The biggest challenges students in kindergarten right now will face when they graduate is a rapidly changing work environment so being flexible is essential, and flexibility requires confidence. Confidence is the by-product of strong emotional intelligence and it will be necessary to successfully navigate the work-world of the future. Social-emotional intelligence ensures students are self and socially aware, and that they have good self-management, relationship, and decision-making skills. These skills can be acquired in a variety of ways, but student voice and personalized learning are two very effective methods to encourage growth in these qualities.
Student voice can be supported in a myriad of ways and essentially can be very easy to incorporate because it doesn’t require huge changes, but can be done in small ways. I have utilized a number of methods, but my favourites are Flipgrid and blogging. Flipgrid offers a very user-friendly platform with big impact. Students are already pro at selfie-style videos, so readily catch on and enjoy voicing their opinions on a variety of topics. This obviously encourages student voice, but it also opens the door to looking at social and global issues thereby supporting not only voice but social awareness. The best thing about this sort of forum is that students are able to video themselves privately thus eliminating the “scary” audience that so often holds them back, so I find I have even the quietest students being heard. Similarly, when I use blogging my quiet students shine. They are able to express themselves on their blog in creative and unique ways and I have found they gain so much confidence that they start to come “out of their shells” orally in the classroom afterward.
While Flipgrid and blogging are excellent platforms, student voice needs to also be fostered and supported with tools like Microsoft Dictate, Translator and Learning Tools so that every student is able to participate. New language learners and students with learning needs often find expressing themselves difficult because their writing skills don’t match the level of their thoughts and what they want to express. Being able to utilize Learning tools, Translator, and Dictate allows these students to fully participate with their peers and gain confidence in their abilities.
John Hattie’s Visible Learning Research involving over 300 million students shows that Student Efficacy is in the top five for effectiveness in increasing learning outcomes. When we support student voice, we are fostering increased student efficacy. Likewise, personalized learning is an impactful method that boosts student efficacy and social-emotional intelligence.
In the past number of years, I have integrated more and more student-lead and self-directed learning into my classes. Again, this is not something that has to be overwhelming, but can be done in small steps. For example, merely offering choice can be a great way to begin moving toward a more personalized learning environment. Students are inevitably more engaged when they are able to choose what they are reading or writing about in my English class, so I often have students reading books related to a central theme where they select a book from 8 to 10 options. Invariably, I try to choose themes that are relevant to the students. The themes tend to not be the sort generally associated with English class as I try to broaden our scope, and incorporate social issues, and global goals — mental health and climate change are two themes I have covered with great student interest and involvement. In fact, it was student observation of a lack of mental health and wellness teaching that prompted the development of the Mental Health unit. Statistics show that students of today are under much more stress and the mental illness rates, particularly anxiety and depression, have risen dramatically in teens in recent years. (For more in-depth information see my blog post, The Long Dark Days of November) So embedding mindfulness and explicitly teaching about mental wellness supports students in not only learning better how to be empathetic and understanding (see my blog post, Once Upon a Time) but also how to handle their own stress; therefore, helping to improve their social-emotional skills. Furthermore, using a variety of texts offers a whole new perspective in our discussions because students are drawing from a number of sources. This method also encourages them to informally teach each other, another bonus when considering the in-demand skills of tomorrow.
Microsoft’s Summary Report, The Class of 2030 and Life-Ready Learning: The Technology Imperative, states that “overall, social skills — such as persuasion, emotional intelligence, and teaching others — will be in higher demand across industries,” so incorporating student voice and personalized learning is on track in making students life-ready for the world in 2030, whatever it may look like.