Leveraging Tech to Increase Voice and Choice in the Student-Centered Classroom
By Sarah LaHayne
One reason why schools and districts prioritize social emotional learning is to give students the tools they need to understand who they are, regulate their emotions, build healthy relationships, achieve their goals, and navigate their lives in healthy and productive ways. Yet still, many students experience the school day that doesn’t require much navigating but is more of a routine of following directions. What they learn, where they sit, how they learn, when they go to the bathroom, when they eat – most of a student’s day is planned, prepared, and coordinated for them. If the goal is to give students the tools to navigate their lives, why aren’t we also giving them more opportunities to practice during the school day?
A classroom that prioritizes student voice is one where students’ values, perspectives, passions, and interests are reflected in the classroom environment and the learning activities. Students have a say when it comes to things like classroom norms or their approach to learning. This also means that students know who they are and are supported to reflect, explore, and develop their interests, preferences, and beliefs. Technology can make it easier to give students choice over their learning, and provide tools to help amplify their voice. But students also need support to understand what it is they want to choose and say! SEL helps students understand their voice and how to use it in a student-centered classroom.
Of course, students also need guidance and direction. While student choice is sometimes thought of through the lens of giving students more freedom, choice actually creates a set of parameters that limits our decision making in positive, constructive ways. This is a helpful way to practice making decisions and reflecting on our choices while inviting guidance for teachers. A student-centered classroom that prioritizes both student voice and choice includes opportunities for students to explore their interests and define who they are, while also practicing applying some of those learnings by being supported through decision making with choices.
Ways to give your students more voice and choice
Designing a student-centered classroom environment that promotes student voice and choice is as much of a mindset shift for educators as it is an opportunity to bring new strategies and teaching practices into the classroom. There are endless web searches for techniques that promote student voice or foster more opportunity for student choice, but creating a student-centered classroom also requires educators to continuously reflect on their classroom practices.
One great starting point is to start asking yourself why. Why are desks arranged in a particular way? Why do you review the homework together as a class? Why do all students sit on the rug for story time? What tech are you using in your classroom and why? Getting curious about why your classroom operates the way it does will help you identify aspects that may be adjusted to center students. Over time, you should start to notice that students take center stage in your reflections. Everything from how students hand in assignments to how you model a new math concept can be facilitated with practices that center students.
When it comes to selecting EdTech, even educators feel like they don’t have enough of a voice in the process. A recent survey found that 4 out of 10 educators have little involvement in selecting the tools that they use. Teachers who have no choice over the edtech products they use in the classroom have an opportunity to empathize with students who have no choice over the way they learn or demonstrate their thinking. But this reminder is also an opportunity for teachers and students to work together when evaluating and selecting the tools that are available in the classroom. From advocating to school leadership to researching and testing new products, teacher and student voices can come together to advocate for more agency over the tech tools in their classrooms.
Another way to leverage technology to increase student voice and choice is to revisit how you implement edtech in your classroom. Are tech solutions part of the assignments you give students? In thinking of tech as a learning tool, edtech is a great way to offer students a menu of options to decide how they learn. For example, a history teacher may offer a menu of readings from Newsela, videos on YouTube, or learning modules on BrainPop or Nearpod to give students options of how they learn about a new topic.
What are the characteristics of a student-centered classroom?
Student-centered classrooms often look like more equitable learning communities, with educators and students working together to facilitate learning. But simply adding in more opportunities for student voice and choice does mean that students have the life skills to make decision or express themselves. Relationships also become more important in the student-centered classroom as students have more opportunities to collaborate with peers and seek support for the teacher when and as needed. A student centered classroom provides students with opportunities to practice life skills in authentic contexts, strengthen relationships, and deepen learning and independence. SEL can help students develop their voice and navigate making choices in a student-centered classroom.
About the author
Sara LaHayne is the Founder & CEO of Move This World, a social emotional learning program that provides PreK-12 students, educators and families with multimedia experiences empowering students to navigate the rapidly-changing realities of their world – both in the classroom and throughout their lives. Through evidence-based, developmentally appropriate content rooted in creative expression and participatory movement, Move This World ritualizes a daily practice of identifying, expressing and managing emotions. A life-long dancer and former professional performer, Sara LaHayne authored, implemented, and evaluated the original Move This World curriculum fourteen years ago as a Fulbright Scholar in Bogotá, Colombia
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum.