I am excited about the redefinition of student’s roles to that of ‘students-as-reseachers’. The idea is that student voice moves to a more meaningful, inclusive and impactful place as students are engaged in the research role.

Recently, I have had conversations about some brilliant local projects that are involving some students this way; in higher level, impactful decision making. For example:

  • Student-led research teams, made up of representatives from groups of schools, are meeting to gather feedback about practices and pedagogy and are making recommendations for change at a district/regional level.
  • A team of students, from schools in a cluster, are being ‘trained’ as instructional rounds participants to observe pedagogy in classrooms and provide feedback to teachers. 

These innovations are really pushing the envelope on what is possible as students are given a new voice in school improvement and the decisions that effect them every day. They have a real voice in pedagogical change processes, and are certainly making a difference.

Can you feel a ‘but’ coming? Unfortunately there is one.  It’s the ‘what about the others’ question? In a school district there must be 1000s of students. How many participate in the project? Who benefits most? I suspect that the ones in the research project have a life changing experience; greater autonomy, choice, new power relations .. No argument. But what other students experience is watered down or filtered.

Student voice has to be for everyone. Student voice is about democratic learning arrangements that all students can access. 

Let me demonstrate what I mean:

Students-as-Researchers: Spelling

I was chatting with a teacher friend last week. She was saying that she is off to a Spelling conference on the first day back to her class after a term away on long service leave. We bemoaned the poor timing, and she said that from all reports there was nothing new, just a revisit of a range of spelling theories and practices, and it might be useful as a refresher.

That conversation has been sitting with me ever since! Then it hit me, why are we continuing the model of investing in taking teachers out of their classrooms to ‘revisit’ what they potentially already know? I had a students-as-researchers ‘ah ha’ moment and thought how much more powerful it would be to support teachers with a range of student friendly information sheets about different approaches to spelling so that all of the students in a class/year level/school could research how one learns to spell and run a research process on what they find out as they test each method. There are great learning opportunities in gathering feedback, reflecting on current strategies and testing new ones, data collection and great computational thinking opportunities as data is organised and analysed. I’m busting to get back into a classroom to try it!

Students-as-Researchers: Gun play in preschool

As always seems to happen when I am on a roll, a wonderful preschool director, Becky, posted a brief note about her centre’s approach to gun play. I had posted this article: Should children pretend play with guns in the Importance of Play Facebook group, expecting it to draw some debate. Actually, not really, but this was a great comment:

We have gun play at our kindy if that is what they are into - kids have to make their own guns and they need a gun license. The kids made up the rules for gun play - which was funny as they are so strict they almost 'ruled' themselves out of using the guns!! When we allow the gun play it lasts for a short time. When we stop it, it creeps into every kind of play.

I immediately thought of 3-4 year olds pooling what they know about guns, safety, licenses and more. As researchers they could be talking with parents, a visitor who uses a gun in their work, and others to learn so much about the issues involved in gun ownership and safety. Imagine how such an approach would add a lens of reality over their media consumption of super hero and villain gun use, journalism about mass shootings, concerns about parents and relatives when they are away in the services, and other real life gun contexts. Following interests and applying the learning in play can start very early.

Students-as-Researchers: Designing their learning space

One of my teachers  recently responded to my challenge to involve students-as-researchers in designing and setting up their classroom space. I have spoken to a couple of teachers who have done this, and read some blogs such as: Chantelle Love and Tamra Waye, and the benefits for all students are outstanding.

Student-as-Researchers: Pokemon or not?

When the Pokemon Go craze hit, there was been an absolute outpouring of blog posts about how teachers can use the new Pokemon Go craze in their classrooms. I'll even admit to playing the game in an attempt to understand the craze!

What concerns me about all of this is that the general trend is about ‘how teachers can use Pokemon Go’ - to motivate, to teach mathematics, geography and other learning areas, and to engage in digital citizenship lessons. What about the students? Do they want us encroaching on their leisure fun? How can we engage them as students-as-researchers to maximise the learning opportunities, but to work WITH them and follow their lead?

My suggestion was that the links be used as source materials for students to research how Pokemon Go might apply in their classroom. If it is relevant? If all students are engaged? Lots of questions could be generated, researched and answered. If nothing else, those using it will be better informed about the range of opinions on safety and possibilities. 

So what am I really saying here?

When I write about students-as-researchers, I am not just talking about inquiry learning and project based learning. These are very valuable, but I am asking teachers to move into the metacognitive space as well.

It seems to me that many teachers have embraced the idea of metacognition in their teaching. They are encouraging students to think about their thinking: considering cognitive processes, how they form concepts, how they solve problems, how they generate creative ideas, how they take a new perspective to think critically, what processes they bring to solving mathematics challenges … and so on. They are helping students to try out the strategies that others apply and are making thinking more public and accessible.

What I am proposing is that we teach metacognitively too! That we bring students into the mysteries of teaching and learning, and assessment, and share: the decision making; research; professional learning and understandings with them; engage them as partners in the process of designing learning; and empower and inspire them to think about the teaching, learning and assessment processes. 

So, are you up for a new challenge? To bring students into the design of learning, teaching and assessment? To position them as researchers? To respond to their feedback and research findings as partners? To be metacognitive about our teaching and share the learning? Love to hear how it goes!