My one word: Giving students a big voice in class


My big goal for the coming calendar year: giving kids a bigger voice in class. They know what they want to learn. I want to let them choose! (Public domain photo via Pixabay)

I usually make my best professional goals in the summer.

It’s the perfect time. I’m coming off several conferences in the summer that energize me and give me great ideas. The school year is starting fresh, which is ideal for implementing new ideas.

The start of the school year is best for goal-setting and goal-implementing.

But I can’t deny that January gets me excited to do new things, too. After a little resting, relaxing and recharging from winter break, I’m ready to tackle new challenges and make a difference all over again.

I’m going to start this new calendar year with just one word. Just one.

It’s based on a book — “One Word that Will Change Your Life” by Dan Britton, Jimmy Page and Jon Gordon. The authors’ website states, “One Word that Will Change Your Life will inspire you to simplify your life and work by focusing on just one word for this year.” I was inspired by this almost two years ago, and I chose my first word — “create” — the following August.

More than 60 educators from around the world are also choosing their “one word” as part of the #YourEdustory movement. #YourEdustory is a blogging challenge created by Jo-Ann Fox to share our stories and document the great work that education does every day. Anyone can participate. It involves weekly topics to inspire participants to blog and share their ideas.

Anyhow, without further delay, here’s the word I’m choosing for 2015:


That’s “voice” as in “student voice” AND as in “participant voice.” It’s going to be a struggle for me.

For a while, I’ve enjoyed giving students a voice in what we do in my classroom to some extent — to a safe extent, anyway.

When I’m most comfortable letting them make decisions, that’s usually when it happens. Unfortunately, it happens most when it really doesn’t matter that much. I let them choose names for their teams during review games. I let them add some vocabulary words of their choosing to the week’s list. But, by and large, it’s mostly my own voice that comes through in each day’s class.

That’s the way I’ve done it for more than 10 years of teaching. I’m ready for some change.

My students know what they want to learn. As high school students, they know what their teachers do that they like and they don’t like. (They’ve seen plenty of examples of both by this point.)

Sure, I’m the one with the teaching license. I’m the one who knows what research says about language acquisition. I’m the one who has seen activities succeed and fail with students their age over my career.

But I’m not teaching to the masses. I’m not making lesson plans for every one of those students over all of those years. I’m teaching to each individual class.

Each of my classes has a personality that makes it unique. That class personality changes each year depending on whom is on the class roster. I’ve seen entire personalities of a class change based on one student, and I’ve seen one student’s in-class personality change based on the class he/she is in.

I’d be doing those unique “class personalities” a disservice by treating them like all of my previous classes all wrapped into one. So, I’m committing to giving my students a louder, more commanding voice in how my classes are run.

That goes for conference presentations, too. I get to present ideas to lots of great teachers at conferences and workshops throughout the year. I’ve been to plenty of bad professional development, and much of it is large-group presentation that assumes that everyone’s the same. As I prepare for some upcoming conferences and workshops, I’m planning on giving participants more of a voice by offering various directions the session can go by the whole group or by the individuals.

Hopefully, at this time next year (or at the start of school in August), I’ll be able to look back and see how student and participant voice played a much bigger part in what I do as a teacher and presenter.

Because, in the end, if we want to help make lifelong learners — of teenagers or of fully grown educators — they should have a voice in what and how they learn, right?

[reminder]What’s your “one word” for the coming year? Or, if you’re not ready to choose, what are some words that you think would be good?[/reminder]

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