Student Voice through Video

Including student voice in your classroom can be difficult. On one hand, students have so much to say, and their viewpoints can be so refreshing! On the other hand, I can hear the din of thirty-six young voices competing to speak at once and no one being heard as a result!

Classroom management and instructional design are key, then, when determining how to best allow students to have voice. Do they express their ideas during structured class discussions, or individually when the teacher has time for some one-on-one? Do they write their ideas and opinions down, submitting to a “comment box” or on an Exit Ticket? These days, we can use technology to provide students even more avenues to communicate with each other, their teachers, and their parents, through email, online discussion threads, blogs, shared documents, social media, and the like.  Some teachers are using video response platforms to ensure all students have a chance to speak their piece.  Using platforms such as Flipgrid, Padlet, and Recap, teachers can post a rich question and allow students to respond in a short video response, verbalizing their thinking. This makes answering a question an out-of-class activity rather than an in-class, raise-your-hand-and-wait moment. Students can record from the comfort of home or a cozy classroom corner, taking time to think over their answer, and re-record as needed until they are satisfied with their response, taking some of the risk away from having to answer on the spot in class. Student responses can also be saved and shared, creating a communal response and a virtual conversation.

Think about your shy students or those with limited English. We know that ELLs speak only a very small percent of their school day, and only 2% of their day is spent speaking about the focal point of the academic lessons (Zwiers and Crawford, 2011), and yet producing language is critical to developing fluency as well as understanding, for all of our students.  But, if they could take time to think about their answer, rehearse it, and then record it with the chance for retakes, how much more – more often, and at greater length – would we be able to hear from them? And allowing the time it would take to let every student to answer a question during class isn’t always practical, so moving some discussions to a digital forum “flips” the instructional time strategically.

Here’s what third grade teacher Jana Scott @janascott43  in Carlsbad did to engage her students around a “soft skill” she introduced early in the year.

She recorded a video of herself stating the prompt, to explain what it means when they talk about failing forward.


In response, each student recorded him or herself explaining what it means to them. Every student was held accountable for answering, and Mrs. Scott could judge their level of understanding. The collected posts are viewable by everyone in her class, so they can see what their peers think it means, too.


Students can use their own face on the front of their post or choose another image that represents them. (Stickers and emojis are an optional feature that can be turned off at teacher discretion.)

Whether they recorded ad-lib mutterings or well-rehearsed responses, their thoughts summed up their understanding of what their teacher had been trying to impart. They expressed ideas such as, “If you do it again, you might get it right;” and “You learn by trying something, then messing up.”

As a secondary level teacher, I have to say that watching the third graders’ videos was adorable! They haven’t yet learned to be self-consciousness, they are very excited to be on camera, and they are so little! Their video responses were literally the essence of capturing student voice.

Here’s a good blog by Dianne Csoto with even more ideas for how to Amplify Student Voice with Flipgrid.



Student voice and choice

“Would I want to be a learner in my own classroom?” (George Couros, The Principal of Change, 3/14/2014)

Makes you stop and think, right?

I’m pretty sure that there were days when the answer was no. I hope that sometimes, often, the answer was yes. If I am honest, I probably would have been very happy in my classroom most days because I designed learning experiences that appealed to my learning style and interests.  Anyone who walked into my classroom could tell that I was a visual learner who liked color, organization, and music. You would also know that I loved books with a borderline nerdiness.

Auditory learners, boys who like sports and not reading, and anyone who needs to move a lot to learn: beware!

“The Innovator’s mindset starts with empathy for our students” (Couros 41). How better to practice empathy than to put ourselves in our students’ place, and to think about how they feel, what they are experiencing, and even what goes on in their minds while they are in our classrooms. We can observe these things and make educated guesses, even reflect on our experiences as learners, but ultimately, we need to ask our students, and listen to their voices.

In his blog The Principal of Change, George Couros suggests five questions that teachers can ask their students at the beginning of the year to start that dialogue:

  1. What are the qualities that you look for in a teacher?
  2. What are you passionate about?
  3. What is the one BIG question that you have for this year?
  4. What are your strengths and how can we utilize them?
  5. What does success at the end of the year look like to you?

