Including student voices

Every once in a while I make a comment on someone else’s blog that I also
wish was on my own. This is one of those occasions…

Fisch wrote

As my team of teachers and I reflected in the evenings and on
the plane ride on the way home [from NECC], we wondered: Where were the students? . . . .
overall, it was a bunch of adults talking about what’s best for students. Now,
don’t get me wrong, I think a bunch of adults talking about what’s best for
students is a fine thing (it’s what I spend most of my time doing, after all),
but I can’t help but wonder how much more powerful it would be to have students
involved in these discussions as well.

my comment

I’ve generally been frustrated with student presentations at
conferences. Folks trot a few students out, pat them on their heads for being
there and sharing their voices, and then go back to doing whatever they were
doing beforehand, giving themselves self-congratulations along the way for
‘including the students.’ I haven’t seen many impactful student presentations in
the sense that adults take the students SERIOUSLY and maybe actually change
their mindset / practice as a result (of course I haven’t seen too many
adult-delivered presentations that do this either, but the level of
condescension isn’t the same). So… I like the idea of including student voices
very much but would encourage some very creative thinking about how to do that
to best effect. I’m sure the Generation Yes folks, among others, would be glad
to help…

Anyone else feel this way? Or have I just been unlucky enough to go to a
bunch of bad student presentations?

33 Responses to “Including student voices”

  1. I genreally agree with you. Most of the time students present things we’ve already gathered. Students lack one thing that is all importan: The ability of hindsight, or the experience of retrospectivity which may lift a student presentation from the average to the interesting.

  2. I’m going to cop to some general confusion over the include-kids-next-time reaction, which has spread pretty far and pretty wide post-NECC.

    On the one hand, mediocre adult speakers already abound. I have no reason to believe students would be any more dynamic or engaging. My experience with student speakers has been one of very little note-taking and a whole lot of watch-checking.

    And on the other hand, I’m not sure I even understand the premise for lending students the floor. Both voices — student and adult — don’t carry the same weight for me in this conversation.

    Testimonially speaking, I’d rather hear a student talk about what she’s liked and disliked about her learning experiences. But analytically? Adults, far more often than kids, have the historical perspective and cognitive skills to talk about education. Generally speaking, I don’t think kids have enough perspective to talk about kids.

    In sum this feels like a tribute to school-change ideals in, kind of ironically, a forum where they don’t fit.

  3. In general, you are right. Most student presentations are patronizing and lack substance. I’ve seen a few exceptions though. The best was one in which ONLY students presented. The teachers accompanying them didn’t say a word after the introduction.

  4. Scott,
    You are right, and I posted something similar in my blog in response to your leadership challenge.

    It is completely true that most student presentations are patronizing them. It’s not fair that we trot them out once in a while, ask them about things they have no knowledge or control over, and then wonder why miracles didn’t happen.

    Asking a student, “how would you change education” is crazy. They can’t change education, and wouldn’t know what to do if they could. As Dan commented, they don’t have the perspective. In this sense, student showcases are a more real representation of student voice in action, but are often segregated away from the main conference sessions or exhibit halls.

    Including student voice MUST be an ongoing process about real issues that impact their lives in real ways. There has to be adults involved in the process long term committed to making it happen.

    I can also tell you from personal experience that any session at a conference with students presenting will not draw a large audience, no matter how fabulous it is. People go to conferences for lots of reasons, and I guess one of those reasons is to get away from their everyday job of interacting with students.

  5. Wow, I think there may end up being more conversation here than on the original post (thanks Scott and Sylvia for commenting both places, although Sylvia you were a little more upbeat on my blog!). I’m generally used to being the cynical one, but let me try for a moment not to be and see how it goes.

    In my experience, the students at my school seem to have something to say. We haven’t done it enough, but we’ve had them come in and talk during our staff development sessions and the teachers sure seem to listen. Sure, they don’t have the perspective we do, but they do have a perspective that should matter to us – don’t they? Here’s what Molly had to say on the blog awhile back:

    “All too often, we feel as if our teachers are condescending or trying to spoon-feed us things. I would suggest you sit down with a few students and really talk to them. Not about grades or what they did in biology last week. But talk to them, you’ll find that we’re people. Actual people with thought processes just as complex as anyone over the age of eighteen. Sometimes adults, parents, teachers or just people in the community forget that teenagers are still people. I could be wrong, but I certainly feel like a real person, and I hope to remind people that perhaps we aren’t so different after all.”

    Now, you may not value what Molly has to say, but shouldn’t we? Dan, if Molly was in one of your high school math classes, would you listen to her? Scott, if she was in one of your university classes, would what she has to say matter to you? Sylvia, from a constructivist perspective, shouldn’t Molly and her classmates’ ideas and feelings – what they currently think and believe about the classroom and world around them – help inform our pedagogy?

    Of course they won’t have all the experience that many of us have, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have experience that matters – the experience of actually being on the receiving end of what we are doing. And haven’t the experienced adults, with our “historical perspective and cognitive skills” and with “things that we have knowledge and control over,” made one or two bad decisions surrounding education?

    So, because we’ve done a bad job of including them in the conversation, and we don’t take them seriously or show up to listen to them, their voices don’t matter? At what age do folks have enough perspective that we should listen to what they have to say? How many years do you have to teach before you’re allowed to talk about this stuff? Three? Five? Ten? If you’re not in the classroom, then what qualifications do you need to have the appropriate “perspective?” And who decides?

    I’m not trying to be argumentative here, really, I’m just honestly wondering. I guess I would disagree, Sylvia, that students can’t change education – I think they change it every day. Because they are the ones that decide each and every day whether what we try works or not. And, ultimately, if we leave the customer’s perspective out of the conversation, will they buy our stuff?

    I’m not sure if I added something to the conversation or not, but I’ll now return to my usual cynical self, doing my best to get away from my everyday job dealing with students (and educators).

  6. I feel that students must be included in our conversations. I frequently have students present to my staff projects they’re working on. They show teachers (and other students) what they’re doing, which has a greater weight than hours of me saying the same thing. Plus few experiences are more educational for the students than when they have to present, especially to a group of adults.
    You are right though, students who are pulled from a classroom and placed in front of a group and asked to “tell everyone how you would change education.” for the first time are as ineffective as the first time you or I stood in front of a group to present. They require the same practice in real settings as we do but rarely get it. It has to become something that is routine both for students to do it well, and for teachers to get over the feeling that, “Isn’t it great they’re speaking regardless of what they have to say.”
    We run student led tech showcases, where students teach and present to students and teachers. Both benefit from exchange and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

  7. Yeah, interesting stuff here. I like Kern’s idea of having kids showcasing their work in lieu of a teacher showing it off for them. Students evoke the enthusiasm of student learning more effectively than their teachers, for reasons that are rather obvious.

    And just like there are forums where students are better equipped than teachers, I don’t think it’s necessarily condescending to suggest the converse is true.

    Specifically, any sort of keynote address or discussion of how students learn, almost by definition, cannot be led by a student. I’m sure a student could supplement the discussion but how many of them have the crazy sort of meta- self-aware reflexivity to _lead_ it?

    Maybe I’m wrong. Teachers — by which I mean me — oughtta encourage students more often to speak in adult forums. Let’s encourage them to submit break-out session proposals. Let’s help ’em with the application. But let’s also draw the line at _reserving_ some presenter slots for them out of any sort of age-ist affirmative action. But I’m all for letting them compete for my limited time and attention on their own merits.

    See, this isn’t about denying Molly her humanity. I probably patronize my students in a zillion unfortunate ways that escape me, but this has nothing to do with Molly “having something to say.” I believe she does. But we don’t dole out presenter appointments on that qualification alone. What she has to say has to be intellectually challenging and she’s gotta be able to say it well.

    I don’t know many _adults_ who can claim that one.

  8. Let me try again…

    Karl, although I now teach adults, not adolescents, I continue to be an extremely student-centered instructor (just ask ’em!). I also believe, like you, that students have a lot of worthwhile things to say and show us. In fact, I’d even go so far as to agree with Robert Epstein that we’ve infantilized teenagers and are paying the price for it:

    My beef is not with the students at all, actually. If student panels or demonstrations aren’t treated seriously by adults, it’s not the kids’ fault. It’s the fault of the adults who structured the opportunity and/or the adults who attend.

