Friendship Bracelets & Student Voice


The past few weeks the concept of “student voice” has been swirling around in my head.  What exactly does it mean for students to have a voice in school?  What does it look like?  What does it sound like?  Obviously, if students have a voice in their learning, there must be conversation going on in the classroom.  Students should be using their voice to construct content knowledge through conversations centered around text, concepts, opinions, and ideas.  What does that look like in a math, science, history, and language arts?  How do teachers plan for these conversations?

However, a second component to student voice is the idea that students can advocate for their learning and use their ideas to shape the world around them.  Over the weekend at the NWP Digital Literacies retreat I discovered two resources that are continuing to make me ponder.

First, I had the opportunity to work with two innovative and passionate individuals, Darrell Johnson and Tracy Lee, from the Digital Youth Network.  This Chicago-based literacy program creates opportunities for students to construct knowledge and demonstrate voice through a digital literacy program that spans both in-school and out-of-school contexts.  The middle school students involved in the Digital Youth Network create self-generated blog posts, videos, and podcasts on topics they’re passionate about with the support of teachers and community mentors who are professional artists and creators.  Between the artifacts displayed on the website and listening to the Darrell and Tracy at the NWP retreat, the power of student voice is apparent through the digital literacy works students are creating.  As a district engaged work surrounding literacy, technology, and student voice, I hope to bring some of this inspiring work to our students through the curriculum the Digital Youth Network is creating.  Darrell & Tracy – Yes, you have a new stalker.  :-)

At the retreat I also had the opportunity to work with Troy and Sara Beauchamp Hicks from the Chippewa River Writing Project.  Troy and Sara are not only brilliant individuals connecting the work of literacy and technology, but they are also parents of five young children.  Sara shared that recently she was teaching one of their daughters how to create friendship bracelets.  Just like me Sara remembered these hot 1980s playground items, but couldn’t remember how to weave them together.  After doing a little searching on YouTube she discovered a 13 year-old girl who has been creating her own online video tutorials.


I took a look at a few of the videos from her site and find myself returning to the concept of student voice.  What do these videos say about her voice as a learner?  How is she using conversation to construct and share knowledge? I wonder what her classroom looks like?  When I walk in will I see students debating ideas, inquiring about a writer’s craft, and testing out scientific models?  Or will I see students sitting through a teacher-centered lecture where they have little opportunity to participate other than answer teacher-initiated questions? How will she demonstrate knowledge – through bubbling multiple-choice test questions and completing worksheets or does she have the opportunity to choose how she demonstrates mastery?

Perhaps I am just in a sarcastic place at the moment, but I wonder if her teachers even know she has such a powerful voice that she is producing her own videos for a global audience.  Would they scoff or would they embrace her skills and help her identify way for using this passion and talent for developing academic content knowledge?


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