The Student Voice
Are We Listening and Adapting?
By NAfME Member Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl
“If you want to serve, you must begin by listening, not assuming.” ― Jacqueline Novogratz, Manifesto for a Moral Revolution: Practices to Build a Better World
This article presents a brief example of Dr. Reichl’s doctoral thesis, “The Student Voice: Perception of Students’ Representation of Themselves in the Secondary Band Curriculum,” with concepts applicable to all areas and levels of education.
Many educators view their subject, curriculum, and the process of delivering instruction through various philosophical experiences. These experiences enable educators to make choices regarding the aims and content of education, in terms of what curriculum should be taught, what activities should be performed, what experiences should be encountered, and who should be leading these lessons, activities, presentations, rehearsals, and performances.1 Through these choices, educators should consider the perspectives of students in the philosophies and curricula of any subject, class, ensemble, program, and organization.
Inclusive Learning Environment
Educators should promote a diverse, inclusive, and welcoming learning environment where students feel a sense of acceptance and belonging. “Developing a program as a reflection and celebration of the individuals in your classroom is an expected, progressive step for educators,”2 states Carla Kalogeridis, Publishing Team Leader for Teaching Music magazine. In order for students to perceive a representation of themselves in the curriculum, classroom, or community, educators can create a more inclusive learning environment by representing a variety of cultures, integrating varied backgrounds, providing a more-differentiated learning space, and inviting students’ voices into curricular planning.
Laura Thomas, Core Faculty and the Director of the Experienced Educators Program at Antioch University New England, states that “Our children’s early experiences—including the hours spent consuming media—shape what they imagine to be possible for people who look like them, live where they live, or come from where they came from.”3 She believes that children determine what they can be based on the examples around them. Thomas encourages educators to understand that representation matters to students and to foster this concept by increasing representation within their classrooms and curricula. She suggests that educators learn about their own culture and be prepared to discuss it. In addition, educators should know about the community in which they live and work as well as connect and reflect to current and past cultures that lived there. Educators should discuss stereotypes displayed in the media or world and reflect on the instructional materials used with a “specific eye toward the kids in your class and the community where you live.”4 Thomas asks the question, “Are there positive examples of different races, roles, and levels of affluence”5 demonstrated in the classroom? She also prompts educators to reflect on the decor of the classroom and determine if it reflects the languages and cultures of the students in the physical learning space. Finally, she inspires educators to focus on their pedagogy to decide if “teaching strategies make learning less or more accessible to some than others.”6
Considerations & Reflections
How do we know if students perceive a representation of themselves in the curriculum, classroom, and community? It’s simple. We ask them! We must ensure that in addition to the student image existing in our learning spaces, the student voice should be welcomed, celebrated, and heard in our learning environments. We must take time to ask questions regarding students’ interests, emotions, and needs. As educators, we should build upon these answers to better care for, educate, and inspire our students to reach their fullest potential as learners and global citizens.
As we attempt to better infuse the student voice into our curricula, classrooms, and communities, we can examine and apply the following three considerations and their subsequent questions for reflection into curricular planning and decision making:
Consideration 1: Feel
Question for Reflection: Will students share their emotions?
As educators, when we know how students feel, we can better plan for and potentially predict the learning environment. Were they eager to come to school today? Are they excited to be in our class? Has something or someone upset them? What do they enjoy? What do they dislike? To whom or what can they relate? How do they manage their feelings and behaviors? Who or what impacts their decisions? Are they ready to make decisions?
Consideration 2: Interpret
Question for Reflection: How do students explain the content, lesson, or experience?
As educators, we may have an expectation for how material is understood, a lesson is perceived, or how an experience is encountered. However, not every child will have similar interpretations that we have or of one another. Did something come across differently to students? Do they acknowledge a connection to the material and resources? Did they misinterpret something? Did we misinterpret something?
Consideration 3: Learn
Question for Reflection: How do students acquire the knowledge or skills?
As educators, we must acknowledge that every child learns differently and at varying speeds. What learning style best accommodates our students? Could it be more than one style? Do these styles alter per child, per activity, per class, or per day? How will we differentiate instruction to best meet the needs of students? What accommodations should be in place? To whom should we reach out for guidance and support?
Strategies for Inquiry
There are three specific ways to ask our students how they feel, interpret, and learn:
Strategy 1: Anonymously
Consider the use of an online survey or quiz, selected images/pictures, or written responses.
Strategy 2: Individually
Consider a one-on-one meeting, reflection activity, or performance.
Strategy 3: Collectively
Consider how large this grouping could be. Is it a pairing, small groups, or an entire class?
Be cognizant that each strategy for inquiry may not necessarily elicit an accurate and honest response from students. Consider the benefits and limitations of each strategy. Understand that a single occurrence of inquiring with students is not sufficient either. We must be willing to follow up. The answers may change―often.
We cannot assume that we know how students feel, interpret, and learn. We must be willing to ask them, actively listen to them, and make the necessary key changes to ensure their voices permeate each learning space. As we dive deeper into this new academic year, can we honestly claim that we are incorporating the student voice into our curricula, classrooms, and communities? Have we even thought to do so? Are we inquiring with our students about how they feel, interpret, and learn? Are we listening to their unique answers? Are we adapting our teaching practices based on their individual responses? Are we following up with students to ensure that we understand what they are saying? How are we best serving our students―all of them?
1Christian Rolle, “What is Right? What is Wrong? Music Education in a World of Pluralism and Diversity,” Philosophy of Music Education Review 25, no. 1 (Spring 2017): 88, accessed July 31, 2020, https://muse-jhu edu.ezproxy.liberty.edu/article/655797/pdf.
2Carla Kalogeridis, “Music as Reflection,” Teaching Music Magazine 27, no. 2 (October 2019): 26.
3Laura Thomas, “Why Representation Matters,” last modified August 22, 2106, accessed October 25, 2021, https://www.edutopia.org/blog/why-representation-matters-laura-thomas.
About the author:
Dr. Lori Schwartz Reichl is a champion of mentorship and motivation in education. Her mission is to encourage educators to reflect on our teaching practices while making key changes to refresh strategies that represent a shared vision to enrich the curriculum, classroom, and community. Dr. Reichl’s unique educational experiences have permitted her to expand her multifaceted career into a portfolio as a clinician, conductor, instructor, writer, and speaker. She is the author of nearly 100 educational articles and has designed these mentoring pieces into a graduate course that she instructs at The University of the Arts (Philadelphia) and VanderCook College of Music (Chicago). Musically, Dr. Reichl has served as an adjudicator, clinician, and guest conductor for honor bands in a handful of states. Generally, for all areas and levels of education, Dr. Reichl has presented countless professional development sessions and keynote speeches for school systems and organizations in 16 states including for international events. She has spoken in dozens of collegiate classrooms nationwide and has been interviewed for 13 education and leadership podcasts. Dr. Reichl’s research is rooted in the student voice and the learner’s perception of effective strategies of Diversity/Equity/Inclusion/Belonging. Her most popular professional development sessions include building community, strengthening classroom management, and maintaining inclusive learning environments. Learn more: Making Key Changes. Subscribe to the Making Key Changes monthly newsletter or peruse Dr. Reichl’s professional development offerings and articles.
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September 12, 2022. © National Association for Music Education (NAfME.org)