    So… why are most student presentations so inane / condescending / nonproductive / boring / unhelpful (at least in my opinion)? Maybe it’s the lack of connection to the students that get trotted out: we listen to our own students much more than we do some abstract set of students from somewhere else (see Or maybe it’s that the presentations aren’t structured correctly. Or maybe it’s just adults’ general tendency to discount whatever students have to say absent some compelling reason to do otherwise (e.g., we know them). I don’t know what the reasons are exactly. I just know that I’ve done a lot of watch-checking like Dan and, for the few student presentations that I thought were really good/interesting, I don’t think anyone else agreed and thus little or no impact occurred.

    It’s a conundrum. Someone who’s smarter than me must have the answer for how to create a good student-run presentation for adults. I’d love to hear it so we can replicate it.

  9. Well, I’ve decided I may not be all that good at picking sessions, but of all the sessions I attended at NECC, only one might be considered “intellectually challenging.” (Gary Stager’s, and even that one was mostly a repeat of one he did last year at NECC, although it was still very good for me to hear it again.) So if intellectually challenging is the bar, then somebody better tell ISTE, because they are going to have to significantly scale back NECC.

    Please note that I include our session in the non-intellectually challenging category. We shared some of our successes and challenges surrounding staff development and student-centered instruction, and folks seemed to find it helpful, but I don’t think anyone would call it intellectually challenging. And I think having thoughtful, well-prepared students in our session – as well as many of the others – would’ve added to the conversation.

    As far as how to structure student-run presentations (or joint student/adult presentations), I think that’s definitely something to think about (and I imagine Sylvia could help us a lot with this). I echo what Kern said in the sense that I don’t think we’ve given them much practice. From K through 12, we don’t really ask them to present anything meaningful (with some exceptions, of course), nor do we really give them any practice in making real decisions. Then we’re flabbergasted when they graduate and can’t make good presentations or decisions. I think a good place to start would be to expect more of them (and ourselves) K-12, and to help them develop those capacities. It’s certainly something I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about for my own school. Perhaps instead of looking at our watches, we should actually do something to improve the situation . . .

  10. Yes!!!! As a part of all students academic career, they need to be teachers, period. It’s an expectation in my classes that everything the students learn, will have to taught by them to the next crop of students.

    Also, they will work with and train adult teachers. Whenever they run tech sessions for the teachers, both groups win. Now, let me say this is easiest with technology topics, because the average teacher complains that they “know nothing about this tech stuff.” (even when they do) and students are more or less accustomed to helping adults with it. (parents, etc.) But once the dynamic is formally established that teachers can lean on students for help, and vice versa it spreads.

    The most ‘traditional’ (to put it nicely) teacher I work with asked me at the end of the year if I could recommend a student to be his tech support. Score! The teacher is outsourcing his online presence to a student who will press the keys and make it happen, but think of the model.

    It’s extremely unlikely that this teacher has ever given up any control of his classroom before, and I want to be clear, in this it’s not about giving up control, but how the student will learn to collaborate with their ‘client’ in this environment. Very cool.

  11. This discussion is really heartening, it’s WAY past time we listened to students – and I’d like to clarify to Karl that I would ABSOLUTELY agree that students can change education locally, and should be asked to do so as often as possible!

    It’s just silly to ask them to talk about how to change “education” where that means nationally, or maybe globally, which is something they have no control over.

