Giving Students a Voice

ISTE Coaching Standards

Coaching Standard 3- Digital Age Learning Environments: Technology coaches create and support effective digital age learning environments to maximize the learning of all students. Indicator b: Maintain and manage a variety of digital tools and resources for teacher and student use in technology-rich learning environments.

How can I help teachers maintain and manage a variety of digital tools and resources that help promote student voice/agency?

This quarter we are not only concentrating on the ISTE Coaching Standards, but we are looking at them through the lens of Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy. The term culturally sustaining requires that our pedagogies be more than responsive of or relevant to the cultural experiences and practices of young people—it requires that they support young people in sustaining the cultural and linguistic competence of their communities while simultaneously offering access to dominant cultural competence. (Paris, 2012) To be honest, I have been struggling a bit in understanding what this looks like in the classroom. That is until I met Selvin at an engineering class I took this week.

Selvin’s Story

Selvin and his mother moved to the United States from Honduras when he was six years old. Selvin had a loving mother who worked hard to support him as best she could. She had to drop out of school at an early age and was unable to help her son with his education. Selvin grew up with modest means.

In sixth grade, Selvin’s math teacher gave the students a culminating project to show their understanding of the math vocabulary. He took his list of words home and decided that he would create a booklet of terms. Selvin looked around his house and thoughtfully used what was available to him, newspapers. He found his math words and symbols and patiently cut them out and glued them down on his notebook paper. Selvin carefully hand-wrote the what the words meant to him and he added color to the booklet with some of his colored pencils.

Selvin was very proud of his work and the effort that he put into the project. He thought for sure that he would earn a “B.” When Selvin arrived at school that morning, he was amazed at all of the projects. He saw over-sized posters, hanging mobiles, and dioramas, some were typed, all were brightly colored. Someone even brought in a cake!

Selvin turned in his project. A week later, the teacher returned their graded projects. As the teacher placed his booklet on his desk- she said to him that it didn’t look like he put much effort in the project. He was devastated with his failing grade. As he told his story, his eyes were welling up with tears. He said that it had taken him a long time to get over that experience.

As we sat their processing the story that he told us, each of us crushed that a teacher had made him feel this way, we asked him if he ever had a teacher that made him feel special? His eyes instantly lit up! Without hesitation he said my first grade teacher, Mrs. Lince. Selvin told us she was always positive and smiling great big smiles. He shared that she empathized with his situation and made him “feel level to everyone else.” Selvin is passionate about sharing his story with educators to ensure that we understand that everyone has a story and it is our job to learn them!

Danez Smith’s Story

One other story I would like to share with you is Danez Smith’s. In his TEDx Talk, he brings to life the power of a question.

To me, this concept of Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy is a huge one to tackle. As I am just beginning to learn about it, I have a created a “working definition” as starting place to make a conscious change in the way I teach students. What I understand Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy to mean is that we need to encourage our students to share their cultures and let them know we value who they are and invite them to express themselves authentically. When students believe their voices matter, they are more likely to be invested and engaged in their schools. (Quaglia, 2015)

So, how do we empower our students?

In the video above, Danez gives us three age appropriate scenarios in which to draw ideas from. All of them begin with a question.

Learning that is characterized by learning agency recognizes learners as active participants in their own learning and engages them in the design of their experiences and the realization of their learning outcomes in ways appropriate for their developmental level. As such, learners have choice and voice in their educational experiences as they progress through competencies. Harnessing his or her own intrinsic motivation to learn, each learner strives to ultimately take full ownership of his or her own learning.

-Education Reimagined, 2015

In my research for this weeks blog, I have come up with a few tech tools that will help level the playing field for your students. All of the tools can work with k-12 and I have shared some example projects (from the cites) that you can use with your students to promote their voice.

  1. Instead of having your students prepare a handwritten poster, have them create an interactive one using Buncee. Buncee offers multiple ways to help students visualize, voice, and communicate their learning – helping build their confidence and engagement. Here is a link showing some ideas of how you can use Buncee in your classroom.
  2. Flipgrid gives students the opportunity to develop voice and to learn how to present themselves online and to use their voice to connect ideas to their own experiences. Here is a link to a k-12 guide on how to use Flipgrid in your classroom.
  3. The visual aspect of comics, posters, and diagrams make Storyboard That an excellent tool for all students, especially English Language Learners. As written language is often difficult for students learning English, this tool helps students master concepts in all areas by scaffolding with images!

Here are a few screen grabs of some ideas that you can use in your classroom to promote student voice/agency.

BUNCEE: For all students, young ones in particular.
Using Flipgrid for middle grade and older students.
Storyboard That:Students can storyboard what they are thinking.

One last idea to inspire student voice

One last idea that I came across was a film project called Student Voice where students created a short film about based on a theme, ‘Activating Change.’ This is a project that I think students could work collaboratively to produce their stories. Here are three videos created by students that I think were powerful examples of student voice.

Middle Grades Winner
Film Title: In Another’s Shoes
Filmmakers: Trinity Schley, Madison James, Caleb Rackley, Charlie Le and Quang Dinh
Honorable Mention
Film Title: In My Shoes
Filmmakers: Galen Getz, Quinn Getz and Bryce Gauthier
Honorable Mention
Film Title: Split In Two
Filmmakers: Gitanjali Mahapatra

I imagine that if a student were able to participate using one of these tools to amplify their voice, powerful learning would be happening in your classroom.


  • Paris, D. (2012). Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy. Educational Researcher,41(3), 93-97. doi:10.3102/0013189×12441244
  • Quaglia, R. J. (2015). Student voice: Ensuring a sense of self-worth for your students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
  • Spencer, J., & Juliani, A. J. (2017). Empower: What happens when students own their learning. San Diego?: IMpress.
  • Stevens, K. (2016, April 22). 5-Minute Film Festival: Student Voice and Choice. Retrieved from
  • Cooper, R. (2017, November 06). How can educators best promote student agency? Retrieved from
  • Home. (n.d.). Retrieved from

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