Deeper and more meaningful learning opportunities and outcomes are related to the level of engagement with student voice.
This research recognises that student voice at it’s most basic begins with students-as-consumers, students-as-data-sources and students-as-recipients and moves on to students-as-active-respondents and students-in-governance-role. In South Australia we’ve done quite a lot with students-as-citizens.
This research aims to shift into the higher engagement levels of student voice: students-as-co-researchers, students-as-researchers, students-as-teachers and ultimately students-as-activists.
Let’s look at each:
Teachers have access to a wide range of data on students: psychological, speech, medical and social work reports, previous teachers’ plans for learning accommodations, standardised testing results and identified individual academic, social, emotional and physical needs. Fielding (2001a) describes this first level of knowing about the students in one’s care as students-as-recipients and students-as-data source, where teachers know about prior learning and develop perceptions of students’ strengths, interests and needs so that they can teach effectively. While this level of engagement is often colonised for neoliberal ends and data-driven improvement purposes, it is clear that students benefit from teachers’ knowledge about their academic performance and attitudes to learning, in order that they successfully plan, disseminate information and participate in moderation activities (Fielding, 2001b).
When filling the role of students-as-active respondents, students are consulted in the learning process, and their levels of engagement in the teaching and learning process became more of a focus. Fielding (2001b) sees this as teachers recognising the need to hear student opinions and enter into discussion about the teaching and learning process, such as explicit assessment criteria and shared lesson objectives. At this level of engagement, teachers respond to students’ survey data and listen to suggestions (Fielding, 2001b). Fielding and Rudduck (2002) have also identified the risk of this level of consultation being construed as manipulation and emphasise the need to move beyond consultation if there is to be significant improvement in learning outcomes and engagement.
CPAS has a new Student Representative Council, and this committee is a good example of Fielding’s (2001b) third level of student voice; students-in-governance. In recent decades, student engagement and voice has often been allocated to a student representative council or group and student committees. Often mistaken as ‘student voice’, and even given this name on occasions, this representative function is more about governance than benefits and voice for all. Leren (2006) describes processes that include students in school decision making and identifies these governance opportunities as student leadership experiences for a select few. Whitty and Wisby (2007) describe the limited range of such governance models, citing the comfort school staff have about student involvement in grounds and facilities level decision making. Engaging students in governance can address neoliberal agendas and allow for tokenism and the minimal-impact agendas can further alienate students (Gunter & Thomson, 2007; Robinson & Taylor, 2007; Whitty & Wisby, 2007).
Moving beyond governance, into a deeper level of engagement, is the conception of students-as-citizens (D’Rozario, Tan, & Avila, 2017; Fielding, 2001b; Hahn, 2010; Payne, 2015). A growing body of research ties learning democratic principles (Mitra & Gross, 2009), engaging with decision making (Wood, 2010) and civics and citizenship (Robinson & Taylor, 2007) with this level of voice. Rudduck and Fielding (2006) focus on authentic voice, based on a shift from consultation to active participation and a move from teaching about democracy to adopting democratic principles across the school.
Engaging students-as-co-researchers (Fielding, 2001b), in radical collegiality (Fielding & Rudduck, 2002) or pupils-as-partners (Wood, 2010) takes their involvement into shared decision making and problem solving. Fielding (2001b) characterises this level as teachers engaging students in their learning, to deepen their understanding, and in the process, adopt the disposition of listening to learn (Fielding, 2001b). Teacher-led dialogue is the way meaning is made (Fielding, 2001b) and this might include teacher-led partners-in-learning (Wood, 2010), project-based learning, inquiry (Geer & Sweeney, 2012) and learning experiences where students contribute (Fielding, 2004; Fielding & Rudduck, 2002; Thomson & Gunter, 2006). Potentially students will also respond to teacher inquiry and offer feedback on classroom practices and pedagogy and engaging in metacognitive conversations about learning (Fielding, 2001b).