  12. Students talking about what works in schools, from their point of view? Wouldn’t that be novel! Now, they may not use the same nomenclature that we, the aforementioned educated professionals, and may not have as verbose a vocabulary as some of the previous professionals but, in their own words, they could give us so much to reflect upon if we were to but drop our “mighty than thou” persona and begin a dialogue with them, not about them. I don’t think we can ask too many adults who would be able to give us a clear picture of how to “change” education regardless of the historical perspective or the experience. Asking for their input and giving them the chance to express themselves would be a great idea. Why would they have to present the first time? Why not have them report on sessions, create summary paper that has pics, comments from session goers and presenters and then, using technology, put it together to be given out to participants – making it all part of an extra-credit class or a camp for those students who are interested in such things. Would be easier for the camp to arrange for the legal matters to be covered than for an individual teacher or school. The students could be local or they could be from different areas, gathered before NECC to learn necessary skills and then for a few days after for debriefing – maybe their comments could be done interview style and shown in a session at the next NECC. You could also have kids podcasting and having a kind of online session where other students could contact them to discuss their opinions on what is going on at the sessions, a kind of concurrent session.
    We can naysay all we want, continue to impress others with our overzealous use of the English language or we can just talk and listen to see what others have to say. I think having students “showing” what can be done would be much more impressive than having them “tell” me what they did.
    I think this has great potential to bring the educational recipients into the same locale with what the adults who are shaping and discussing education, to get their input without putting them in the situation of presenting to large adult groups.

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  14. I think students have a great deal to say, and agree with Karl and Kelly.

    I think it is condescending of us to believe that students can’t articulate things that we as educators should know, or that they can’t add to the conversation.

    I do think how their participation is formatted at a conference has a lot to do with how successful and engaging it would be for all involved. I think like any panel, the facilitation and planning of a session makes a tremendous difference in how effective it is. Several of us from my campus were trying to have a student present with us at TCEA but our session wasn’t accepted–I thought it would be a very powerful and authentic learning experience for her to help us prepare a professional presentation and to present.

    Or if students were attending as participants, having a support within the conference for them, would make their time more worthwhile–why not a “teen cafe” at NECC for example? or at the bloggercons?
    Or a way for them to “report back?”

    I’m thinking of other ways to get students involved in the conversation too–having them sit on committees or panels on the campus level(we have students on our Vision committee and Campus Leadership committees for example). A district near us trained teachers and students on digital filmmaking in the same workshop in a learning partnership. Why can’t we all learn together?

    If we believe we are life-long learners, and that our students should also be life-long learners, then we all should be able to learn from one another.

    I’m thinking of something the CEO of Verizon said at the panel presentation at NECC. Ebrahimi said that he watches and tries to learn from his student interns at Verizon. Shouldn’t we be open to learning from our own students?

    I realize we are all circling around similar ideas, but to think that students can’t present something meaningful or be part of the conversation is selling them and ourselves short.

  15. The conversation on this has been fabulous and, as usual, has diverged in unexpected directions. What we haven’t done yet, though, is articulate how to set up a student panel or presentation that actually works. What needs to be done to make one of these sessions productive, successful, and powerful (or even just interesting)? How should student presentations be set up and run so that folks aren’t ‘watch-checking’ or condescending? Anyone have some thoughts?

  16. Carolyn hits it with the idea of giving them support and inviting them to create their own interpretations of what they see. I wonder if some of the ideas, like a teen cafe, would be useful in such a setting if the students were given the support of such people like Vicki Davis who have experience with working in such a venue. As educators, we need to relinquish control and allow students to provide input and then support them when they make mistakes not condescending and “I told you so” when those mistakes take place.
    Dan, great comment;) Top of your game again.

  17. Scott,


    One option would be a panel discussion. In that case, I think having a skilled facilitator is important (probably a teacher!)

    On a panel, would we want students from different schools? Or a group from one campus? I like the divergent voices idea, personally?

    Another idea–presenters (like Karl Fisch mentioned) could include a few students. If they couldn’t attend in person, what about via Skype or video conferencing?

    Or, what if there were a series of presentations at NECC that had a “student Skype-in” sessions. Then students could connect into those specific sessions and participate remotely from all over? Each attendee with interested students could open a Skype conversation with those students during the particular workshop? (that way it wouldn’t be overwhelming in terms of monitoring what was going on?)

    Or what about setting up an online “con” for students. Display the technorati tags or feeds for them, with a place for them to make comments on the blogs as people live blog the sessions. Make it more convenient for them to follow the conversation. Set this up before school is out so it can easily be shared with students.

    I think envisioning how this would work would depend on what is done. Just a few ideas….

    I posted on a related idea, which is how at the campus level we can ask for more student voice and input….

  18. Hi all,
    Don’t know if anyone is still watching this thread, and isn’t it odd that blogs aren’t that great at sustaining a conversation? Who can keep track of all these comments and thoughts spread over so many blogs?

