The possibilities offered by student engagement have been the subject of some interesting discussions recently. For example, September’s #suptchat tweet-up touched on some exciting opportunities for developing critical thinking skills in students through engagement. We have also worked with a number of districts that have seen value in adding student voices to the decision making process. For others, like the districts we’ve worked with in California, meaningful student engagement is a legislated mandate.
It’s important to recognize that student engagement requires a concerted commitment from districts in order for everyone to get the most out of the process. However, if done right, the group learning made possible by the ThoughtExchange platform provides a powerful mechanism for developing critical thinking skills and surfacing the priorities of your student population.
Here are 3 considerations that can help you optimize your next student engagement:
A tighter focus is more effective
Like any other group, students want to talk about what matters to them and contribute their ideas to the conversation. However, while open-ended questions allow for student voices to be heard, for younger students, understanding the scope of broad questions can be challenging.
We have found that honing in on a specific topic works better than questions that are broad and generic in nature. For example, focus the conversation on how technology can be used to enhance their learning, or how students feel they might benefit from certain specialty programs.
I would appreciate being informed on real world responsibilities such as taxes, applying for credit cards, mortgages. By the time I get into post secondary I would like to have some understanding of this.
-Actual District Process: Top student thought on Access to Core and Elective Course Options
Appoint an on-site adult ambassador
In our experience, districts that identify and support an adult, or group of adults, to champion their student engagement are most successful. Before the engagement begins, the adult ambassador can pull together a small group of students to help design the process while providing the leadership needed to get at questions that will matter most to decision makers. This builds a feeling of ownership amongst students.
An adult ambassador also acts as a representative that can ensure thoughts contributed by students will be considered by decision leaders. Being able to demonstrate that the student voice is taken into account, and is influencing decisions, is essential to keeping students engaged.
Knowing who you are talking to about post-secondary is important to me. Being comfortable with who is giving me advice on University applications will help me open up more.
-Actual District Process: Top student thought on Post-Secondary and Career Focus
Run student processes separately
One of the biggest challenges in including students in broader engagements with adults is finding a communication style that is relevant across the age gap. The most effective student engagement processes we’ve seen are run separately from adult ones.
This allows districts to tailor the language of the questions and provide background for topics in ways that work best for each group. For example, the addition of visuals might be necessary to explain concepts to students, as would adjustments for reading level, and support for participation.
This allows each group to freely express themselves and keeps the conversation from being side tracked. At the end of the process, in the Discover step, everyone still has an opportunity to learn from each other when the results are pulled together and shared with everyone.
Engaging students is valuable. It is also challenging by nature. It takes work, patience, and a sincere desire to hear student thoughts expressed in the student’s manner of speaking. As with any new approach, it may take a few tries for students to see the real value of adding their voice, and to trust that their input truly matters.