For this project, and as a focus in the book, the target levels of student voice fall into the next three levels. The first of these, students-as-researchers can be contrasted with students-as-co-researchers, by the shift of focus from teacher-led to enabling student-led dialogue; as all students take more initiative in the classroom, understand the value of and can access their teachers and peers as resources to their learning; and teachers listen to contribute. Students-as-researchers may also encompass other approaches such as student-initiated learning, student-initiated curriculum and shared responsibility for learning, dialogue, development and reporting, and metacognition (Fielding, 2001b; Gunter & Thomson, 2007; Leach & Crisp, 2016; Oldfather, 1995; Thomson & Gunter, 2006). It is at this and the following two levels that all students can have access to voice, participation and leadership opportunities. Students-as-researchers is a role more widely explored in recent literature, particularly at secondary level (Baroutsis et al., 2016; Comber & Nixon, 2009; Cook‐Sather, 2016; Esteban-Guitart & Moll, 2014; Lewthwaite et al., 2015; McGregor, Mills, Te Riele, Baroutsis, & Hayes, 2017; Stefl-Mabry et al., 2010; Wrigley, Lingard, & Thomson, 2012).
Some of the issues raised include the need to ensure all voices, especially the “unseen”, are heard (Mitra & Gross, 2009), opportunities to build leadership through student voice (Mitra & Gross, 2009), the need for constructivist teaching within the classroom (Cook-Sather, 2006; Lundy & Cook-Sather, 2015) and the importance of critical pedagogies within and beyond the classroom (Cook-Sather, 2006, p. 516). Leach and Crisp (2016) have researched students’ impact in the pedagogic space, and provide a range of helpful insights about the reflexivity teachers need to bring to the disequilibrium and disorder that inevitably occurs, the possibilities for change in teacher practice that can occur, the need to explicitly address power relationships in the classroom, in order to disrupt the often unspoken rules about what can be said and what is silenced in the classroom, and the innovation that is possible when teaching and learning is ‘done with’ rather than ‘on’ or ‘to’ students (p 56).
Central to enabling students to successfully engage in student voice as researchers is for research skills to be explicitly taught and for issues such as how to provide feedback to be subject of negotiation and research.
“Students rarely suggested radical changes to teaching practice, but followed a broadly ‘‘progressive’’, liberal agenda in asking for greater mutuality, respect and active learning” (Bragg, 2007).
Many teachers are willing to engage positively and openly with student feedback, benefiting from a dialogic reflexive form of professionalism in collaboration with their students, but as Bragg (2007) identifies, there is unfortunately opportunity to read this process as ‘checking up’ on teachers, disciplinary measures or as a replacement for professional development and supportive and collaborative learning in a culture of autonomy and professionalism. Leach and Crisp (2016) build on previous students-as-researchers pedagogical work to introduce a ‘third’ space, between the hierarchical teacher and student roles where a sense of community enables mutual respectful dialogue, reflection and shared educational practice.
Benefiting from their third space experience in the students-as-researcher role, the next level of engagement is students-as-teachers. Students have opportunities to apply their pedagogical insights, have voice-in-learning, experience voice created by pedagogy, rather than voices to change pedagogy and are taught about and use different types of voices in their learning – classroom, subject, identity, and code talk (Arnot & Reay, 2007). Oldfather (1995) describes this as epistemological empowerment, where students consider ways to support each other based on examination of various epistemological positions.
The highest, and in the researcher’s opinion, ideal level of student voice engagement, is as students-as-activists (Fielding, 2001b; Mitra, 2006; Mitra & Gross, 2009). It is in this role that students have opportunities to confront equity, social and environmental issues and actively contribute to bringing about positive change.
Robinson and Taylor (2007) identify a range of challenges that students-as-activists and their teachers must address, including assumptions of neutrality in voice; confronting conflicting voices; voice as control; inclusion of silenced or marginalised voices; addressing the ‘implicit contract’ to ‘speak responsibly, intelligibly and usefully’ (p. 10); and the need to develop joint understandings of voice to achieve social justice.