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Empowering Learners in the Classroom

As many educators prepare to return to work and welcome a new group of students for the new school year, it is a great time for us to reflect on classroom practices and look toward new ways of empowering our next group of students.

Empowering our students is one of the greatest tasks and privileges that we hold as teachers. You, as the classroom teacher, have the profound opportunity to inspire and liberate student voice not only in your own classroom, but, hopefully, beyond that.

As you greet new students in the next few weeks and start learning this new group’s quirks and strengths, think about employing some of these ideas to empower your students and help them find their voice.

1. Give choices.

And not just on that multiple-choice quiz! Students want to feel like they have choices – that they are in control of their own learning. (My three-year-old toddler would agree!) It’s okay to release the reigns every once in a while – and please, give yourself that permission! Choice boards and menus are great ways of letting students have agency in what they work on in the classroom.

2. Ignite fires.

(No, not literally!) Help students discover what they are passionate about. What is it that they really care about? What interests them? What gets them excited? Find these questions out and continue to build that fire within each student. Use this knowledge to guide your teaching and help bring their interests into what’s being taught in the classroom.

3. Grow your storytellers.

Every student has a story to tell and it’s our job as educators to cultivate and help those ideas thrive. Educational technology has made storytelling in the classroom easier than ever. Using blogging, podcasts, videos and multimedia creation websites – like my favorite, Adobe Spark – teachers can make sharing even your most shyest student’s story that much easier…and fun.

4. Encourage self-expression.

As a “forever special education teacher,” I am all about letting students show mastery through multiple means. Let them use the tools, strategies, and processes that work best for them. It doesn’t have to be standardized or uniform from one child to the next. Honoring their voices will build trust and encourage further risk-taking. Let students get creative with the how and you’ll be pleasantly surprised with the what.

5. Get students involved in the assessment process.

As educators, we are all too aware of the role assessment plays in what we do in the classroom. Instead of letting rubrics and scales get in the way of determining student growth, let students be agents of their own assessment. Have students set goals, check their progress and then adjust course as necessary. Let students engage in self-reflection, peer-assessment and student-teacher conferences. Students should learn to welcome the idea that learning is all about progress over perfection, and that mistakes are not only expected but also embraced.

6. Inspire debate.

It’s critical for students to understand that not everyone is going to have the same opinion as them – and that it’s okay to show dissent. Empower students to disagree and be comfortable in expressing differences. Finding and exercising our own voice is a protected right – we should not expect any less from our students. Debating is an excellent opportunity to showcase student voice.

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Kristin Oropeza

Kristin Oropeza is currently a TK-5th Grade Technology TOSA in Southern California. She holds a masters in special education and has worked in public education for over 10 years. Kristin also serves as a director on the CUE Los Angeles board and acts as their Communications Editor. Find her on Twitter @KristinOropeza.

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