    Anyway, I posted some thoughts about what student vision means on my blog

    The issue here is assembling students to speak at places and on subjects they have no stake in. I think it’s a much stronger idea (as many have posted here and other places) to have students DO something that makes a difference at the local level. If there’s some outcome to share, that’s great!

    I’m not against listening to students, of course. But let’s not confuse listening to student voices with “student voice” — meaning empowerment leading to change.

    This was a student leadership event at NECC 2001 – the planning committee had two Gen Y students (Jeff Conor and Emily McCartan) participating. Marilyn Piper, the event coordinator is a Gen Y teacher as well. The technical support (Luke Bowerman) was a Gen Y student too. The event was great, lightly attended, nothing changed, and it was not repeated.

    If you ask Jeff today (and I have, he just graduated from college), he says that it was a great experience, he learned a lot personally, but in the end, it was a wasted effort because there was no outcome that could be leveraged into anything else. It was a nice show, but a dead end.

    Hey, I’m sure things could be organized differently, better, or whatever, but I think it goes to the point that the best intentions and plans still have to have a chance at an authentic outcome.

  19. Sylvia,

    I’m wondering if the power of blogging was more widespread then, as it is now, that the conversation from that session might have continued and led to some substantive change?

  20. Carolyn,
    Actually, I don’t think that blogging would change things. The problem is that these events don’t have an authentic purpose, or hope of changing anything, providing a venue to discuss that won’t help. The students involved had a great learning experience, maybe that’s all we can hope for with these events.

    I certainly agree that NECC has some issues with session selection. I know for a fact that Gary Stager submits lots of things and is at the mercy of the NECC selection committees. Too bad you didn’t see his session on “Papert Matters: Thinking about Children, Computers and Powerful Ideas”. I think you would have found it both new and grounded at the same time, and it’s relevant to your point about the ISTE selection process since Seymour Papert, the father of educational computing, never keynoted NECC.

  21. Whoa – a lot to digest here. I’ll need to come back and read some more (and follow the links), but a few quick things:

    1. Sylvia – I really wanted to see the “Papert Matters” presentation, but it was scheduled opposite my own presentation. I thought about trying to sneak out of my own presentation to attend, but it seemed like bad form (and it was four floors away or something . . .)

    2. Kelley – lots of interesting ideas there (reporting out on sessions, etc.), I need to think more about what that might look like if we were to bring students to NECC. Although I do agree with Sylvia that I want to focus more on the local right now (which, just to remind folks, was what I concluded in my original post – I think).

    3. Kern – students as teachers, teachers as students – that’s something I’ve said many times in our staff development efforts. On the window of my office I have a sign that says something like “We are all teachers. We are all students.” – and has pictures of about 25 of the teachers in our staff development (those that willingly gave their picture) – plus a picture of my daughter (hey, it’s my office). If we really believe in lifelong learning, then we need to really think about what that looks like for adults in our schools.

    4. Carolyn – also interesting ideas, as always. Ahh, my brain is hurting.

    5. Scott – I need to think some more on your charge to us, but for me so much of it goes back to this being an expectation of students K-12 (and beyond, of course). That they present on meaningful, relevant things (age-appropriate) on a regular, on-going basis to audiences that matter and who give them constructive feedback. Christian Long posted a while back about all high schools needing to offer two courses – History of the Future and How to Make a Great Presentation (or something like that). We’re actually kicking around the idea via email of the History of the Future one at our two high schools (with me mainly trying to figure out how to get it approved), but I’ve also been thinking about the Great Presentation one. This discussion ties in nicely, but I still need to think a lot more to get my head around it. If I ever do, I’ll post about it.

    6. Dan – have you given up on us? I’d really like your take on some of this. Do you think the things we’re talking about are more plausible and worthwhile, or not so much?

  22. Karl, I’m all over the ‘How To Make A Great Presentation’ issue. It pains me to watch many of my fellow academics and/or graduate students give horrible presentation after horrible presentation. Come to an academic conference sometime… it’s agonizing!

    That said, I also think we need to work on the adults in the room. Students can give an absolutely bang-up presentation and the adults still will be condescending and/or not care…

  23. Great discussion all, so where are we?

    Looking for a set of guidelines (dare I say rubric) for students to make presentations?
    Doesn’t NECC or most conferences have parameters to determine who presents now? Do they work?

    Personally, I’m less excited about the benefits to those in the audience than the educational value the student gets from presenting.

    We had students present in a social studies class earlier this year. You know how that usually goes, one student gets up and speaks while the teacher is the only active listener nodding his/her head with the rest of the class looking at the ceiling. Tough crowd, they have nothing vested in the work and are not interested in the material. So, one of the students shows a video interview of her grandmother talking about WWII. Very real, very raw, very powerful. You could’ve heard a pin drop in the class, everyone was riveted. When complete, all the students clapped (unprompted) and spoke of how good it was, etc. The student who was slatted to go next refused. “I’m not following that!”

    In the classroom, there has to be two assumptions.

    1) All final projects are going to be public and reviewed. Otherwise the works goes from student to teacher to student to parent’s fridge door. Some variation of a presentation has to be a given.

    2) It has to be real. Having students present at NECC or anywhere is a novelty unless the students are totally into whatever they are discussing. Anyone who’s had students blog or podcast has seen this, I’ve had students do hour long podcasts on

    online forums because they were jacked about the topic. Echoing Sylvia, without an “authentic purpose” the students can’t be as excited about presenting as we’d want them to be. With something real behind it, the kids will surprise and impress you.

  24. I’m still around but feeling like my basic set of assumptions is missing a lot of yours by too wide a margin for me to be of use.

    I dig a lot of the practical guidelines Kern’s been promoting here but I specifically do not dig this ethos:

    “Personally, I’m less excited about the benefits to those in the audience than the educational value the student gets from presenting.”

    I don’t want to ride this quote (totally decontextualized, sorry, Kern) too far but this attitude represents the bummer part of all this Web 2.0 easy-bake technology. This is the ethos that’s gonna perpetuate a lot of mediocre content creators, content in their mediocrity because someone older is patting their heads and telling them it’s good enough that they’re just creating.

    That’s what I worry about here. That’s where Andrew Keen was right on.

    The tools and opportunities to create have exploded but our craftsmanship has not kept up and a _lot_ of teachers are okay with that simply because kids are creating.

    If kids are going to take stages then someone’s gotta impress upon them what a privilege it is to have the undivided attention of 50 people for an hour. Or any amount of people for any amount of time at all.

    Someone’s gotta make sure they’re asking the questions:

    How has this been said before?

    Can I say it better or differently?

    How can I organize my thoughts for clarity?

    What story am I trying to tell here?

    How can I construct handouts so that my audience has something valuable to take home? (Hint: not by hitting “Print” from the File menu in PowerPoint.)

    How can I use visuals to complement my talk rather than overwhelm it?

    And then you have them rehearse rehearse rehearse and receive feedback feedback feedback.

    And only _then_ do we send them in front of adults, we send them up there with a fresh perspective and the ability to communicate it, and adults will peel themselves off the floor afterwards, it’ll be that good.

    Putting a student in a position to present without teaching them HOW to present is my nightmare. It’s the fever dream that crashes through my head every time I hear someone say, “Where were the kids at NECC?”

  25. Dan,
    I think you’ve hit on the fact that NECC (or any conference) has two goals, 1) that the audience has a good experience, and 2) that there is a payoff for the speakers (or they won’t keep showing up and doing this for free).

    When you look at student participation, you can look at it from both these angles and come up with completely different views.

    You could have a wonderfully articulate student who only meets goal number one. OR, you could have a student who goes through a personal learning journey that might well be life-changing, but maybe the audience is not blown away.

    Of course we want both, especially for students, but it’s not wrong to look at them separately and for some people to value one more than the other.

    I really think the key is always what the students are DOING. Presenting is just the icing on the cake, the evidence of knowledge gained.

