose and interdependence than they have been granted for more than a century.” (Fletcher, 67)

To support this shift, Fletcher provides excellent questions to prompt inquiry into how we might extend what we are already doing: (NB: I have altered the questions slightly to reflect how I have been using to them to reflect on my own current work)
Purpose: Why are/are not students involved
Type: Which forms of student involvement are chosen, and why/why not?
Action: What specific ways does involvement happen, or can it happen?
Intent: What are the driving reasons students are involved or not?
People: Who are involved?
Place: Where does involvement happen, and where doesn’t it?
How: What are the avenues for involvement?

Fletcher also has a whole chapter dedicated to developing the necessary mindsets for authentic student involvement. In this chapter, he highlight that is very little groundwork, foundation nor expertise in this field because it is such a radical concept over what we have been doing traditionally in our schools. He has great strategies for preparing students and adults and schools as a whole.

“Before youth can be accepted as important players in school decision making, the concept of student voice must gain acceptance among powerful stakeholders in the school (Mitra, 2006, quoted by Fletcher, 168)

How might we know meaningful student involvement when it is happening?

Fletcher borrows heavily from the work of Roger Hart when he defines his Ladder of Student Involvement.

What I like about this ladder is that it acts as a form of self-evaluation. We, says Fletcher, are responsible for using this ladder every time we engage with students:

[The Ladder] should be used to plan and assess each specific instance of student involvement. That mans that rather than say a whole classroom is rung 4,  several students could be experiencing that they are at that rung 4 while others are experiencing rung 6. (Fletcher, 94)

What I think is interesting is applying this outside of the classroom as well. Thus, student engagement is a myriad of experiences. For example, students might be at rung 3 in their classroom, but rung 8 in their role on student council. The important piece is that this is a way to interrogate what we do through a new lens of student involvement.

How might we make an immediate “Monday” change to reach a “Someday” of all students increasing their level of engagement everywhere, all the time?

I’m again using the Monday to Someday phrase because I like how it frames small concrete acts has having huge, sustained impact over time. Fletcher offers a whole host of strategies, ideas and questions that each of us can use on “Monday”.  But first, you will need to spend time thinking about what your someday will look like.

Possible Someday scenarios:
– Will students be co-creators of curriculum, assessment and learning?
– Will students be allies in any school disciplinary hearings?
– Will students be sitting in committees that were once only the purview of adults and decision-makers?
– Will students have permanent residency on boards?
– Will students be able to teach or instruct and gain credit for that instruction?

Which of these questions appeal to you the most?

For those in Cohort 21 that are asking questions about how to increase engagement in their classroom, and/or how to bring more joy to their students, and even how they might encourage students to become more intrinsically motivated at school, there are great strategies to do so. There is a way to make space for students in the following ways: Students as…

Researchers, Planners, Teachers, Evaluators, Decision-Makers, Advocates

And, they can do this through:

Conducting studies, Interviewing stakeholders, Write in student and school-wide publications, Tutor their peers, Facilitate PD for teachers, Co-create values and norms, etc…

How might I take my learning into my own school to make progress towards increased, meaningful student involvement?

Three things that I am exploring for the new year at my school are rooted in our student formal leadership framework. It is here that I feel is a natural first step from where I am sitting in the school.

1) How might our faculty mentors of student leaders be leveraged to educate our students about our school culture, and values, and most significantly how the school makes decisions?

This is vital, says Fletcher, for students to have this base of knowledge so that they might be able to make an impact on this culture, its values and decisions. “…students need to understand that their voice happens in a context of something larger than themselves, and that their choices affect more than themselves alone.” (Fletcher, 77) Also, it fosters a strong adult-to-student partnership, where they are working together towards something. This is at the heart of student involvement.

2) How might our student council be leveraged to sit in on some already existing committees to provide a student perspective?

I see this as the ‘thin edge of the wedge’, where if we can start small by getting student invited to attend some committee meetings, adults and students alike will see themselves as stakeholders in the decisions of the organization. This is also an excellent opportunity for our students and adults to create partnerships in educational decisions. Currently, our Grade 10 Civics classes are attending civic and town hall meetings, and our student council has started quarterly town hall meetings with our administration, so there is a precedent for this to be an exceptional learning opportunity.

3) How might our formal student leadership elections be informed by meaningful student involvement?

Being new to this portfolio, I am learning so much every day about our formal student leadership election process. I feel that this is a great lever to press to have students make decisions for, of and by the students. Do our formal leaders have avenues for meaningful involvement in the school? If so, does our student body know about it, and if not, how might that change the way they elect their leaders?

These are just three thoughts that are floating in head at the moment about some Monday steps towards a Someday of increased student engagement throughout the entire school.

What might we do to ensure that our students feel that there classroom, hallways and offices, gyms, theatre, sports fields, and libraries are as much theirs as they are ours?

What might we do to ensure that school is something that is no longer done to them, but rather school is something that is done with them and by them?


1 thought on “Book Review: Student Voice Revolution (Fletcher)

  1. Thanks for sharing this Garth!

    My first question is: HMW start this revolution in our classrooms? I’ve found that first step is pulling back the curtain and allowing students to see what’s happening behind the scenes as we are teaching. To teach them about pedagogical approaches, education psychology; to share curriculum documents with them to engage them in co-creating assignments and activities. I wrote about this, before I was part of Cohort 21, and some classroom teachers in Cohort might find it interesting: In my experience, involving students in debates and discussions about the design of their learning experiences leads them to feel empowered in the decision making process and builds that intrinsic motivation that you speak of.

    Great points about involving students in the decision making process at a larger school level. My question on that is, what happens when we give students a platform (ie a town hall) but then reject their concerns as invalid? I’ve seen this happen, where students feel empowered at first, but then find the answers to their requests are constantly “no” due to the systems and structures that dictate our daily existence within a school. How might we convince all Admin/Leadership on board to listen to student voice?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *