Dilbert on ‘learner voice’

For those not within the education system in the UK, allow me to explain. There’s been an emphasis over the last year or so to give the opinions of students in schools more status. In some cases this has worked very well and added to the life of the school. In others, it’s been just another box to tick. I imagine that in the latter type of school, the Dilbert cartoon below would resonate with teachers:

Dilbert on learner voice?

What are your thoughts on ‘learner/students/pupil voice’?

8 Comments

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  1. I think that if we want students to take more ownership of their learning, we need to listen, I mean really listen, to them more.

  2. @ Doug
    An interesting post. The old order focuses too heavily on the concept of “teaching’. If it is taught that is all there is to it. When the focus is on learning the paradigm shifts to that of the students. The role of the “teacher” is to make sure students are learning what they need to know. This is the paradigm that must win out if schools are going to change.

  3. The thing is, if you’re going to grant the students a voice, you need to think the whole process through to the end.

    For example, what if the students use that voice to say things you don’t like, using language you don’t approve of? At my sons’ previous school, where this happened often, the teachers fell back on an authoritarian model to silence the child, saying that they were putting the interests of the many ahead of those of the one. That’s not unlike telling your dog that he may run, while keeping him on a leash. These mixed messages simply caused further delinquency in the children they were trying to reach and whose behaviour they were trying to improve by means of this so-called student voice approach.

    As other commenters have said, you absolutely have to listen. You also absolutely have to be prepared to hear things that will offend you, even hurt you. You also need to recognise that the students are likely to test you to see whether this voice thing is genuine or just another box-ticking thing. And they’re not stupid. They know when they’re being had!

    You need to know how to handle deeply offensive utterances. How to deal with the hurt that some utterances may cause. You need to have contingency plans in place for when two students use their voice to insult each other’s viewpoints and the whole thing degenerates into a slanging match. Do you step in and say “Right, that’s it! Your voice privileges have been revoked”?

    If you step in and set rules and boundaries for what they may and may not say and how they may and may not say it… how much is it really their voice at all?

  4. Karyn, I have to disagree. If you ask students to have a voice you are also asking them to have duties and responsibilities, just like any democracy. It never is perfect, but without some rules about what is permissible and what is not, it would cease to function and people will fall back on the authoritarian model.

  5. @Nick If it is truly to be a case of student voice, then surely the students should be the ones to establish the boundaries? Or should at the very least participate in the process?

    I am merely trying to sound a note of caution. This concept is a whole lot bigger, deeper ad further reaching than many schools appreciate. And it isn’t the idyllic thing many expect it to be.

    If it is to be a project that empowers, then there needs to be the preparedness that those who are thus empowered will choose to go a different route. Such is democracy. Enfranchising a group of people means being prepared for profound change which may not be universally welcomed!

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