    I’m well aware that NECC is a professional development conference for educators and a money-making operation for ISTE. I’m neither advocating for “student slots” nor higher hurdles for students. (Really, wouldn’t it be nice if the adult presenters had to practice too? I’ve seen some pretty sad ones…)

    I do what I can to bring kids to NECC to show authentic work as much as NECC allows it. I assure you that most of them are put through a ton of practice sessions, and the handful of people who typically show up say they were great. Maybe it was head-patting. But I’m not fooling myself (or the kids) that it’s anything besides a showcase. The real empowerment happened with whatever project they worked on, not in the presentation of it.

    With kids, I’ll take process over product any day.

  26. Sylvia,

    Interesting comments–but I wanted to say that I think preparing and presenting to an adult audience at a conference are also empowering experiences for students.
    Many of them will go onto professions where giving professional presentations will be expected.

    By providing them the opportunity to have the experience while they are still in high school, isn’t that empowering to them as well? And isn’t it empowering for them to feel like they have a voice in the “education realm?”

    Maybe I’m not fully understanding your distinction?

  27. Carolyn,
    I completely agree that preparing and presenting to an adult audience is empowering. But in my opinion, it’s gravy. The meat is what they did that was special enough to present about. Presenting by itself seems to me lack authenticity, it’s just a bowl of gravy. Hey, some people love gravy.

    I hold adult speakers to a different standard. I don’t really care how they got there, I’m happy if they had a good learning journey, but I’m there to pick up something that improves MY life, MY understanding, etc.

    I feel more responsibility towards kids. They aren’t there to provide me entertainment, or make me feel better about myself for being inclusive. It’s my job, even if I’m just an audience member to help them learn something.

    Student “voice” is more than just listening to talk. It’s about the change that happens inside a child who finds their power through action. The problem is taking the word ‘voice” litterally and equating presenting with having a voice.

    Good article in Wikipedia on student voice

    “Student voice is the individual and collective perspective and actions of young people within the context of learning and education. It is identified in schools as both a metaphorical practice and as a pragmatic concern.”

    As I said in my blog the other day, “pragmatic concern” is a nice way to say “uphill battle”.

  28. Sylvia,

    I like that you’ve prioritized the journey over the destination here, the experience over the report of the experience.

    I appreciate your clarifying the goals of NECC for me. It isn’t unimportant that speakers aren’t paid.

    You’ve broken the two goals down nicely also — fun for the speakers, fun for the audience — but they aren’t mutually exclusive and I disagree that we should make that allowance for kids or adults. Prioritizing one over the other, or deciding that because you have the one the other is unimportant sets the bar too low.

    A student presenter can have fun up there and bring a quality presentation. I rather think the two come as a package or neither at all more often than one comes without the other. Great presenters tend to enjoy presenting. Lousy ones do not.

    All of this goes for adult speakers too. If this is the bar we’re setting for our presenters — “she sucked but at least she was having a blast up there” — then we’re still in condescending, watch-checking territory.

  29. Hi Dan,
    Yup, that’s where we split, I guess. I’m willing to give kids my time to help them on their learning journey. I don’t think it’s condescending, because I’m not into head patting. If they want to listen, I’ll share my thoughts – good, bad, and ugly. I’m happy when they are great, though!

    But I’m also willing to say that maybe NECC isn’t the place for tryouts, adult or student. I sometimes wonder if the selection committee is aware of this!

    PS to anyone still following this thread. I’m finding it increasingly difficult to follow all the various branches that sprouted from this original discussion, and wonder if I’m missing things. Blogs have a limit as a real tool for long-term discussion. Or it may be that there is some RSS 2.0 widget I need. Help gratefully accepted.

