Following a recent twitter discussion with another education user, who was adamant that pupils should have a big say in how they are taught, I have decided to explore my perception of the role student voice has to play in a school.
I am a strong believer in students learning to learn at an early stage. Pupils should understand different ways of revising and learning information, especially as the education system becomes more exam driven, however I have an issue when this crosses over to pupils telling teachers how to teach and deciding what’s best for them.
If you cast your mind back to when you were at school and ask yourself the question “how often did my teachers involve me in planning?” The chances are your response will be very little because the idea that students should be empowered in this way is a relatively new concept often driven by Ofsted’s view that pupils should be a bigger part of their school community. There seems to have been a recent trend towards getting pupils to observe teaching, asking the ‘student council’ or ‘student body’ (or whatever name your school chooses for this group of pupils who meet and discuss school business) what they want to improve about their school, finding out from pupils how they prefer to learn and so on and so forth. For me this is a dangerous path to go down because if I cast my mind back to when I was at school I had no idea what was best for me- I was indecisive, I was inconsistent, I was emotion driven, I was a child and most importantly I had no training in education so I didn’t understand the concept of how to maximise learning.
I would compare this concept of student voice to a football manager listening to the fans or players of the club on how they wanted training and match day tactics to be set up. They are valid opinion and there is always a benefit to listening to the stakeholders in any organisation, but would Jose Mourinho adapt his masterplan to suit the desires of other. No he definitely wouldn’t! Why? Because he has coaching qualifications and experience that tell him that he knows best.
I wouldn’t go to a gym and tell the personal trainer how to train me, I would put my faith in the trained expert and listen to his guidance and advice and this should be the same in schools. Every teacher should gauge the response of their pupils in their formal or informal reflection on their lesson. We’ve all taught a lesson where the pupils have failed to engage because the methods we’ve used haven’t suited the needs of the learners and we’ve all walked away, reviewed what we did and planned to improve our practice. This is the feedback we want from pupils- the day to day informal feedback that we’ve been trained to use to inform planning in a cyclical, evaluative process.
If too much choice is given to the pupils we create an environment where pupils develop a fixed mindset about learning and believe that they can only learn in one way or that learning can only happen when the lesson is fun. Unfortunately in life they will have to adapt the way they learn to suit different contexts, whether that be university or work placed training. As a teacher I have a responsibility to ensure that my learners understand that there are different ways of learning and they need to be flexible and adapt to change.
I am not saying for a minute that student’s views about education aren’t important or that we should ignore them, but we are trained professionals with years of training and experience. As a teacher you know best, that’s what you are paid to do! Teachers need to observe learners and make decisions based on response and outcome, but it isn’t productive to solely follow the opinions of pupils who have no formal training in education and whose minds are still developing.
If you have any comments or opinions on this topic please tweet me @mikeharrowell or comment below