Students’ answers to these questions will be revealing, and  can influence a teacher’s plans for the year.  As a teacher, I could launch into the year planning for the status quo, but if students express interest in sports, or strengths in singing and acting, I may be inspired to introduce more kinesthetic, performance-based assessment options. Or if success at the end of the year for some of my students looks like making a friend, I might spend more time crafting a variety of partner activities and helping students practice kindness and cooperation on a regular basis. Being open and responsive to student voices could change my ideas about topics of study, projects and products, strategies for differentiation and classroom climate, and even a my own self-reflection on style and delivery.

About a week ago, I asked my community of teachers what they are doing to incorporate student voice and choice in their classrooms as school starts. Here are some of the great ideas they shared.

  • Create class norms with student input.
  • Allow students to choose from multiple modes of assessment at the end of a unit of study. If the skills can be demonstrated in more than one way (written or verbalized on a video, for instance), and measured according to a consistent set of criteria (a rubric), why not let students have some say in the modality they prefer for showing what they know?
  • Involve students in creating the questions for discussion about a topic or reading. There are some great resources for teachers who want to hand over some of the question creation to students but who hesitate because of quality concerns. 
  • Task students with developing vocabulary lists drawn from the text they are reading, and use those student-curated vocabulary lists for class practice and assessment. This teacher likes, a free online vocabulary development tool that has adaptive learning games and dictionary resources, allowing the learner to choose the tools they like best while offering self-paced routes to mastery.
  • Allow students to select topics for sustained inquiry projects, sometimes called “Passion Projects’ or “Genius Projects”.  Edutopia has some resources here.

Ultimately, what we want is to create an environment where students drive their own learning with enthusiasm, curiosity, and commitment.  Tapping into their interests and passions is one way to do this, while creating a climate where students feel heard and valued will help them be open to taking risks and ownership of their learning process.  Think about your experiences as a student, or even as an adult in a professional learning environment.  When you have choice in what you learn and how you learn, don’t you walk away with a more positive feeling about the experience and a better grasp of the topics? And if you were encouraged to ask questions, give input, and take part in deciding the direction of the training rather than being a passive recipient, isn’t that the kind of PD you crave? So as we design lesson plans and learning activities for our students, thinking about the classroom experience from your students’ perspective is a powerful way to check in.  And, when we listen to our students, we can learn a lot from them.   We can, as Mr. Couros says in Chapter 2 of The Innovator’s Mindset, “we can create a community that learns from and teaches one another.”

Happy New Year!

It is September, and if you are not in education, you probably thought this post was from last January. But if you saw the title “Happy New Year” and your response was “And same to you!” then you are most likely a teacher!
The start of a new school year is like a clean slate, when we make plans and resolutions, set goals, and polish the metaphorical apple. It is an ideal time to start new ventures that we believe will lead us towards achieving those goals. It’s an ideal time to start a new blog.

I chose the title “What if…” for my blog because I like how it leads the mind to possibility. What if our students could all reach their potential this year? What if we could help them all achieve growth? What if the parents were happy and the homework was never lost and the copier never jammed? Oh, but we can dream!

But this is not a blog for idle day dreams. I plan to write about the very real and very hard work that is happening in education today. I am privileged to work in a school district with some of the most talented and dedicated educators I have ever met, who inspire me every day. Together, we are working towards providing our students with an education that is not only effective for their intellectual growth and success on standard academic measures, but we are striving to create an experience that meets their needs as they prepare to enter the world beyond school. We know we must shed our old, comfortable ways to make K-12 public education more relevant, rigorous, and “future ready”, and so we as professionals are taking risks, shaking things up, and learning from mistakes. Reflecting on the process, the successes and missteps, is a crucial part of making progress. By blogging about what I experience and observe as I get to be part of this exciting journey, I hope to bring some clarity to the process, making the abstract more tangible, and celebrating the amazing efforts of my esteemed colleagues.

The title “What if…” to me implies potential. It is a positive approach. Instead of saying , “Oh, well” when faced with an obstacle, we can re-frame our approach with, “What if…” Imagine if the obstacle were not in the way. Or imagine if something else, some other factor, were available to us. What if…. every student felt welcomed as they entered my classroom? What if…. every student was treated like an A student? What if… the students chose the books and stories they want to read? What if… we could sit on the floor or on beanbags and learn in groups through conversation and play? Can you feel the possibilities? I know that not every obstacle can be removed just by thinking differently, but if we never think differently then we will remain stuck. Our students’ futures are at stake here, so I’m of the mind that it is time to think outside the box. Change is scary, but I’m excited, and optimistic, that the changes will be positive.

What if… this is the start of something great?