In this section, literature related to the current education context, the significance of student voice as a driver for change, student voice in pedagogy, the importance of power and levels of engagement will be canvassed. This literature review includes key literature that will be discussed online, and will subsequently inform the writing of the book.
While I am interested in examining student voice in classroom structures and management, and in out of class learning, more important, is consideration of its impact when applied in learning, for all students. With new literature emerging on pedagogic voice; for example highlighting the positive impact of opportunities for ‘human encounter’ (Arnot & Reay, 2007) and dialogic relationships in learning (Leach & Crisp, 2016), teaching and learning must be re-examined to explore these ideas (Cook-Sather, 2014; 2016).
It is important to start with an understanding of the current context. Since the 1970s, the broad political economic landscape has been driven by the neoliberal notion that human well-being is “advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade” and the “financialisation of everything” (Harvey, 2005, p. 2 & 32).
Freire (1970, 1994, 2004) writes extensively about the impact of market laws and their detrimental effect on democratic practices. Other researchers also write about the impact of narrow measures, designed to achieve national competitiveness; such as clearly articulated education standards, standardised reporting processes and the prevalence of managerialism and standardisation in determining what is taught in classrooms (Comber & Nixon, 2009; Connell, 2013; Parr, 2015). Progressive discourses are being replaced by corporate and disciplinary discourses (Carlson, 2005), and schools’ supplemental federal funding is tied to participating in national benchmarking and testing (Connell, 2013; Nixon, 2001). Disturbingly, the anticipated improvement has not occurred and there is increasing evidence of a widening equity/achievement gap (Adams Becker et al., 2016) and tighter commitment to regulation.
Over time, student voice and student agency literature has been located within the fields of cognitive science, psychology, and sociology, and also explored from the perspectives of children’s rights advocates and promoters of civics and citizenship education (Wood, 2010) and child development experts (Johnson, 2004).
Several critical sociological perspectives are expected to be central to the online discussion, to encourage the depth and critique that the book will require for the desired impact. Power relations is one perspective that will come into play as student voice is addressed. The work of McInerney (2009); Taylor and Robinson (2009); Wadham, Owens, and Skryzpiec (2014), where the voice of marginalised youth is significant, typify the research that teachers will be invited to engage with in the online dialogue. Similarly, teacher reflexivity (Archer, 2012, 2013b; Bland & Atweh, 2007; Groundwater-Smith & Mockler, 2016) and concepts such as ‘third space’ (Martin, Snow, & Torrez, 2011) will be introduced.
Power clearly plays a significant role in classrooms and schools. Many researchers explore how teachers deal with inappropriate behaviour, the ways they see students’ contexts and the curriculum choices they make (Arnot & Reay, 2007; Connell, 2013; Mayes et al., 2017; Mitra & Gross, 2009; Rudduck & Flutter, 2004). Whether these approaches are more psychological than sociological and whether they reflect the agentive, active participatory and transformational intent of this study, will need further investigation.
Whitty and Wisby (2007) highlight the importance of addressing potential exclusion of some students and limited student access to power and influence. Rudduck and Fielding’s (2006) research demonstrates the importance of examining power relationships between and among teachers and students, and a commitment made to authenticity and inclusion for there to be transformation. Many researchers echo this position: power relationships and structures that enable voice (Connell, 2013; Czerniawski, 2012; Mayes et al., 2017; Payne, 2015; Taylor & Robinson, 2009); willingness to hear student voices, act on student voice and to learn from what students say (Fielding, 2007a, 2007b; Gunter & Thomson, 2007; Rudduck & Flutter, 2004); ‘acclimatising’ students to the voice role by providing scaffolding, support and teaching about the dispositions required to enable students to be co-producers or producers of the teaching and learning provision (Gunter & Thomson, 2007; Mitra, 2004, 2006); and the reliability of student voice and feedback given their lived experience (Geer & Sweeney, 2012) are all issues that will be explored in the online dialogue.
The literature makes it clear that the process of ‘really hearing’ students is fraught. Educators can be disinclined to ‘hear’ students and may rely on adult frames of reference (Cook‐Sather, 2006; Mitra & Gross, 2009), talk too much (Stefl-Mabry, Radlick, & Doane, 2010), be unwilling to reflect on whether we are hearing clearly (Meadows et al., 2016) and inclined to discount the voices of younger children and rely on our own agendas (Payne, 2015). All of this also requires reflexivity, willingness to engage with teacher voice and support for professional judgement (Silverman, 1998), and examine the nature and possibilities of a democratic school culture as there is a move from power-over to power-with and support for students-as-researchers (and students-as-teachers and students-as-activists).
Even when alerted to listen for missing voices, students may not have teacher attention and approval, because they are not seen as ‘thinking like teachers’, but rather as failed voice (Cook-Sather, 2006). The role of power and dialogic relationships (Esteban-Guitart & Moll, 2014; Leach & Crisp, 2016; Wood, 2010), openness to learning from students (Gunter & Thomson, 2007), and commitment to equity (Arnot & Reay, 2007) will all be aspects of the online dialogue.
Levels of Voice
Talking about ‘student voice’, is not about ‘one voice’, but ‘voices’, and these voices all need to be heard (Cook‐Sather, 2006; Fielding & Rudduck, 2002; Gunter & Thomson, 2007; Mitra, 2008; Nelson, 2015; Rudduck & Fielding, 2006). The insight that there are ‘voices’ is central to understanding the short comings of ‘voice’ as consultation with representative students. Capturing diverse voices, or preferably all voices (Czerniawski, 2012), and moving beyond consultation into what Gunter and Thomson (2007) call a form of student voice that is ‘learning through activism’ and Fielding refers to as students-as-researchers (2001b) and engagement with students in ‘radical collegiality’ (Fielding & Rudduck, 2002) is increasingly reflected in the research. Deeper and more meaningful learning opportunities and outcomes are connected to the level of engagement with student voice. This deepening is seen in extensive literature that describes movement through levels of engagement; beginning with students-as-consumers, students-as-data-sources and students-as-recipients; to students-as-active-respondents, students-in-governance-roles, students-as-citizens, students-as-co-researchers, students-as-researchers, students-as-teachers and ultimately students-as-activists. This research and the levels are explored in more detail in the page on Levels of Student Voice.