Recognizing the value of student voice
First-year members of the My Voice Teacher Network Kristen Donovan and Eileen Somerville are 8th grade teachers at James R. Ludlow School. They are working together on their service-learning project this year and received the September-October My Voice web award.
Eileen and Kristen were recognized for their success in incorporating student voice in their service-learning project and for the positive impact that this work has had on the students so far. They explored issues in the community with their students through videos from the “Blueprint for a Safer Philadelphia” initiative and class discussions.
One of the most effective strategies the teachers used was the community walk. Eileen says they chose this activity to “give the students a chance to take a closer look at where they live.” On the walk, the class took note of the positive and negative aspects of their neighborhood, from abandoned buildings and litter to murals and park areas. Immediately after, they reflected on what they saw and the overarching social issues those observations represented. “When they sat down to write, it helped them think about what they want to do for a project,” says Kristen.
Efforts to include student voice in the project have paid off. Kristen says that, “as teachers guiding this process, we have seen students who have had extreme behavior problems in the past voice a concern and interest in the project.” Eileen agrees, adding that incorporating student voice means that she and Kristen “get to hear about the students’ personal experiences, and the students share a lot more about what’s going on with them.”
Even more exciting, encouraging student voice has increased the students’ trust in their teachers. “We were saying that they can’t tell us anything [since] they don’t live here,” says Kevin Gransby. “But they’re trustworthy. They care about us and our community.”
This honesty and openness has been one of the teachers’ greatest surprises so far. To those who understand the power of incorporating student voice in a service-learning project, this is just the kind of outcome we hope for.