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How to amplify student voice in curriculum discussions

When it comes to reaching students, curriculum is key.

You could be the greatest teacher in the world, equipped with the best technology money can buy. Doesn’t matter. If your curriculum doesn’t speak to students in the context of their lives and futures, it’s all for naught.

So, given how important relevance is to a good curriculum, why don’t students have a louder voice in discussions about what they learn?

“As classroom leaders, we carefully design assignments,” writes education professor, Dr. Jennifer Davis Bowman in a recent blog post for Edutopia. “We tell students what assignments are due, when we will assess, and ultimately how to jump through the district-demanded curriculum hoops. As a result, students may come to view their role in curriculum decisions as unimportant—or worse, nonexistent.”

For the old-school purists among us, this notion of including students in curriculum discussions might sound counterintuitive. Teachers teach, students learn—that’s how it has always been.

But if you aren’t bringing your students—and their parents, for that matter—into these conversations, you’re missing a tremendous opportunity for input and innovation.

With this in mind, here are some steps Bowman says school leaders and faculty must take to include students in conversations about their curriculum.

Set ground rules
It’s a good idea to include students in discussions about learning—but final decisions rest with the educators in charge.

As you bring students into this conversation, make sure they understand that. Before you start, let students know what aspects of the curriculum are open to discussion and which ones aren’t.

Do identify non-negotiable elements of the curriculum conversation,” writes Bowman. “For instance, remind students that while learning goals are not debatable, their feedback is critical in designing how to reach these goals.”

Discuss time constraints
Your students will have great ideas for new projects, but you won’t have enough time to adopt all of them. Make sure students understand that time is a factor in the choices you make.

While we’re on the subject, this is usually an opportune time to ask students how they like to spend their class time.

A few questions:

How long should assignments take? Should you spend more time in groups or on individual projects? What happens when educators or students underestimate how long a project will take?

Student input is critical.

Improve on what works  
Unless you’re teaching an entirely new subject, most teachers aren’t working from scratch.

Ask your students what parts of the curriculum work best for them, and explore ways you can make old or outdated assignments even better.

“Do explore ways of building upon current curricular assignments to introduce new learning opportunities,” writes Bowman. “Even challenge students to develop their own revisions of traditional assignments.”

Give every student a voice and a choice
Not every student wants to get involved in curriculum discussions. Don’t force the issue, says Bowman.

For introverted students, class discussions are often frightening. But just because a student doesn’t raise her hand in class, doesn’t mean she doesn’t have something important to say. Develop alternative methods for students to contribute to these discussions. That might mean having one-on-one conversations, or creating a place online where students can voice their opinions on their own time, and in a more protective way.

Make sure every student who wants to be part of the discussion has that opportunity. Empowering students, means giving them a choice to participate.

What steps are you taking to include parents and students in curriculum discussions this school year? Tell us in the comments.

Want to give students a louder voice in school? Here’s one way to invite them into the conversation.