Student Voice

Recently, I overheard a teacher talking about that elusive element of the rubric: voice. “I have no idea how to teach it.” I don’t think she’s alone in this sentiment.

In our classrooms, personalities shine through. Even when I’m guest teaching in a classroom for a short time, individual personalities begin to reveal themselves. The question then becomes, how do we get these personalities to shine through on paper?

If we watch a typical class of students write, they tend to write slowly, word by word, trying to make each word and idea perfect as they go. For most students, there is no room for creativity or personality within this process.

Voice tend to emerge when students do not worry about or overthink their writing. In the spirit of Peter Elbow, I remind students to shut off the critical thinking side of the brain during their initial writing time and let the creative part of the brain take over. The critical thinking brain might tell us that our words or thoughts are not good enough, or that we aren’t using perfect spelling or grammar. Therefore, during our initial writing time, the critical thinking part of our brain tends to get in the way, stifling creativity and preventing student voice from emerging.

But when we encourage our students to just write, freely, no concern for perfection, personalities have a way of weaselling their way into the writing. And of course, once they have words on paper, we can teach our students to turn their critical thinking brains back on to engage in the processes of revision and editing.

But, consider this, how do we tell students to go back and add ‘personality’ to their writing?

A perplexing prospect…

4 thoughts on Student Voice

  1. This is so very true and is also connected to the ‘voice’ of leadership we wish to develop in our students. As students develop the skills of leadership and finding their ‘voice’, they slowly STOP looking around for approval when they make comments during class time. Each voice as a right to be heard; an authentic voice coming from their heart rather than a voice bound by the peer pressures we often find in classrooms. Thank you for even more clarity regarding how to teach ‘voice’.

  2. One idea that your slice made me think of: Encourage students to write (and rewrite) from different vantages. E.G., Write like you’re half the age you actually are. Write like your 50 years older. Write like you’re happier, sadder, angrier, calmer than your prior draft sounds. Write to your best friend vs. write to the school principal. Etc.

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