Sunday, February 8, 2015

Tech Amplifies Student Voice

Recently I was honored to be asked to participate in Digital Learning Day , this year's theme is directly connected to the important #FutureReady effort being spearheaded by both the Alliance for Excellent Education and  the U.S. Department of Education. The emphasis at this event was to consider and share instructional practices that effectively used technology to strengthen a student's learning experiences. Although we have used technology in many ways to help strengthen a student's learning experiences at #Cantiague, the first thing that came to my mind was how we have used technology to amplify student voice and show the world what we stand for and what we believe in at our school. The idea of student voice is one that is important to us because we see our children as the center of all the teaching and learning... they are who we plan for, they are who we scaffold for independent success and they are who we advocate for each and every day. Thus, we know we must listen to  them to best understand their needs, passions and feelings about school. And so our journey began to use technology to give voice to our students - both directly and indirectly - with a rebirth of our vision statement and the integration of weekly video updates featuring our children as the school storytellers! 

Our vision statement, reborn... As educators, especially those of us in leadership positions, one of the first things we are asked to consider is the Vision Statement for our school. You know what I am talking about... that bulleted list of generic phrases and words trying to capture what the schooling experience will be like for children. Here is an example in case it's been a while since you looked at your own vision statement...

Our vision is that children leave school with: 

A set of values -- being honesty, being determined and being considerate of others. 

A set of basic skills -- literacy, mathematical, scientific, artistic and social. 

Strong self-esteem and developed self-confidence. 
Tolerance and respect for others.

We value the partnership which exists between school, families and our community in realizing this vision. 

WOW... those all sound like some pretty wonderful and important aspects in the development of a child. But, I have a bunch of questions and concerns...

  • Is there anything in that vision statement that makes identifiable to a specific school? (Sounds pretty generic)
  • What exactly does all the stuff described in the vision statement look like? 
  • Does the vision statement speak to a school being #FutureReady or the students being fluent in 21st Century skills needed to be successful in life? 
  • What does being determined look like? 
  • How do we teach children about their levels of self-confidence? 
  • What role do the students play in this vision aside from being on the receiving end? 
  • Is this vision happening to kids and the community or are all constituent groups actively part of the process? 

The list of questions could go on and on but you get the idea - what is the point of this vision statement and what does it really mean for a school community? This is something I had been struggling with for years at our school because I wasn't quite sure about the best way to capture and represent our vision statement, especially in thinking about the fact that we have dedicated ourselves to focusing on 21st Century skills both in our teaching and learning. Although 21st Century skills emphasize concepts such as critical thinking and collaboration, we also wanted to find a way to celebrate and recognize our dedicated efforts to meaningfully integrate technology into the teaching and learning experiences each day at #Cantiague. This had all proven to be a challenging task and the trajectory was rather unclear but eventually we decided to tackle the dreaded vision statement because we had finally achieved a group understanding of our vision and the direction we wanted to go with our vision!

from likeateam

So, at the start of last year, our Shared Decision Making Team was charged with this important task... re-write and re-create the Cantiague Elementary School Vision Statement. Our Shared Decision Making Team is comprised of six staff members, four parents, two students and me. We started by listing words that we felt best described Cantiague and the Cantiague experience. Generating that list (ended up being about 100 words and phrases) and then narrowing it down was quite a process that involved surveys, discussions, more surveys and follow-up discussion. It literally took us months to decide which words and phrases best captured the Cantiague experience for kids. After deciding on the words that best fit Cantiague (the students on the team really helped refine the list from their vantage point) we then shifted the conversation to what our vision statement should actually look like... will we generate that bulleted list? Maybe write it in a different way? Or go in a completely different direction and create a Wordle that would permanently be visible on our website. Although it was a great discussion, we had a tough time coming to a conclusion!

After a month of discussion on this topic, the team kept coming back to the idea of a video and how it might best capture the Cantiague experience and would allow us to actually show, with images, what the vision statement looks like in school. Well, thanks to the hard work of three team members - KatieCaseyLisa and the rest of the Shared Decision Making Team - the Cantiague Vision Statement went from an idea to a video reality. Check it out and please leave a comment below letting us know what you think about our vision and ask yourself, What does your vision statement say about your school and what role do your students play in that vision statement?    

#Cantiague Video Updates... our best effort to amplify student voice on a grand scale! At Cantiague, we started doing Weekly Video Updates last year where 6 or 7 students from each class do research about what’s happening on each grade level and then share those updates on camera. The children have two days to do their grade level research and then they join me for lunch on Wednesday or Thursday and we shoot the video. No class time is lost; the children decide what information is shared; and the community knows exactly what is happening in school in real time!

Let's face it, the children are the best storytellers and who better to share what’s happening in our schools than the people who are experiencing it first hand - our amazing kids! That is the power of student voice (#StuVoice). We have been shooting weekly video updates for almost two years and here 
are some helpful hints based on what we do at Cantiague…

Use whatever video platform that works best for you. We use the Touchcast app on my iPad, which is free and allows for 5 minute videos. The app also gives you the option to add in sound effects, pictures on the screen and other such video enhancing features.

After creating the video, we upload it to our YouTube channel. Although a YouTube channel is not a necessity, it does provide an online space to house your videos and allows for easy sharing with the entire community via an emailed link - again, not a must but something to consider! The great thing about YouTube is that it is linked to Google and you can set your channel so it is public or private, which is definitely important for the community to understand.

And after all that work, here is an example of the final product featuring the awesome kids of #Cantiague...

The time has come for all educators to dedicate themselves to being #FutureReady and find different ways to use technology to enhance and support student learning. We have used technology to amplify student voice... what are you doing with technology in your school?

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