The Continuum of Voice visual above was designed by Sylvia Duckworth @sylviaduckworth. The content originally developed by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey was adapted from the research report “Motivation, Engagement, & Student Voice” by Toshalis & Nakkula from Students at the Center @StudentCntrHub. Content recently updated by Barbara.
As the teacher introduces the lesson, they request students to offer background information to determine prior knowledge or to give feedback on the lesson. The teacher will design the lesson from the feedback and determine best instructional strategies for all the diverse students at the extremes based on Universal Design for Learning.
Learners consult with the teacher to share how they learn best and have conversations about their strengths, interests, and challenges. During the consultation, the teacher and learner determine the most appropriate tools, resources, and learning strategies to support learning. This is where the students grow the relationship with the teacher that change as they learn. The learner discusses how they plan to meet their learning goals and the best way to assess what they learned with the teacher. These conversations validate them as a learner.
Learners define their learning targets with the teacher, how they plan to meet learning goals and articulate how they will demonstrate mastery with evidence of learning. Learners take on more roles in decision making in the classroom and school, i.e. committees, clubs, student council, etc. The learner’s voice is encouraged because now they are more invested in how and what they learn. Each learner designs how they will meet their learning goals and demonstrates evidence of their learning.
Learners contribute to the design of lessons and projects based on their interests and questions. You will see learners in multiple areas in the room working in pairs, small groups, one or two learners in a corner of the room, or a learner one-on-one with the teacher. Some learners are sharing information virtually. You may even notice a group where one learner is leading a brainstorming session with his or her peers using collaborative tools. The noise level changes and is beginning to sound more like a coffee shop with “controlled chaos.” You are now hearing an exciting buzz of voices from around the room.
Learners have identified a problem or challenge that they want to tackle. You may see learners in the hallways or other areas in or outside of the school with an excitement about information or resources they discovered that could solve the problem. Learners are using technology effectively to make connections and build a network of peers. Learners are showcasing evidence of mastery demonstrating how they tackled the problem. They may even create a call to action in an exhibition, on a website or for their peers. This is where learners are self-advocating for themselves and are beginning to develop agency.
This is where learners take on a leadership role around their passions, interests, or what they want to do to make a difference. They believe in the cause which drives everything they are doing now. They self-direct their learning and take responsibility for the outcomes. The teacher takes on the role of advisor, providing feedback and any support needed in finding connections and resources to meet goals around what each learner believes is their purpose for learning. This is where learners are advocating for others and what they believe in. They now have agency.
“Young people want to be heard. They have ideas and perspective on their lives and the world around them, and when their voice is incorporated in learning, good things happen.” [Source: McCarthy, John. Activating Student Voice Empowers Learning. p.65]
There are so many aspects of “school” where learners have not been given the opportunity to be active participants in their learning. Some learners, especially those that are concerned about extrinsic factors like grades, may not feel comfortable expressing their own opinions. Giving learners voice encourages them to participate in learning, to own and drive their learning, and eventually to discover their purpose for learning.
Thank You to Sylvia Duckworth @sylviaduckworth (http://sylviaduckworth.com) from Crescent School, Toronto, Canada for designing the graphic of the Continuum of Voice 1/10/2016. Contact Sylvia about the graphic. If you would like permission to use or share the Continuum of Voice with your school, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Bray, B. and McClaskey, K. “Learner Voice and Choice Leads to Engagement.” Center for Digital Education. December 16, 2015.
- Bray, B. UDL and the Why of Learning. Rethinking Learning. October 23, 2017.
- McCarthy, J. Activating Student Voice Empowers Learning. Openingpaths. org
- Toshalis, E. and Nakkula, M.”Motivation, Engagement, and Student Voice” Students at the Center.