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Fake and Real Student Voice

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November 24, 2013 By: Dean Shareski

Nov 24

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11/24/2013 2:12 PM  RssIcon

Here is the latest video educators are jacked about:

I like much about this video. I like the message. I like the way it’s shot. I like the girls. What I don’t like is the perception that this is the girl’s invention. It’s not. These girls are likely no more into inventing and making than most girls their age. While I might be able to look past that, and I can, I don’t like the perception that this is authentic as it suggests. Which raises the larger question of authentic student voice.

I remember first being struck by this when this video came out about 6 years ago:

It’s an iteration of Michael Wesch video using college aged students. When I saw the k-12 version it just didn’t sit well with me. The signs the students held seemed to be the language and ideas of adults. I had a hard time thinking any 5 year old would use the phrase “engage me”. But still I thought the video had value but I never used them to share with others.

A few years back this video caused more stir


Again, people fawned over the kid and his speech. But he never had any hand in writing it. It wasn’t his voice at all but it was used to say, “this is the voice of students, teachers around the world heed their challenge”. To me it bordered very closely to crossing a line of disrespect at times. Again, I think the words were important but when it comes from someone who didn’t write them and it’s positioned as if it is, it becomes disingenuous and very pretentious.

We know the power of their voice but I think we do a disservice when we usurp their real voice with ours.

And yet I think there are some excellent examples of authentic student voice that has important messages for adults. With regards to girls and science pay attention to Super Awesome Sylvia. I’m sure she has adults helping her with her ideas and delivery but it’s clear this it’s her interest and ideas that go into her videos.

Peyton Robertson is another student with a great voice. Peyton is a recent winner of the 3M Science Challenge. Watch him on Ellen as he not only clearly articulates his message but is able to respond to questions well. He may be pretentious, but he’s real and obviously brilliant.

Perhaps my favorite example of a powerful student voices is Logan Laplante. His TEDx talk is extremely well done. I’m sure he had help with his talk but he’s living this life and it’s pretty evident this is his story.


His talk would actually make great fodder for any school staff to ponder.

If you’re still jacked about the little girls video, that’s okay, show it to your young girls, encourage them to explore science but let’s have enough awareness to know when we’re being sold something.  My point with this little wander through video is let’s advocate for student voice but not fake ones. Our students do have a voice. Most of them are childlike, full of child like ideas and most aren’t as eloquent as adults because they aren’t adults. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing, helping them develop that voice. Yet we do have some that are ready for prime time and we should provide ways for them to share. I know some districts have had students keynote. I think that’s great, as long as the core of their story is their own, not the districts or their teachers. I’d way rather listen to a student share a less polished message that was their own than using them like a puppet to further other adults agendas.

cross-posted at http://ideasandthoughts.org

Dean Shareski is a Digital Learning Consultant with the Prairie South School Division in Moose Jaw, SK, Canada, specializing in the use of technology in the classroom. He lectures for the University of Regina and is the Community Manager of the Canadian DEN or Discovery Educators Network.

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