  30. Sylvia, I agree that for the students this will be about process as they are students. To hold them to the same standards as we would adult presenters would eliminate many or all of them. Even if they are to practice, practice, practice like Dan suggests, this is still a learning endeavour for them. I agree with Dan that they need to have a plan, organize the plan and then work at the overall presentation but, as students, we need to provide opportunity for them to become better so that when they do become adults, they have had opportunity to practice and hone their skills. Because learning is a lifelong pursuit, giving them the opportunity to begin developing these skills early might allow them to become much better and create presenters that engage and challenge us, while still providing humour. I think that any large conference shouldn’t be where they try their presentation for the first time but, instead, be an opportunity for those who have presented and developed their presentation through local level feedbasck to have access to a wider audience. It wouldn’t be that we lower any bar but, instead, change the bars so that the students are using one that recognizes the developmental aspect of the presentation.
    To hold any student to the same standard as we would hold an adult doesn’t recognize that the student’s experience and exposure will not be the same as an adult.
    Now, because there are a variety of different presentations going on at the same time, those who don’t want to take a chance that the presentation might be a watch-checker can choose to go to another while those who wanted to be part of the learning process for the students, and for that matter themselves, could have the option to attend the student presentation.
    Also, it would depend on what you were wanting from the session. Attending the session might not be to gather knowledge about the specific subject but to see the process the students followed in developing their presentation so that you, as a teacher, could help your own students at the local level. For me, attending a bad session is not necessarily a waste of time because I can observe and transfer what I learn to my own presentations.
    When we create an all or nothing distinctions, we really eliminate that gray area where learning and growth can take place for both the participants and the presenter. Through 16 years of attending various types of sessions, I’ve seen very few “total” presentations but it doesn’t mean I haven’t learned from the others. At times what I have found not very good others have found very good because it happened to fit with where they were in their career and life journeys. Different strokes for different folks. I know that I do not want to attend sessions that deal with different teaching strategies while beginning teachers in their first five or six years will be interested and it wouldn’t matter how great the material was or entertaining the presenter, I’d be “watch checking” while teachers wouldn’t necessarily find presentations on using various supervision techniques to be enthralling. Alot of will depend on what career and life stage you are at in comparison to what is being presented.
    As I said earlier, maybe we also need to look at an alternative to just presenting. Including them in the conference might not necessarily mean doing a presentation. I’ve seen this work tremedously well at a larger conference dealing with technology within our province. Some students did present but I found the reporting aspect to be very interesting especially when I was able to take time to talk with various students and do an interview of a session that I attended. Alot of learning and growth was going on. For students, that’s the area at which I’d be looking.

  31. Whew – I’m with Sylvia, this seems a cumbersome way to follow the discussion, but here goes.

    I’ll start with a response to Dan from some posts ago, I whole heartedly agree that getting excited simply because the kids used some tech is useless. However, if all the final work students create (and therefore the work teachers are asking students to create) is available for all to see because it has been Web 2.0’d We’re talking transparency into the classroom in ways never before seen. This exposure has to bring out the best and worst students and teachers have to offer. The ‘artificial’ score placed on a work becomes secondary to the work itself. The issue has always been management of all this paperwork. But if this classwork could be easily navigated, what is a number score worth when you can see the actual work in front of you and the examples it’s compared to.

    Yes, there are certainly still educators that are amazed that students are make webpages or whatever, because it’s beyond their personal experience. But when the best work, the exemplars of the tasks, are seen by all and everyone’s doing it, the glitter of using tech is far outweighed by the content which is the real purpose anyway.

    As for following posts, I agree with Sylvia basically asking, “What’s in it for the kids anyway?” If it’s just the head pat then forget about it. We acknowledge that when someone gets in front of an audience and whips out a PowerPoint, they’re not really educating, but more likely entertaining. (A great podcast about this from Roger Schank on Wes Fryer’s blog:

    We really want both, not as educators but consumers. Quality content served up in a funny, lively way. The education happens when the audience goes home and tries out some of what they heard. Education for the students always happens when they present well. With quality content, yes, but they too need to be funny and lively and entertain the audience as they are educating themselves throughout the experience.

  32. Not to be devil’s advocate here, but I think our students often wish we were more entertaining and lively 😉

    I still posit that students have much to offer, that of course we’d want their presentation to be prepared and well thought through, and that as educators, we should welcome their voices.

    And I still posit that they would get a lot out of the experience. I learn the most about things when I have to present or teach them, and I learn from the questions from the audience as well.

    And I believe students gain confidence, a sense of professionalism, and are empowered when educators take their ideas seriously, and when they themselves take them seriously.

  33. students speak out

    Another gadfly-gem yesterday from Clay Burell, commenting about the frustrating lack of real collaborative connections in the edublogosphere between adults and students. And everywhere else. It makes me wonder if we educators don’t know how to function…

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