A key component of Verso Learning has been our commitment to student voice and agency. A belief in the importance of activating student voice as the driver for deeper learning and whole school change has been at the heart of our work, and this has never been more evident than now as we release Verso, Check-in; the result of a close collaboration with students from VicSRC.
Traditionally, Verso has been designed by teachers for teachers and students. What is super exciting about Verso Check-in is that during the Victorian lockdown and the advent of remote learning, we were able to connect with VicSRC, an organisation that exists to empower Victorian learners, and one which is led by students, for students and supports student voice at every level.
Co-Design Workshop 1
We kicked off the collaboration with a series of workshops, which focused on the characteristics of high and low agency classrooms. The students considered research on the relationship between student agency, engagement and wellbeing, they analysed data from John Antonetti’s study of 1700 lesson observations, and shared anecdotes from their own experience , identifying the professional practices that underpinned high and low agency lessons and the impact of these practices on their sense of self.
What quickly became apparent as the two lists developed, was the depth of feeling and the intensity of the language used by all of the students to describe their response to the two very different learning experiences. For each adjective, students could offer multiple examples and elaborations. All students experienced both types of lesson within their individual schools, and the language they used dramatically reinforced the relationship between voice and agency and student wellbeing and engagement. Interestingly, students also consistently made the observation that they were actually challenged to work harder in lessons where they experienced high agency and many commented that their teachers seemed to be happier.
What was challenging to hear was the wide variance in the students’ use of vocabulary. Hearing students talk about their learning in terms of feeling “lost”, “disheartened” and “hopeless” was confronting, and their sense of “desperation” in lessons where they felt a lack of ownership really shone a light on the problem. However, there was a dramatic shift in the atmosphere when asked to talk about lessons where teachers helped them to find and apply their voice, where they felt “respected,” where their voices were heard and where they had clarity and connection to their learning. Negative adjective choices were replaced by language that demonstrated a far more positive sense of self and wellbeing. Students felt that they were “challenged…..in a good way…like my teacher just knew what we all needed and what we were each capable of if we really tried”. They felt “focused”, “willing” and “proud.”
The students were challenged to turn this emotional map into a prioritised selection of just 16 adjectives that their peers in schools around the world could use to articulate how they were feeling about their learning.
Significantly, on seeing the new interface, students noted that if a student was feeling stressed, overwhelmed or just needed to talk to a trusted teacher about their well-being, they should have a discreet mechanism to ask for support. This led to the inclusion of an “Are you OK?” button that sends an email to a student’s teacher to say that they would appreciate an opportunity for a one-to one conversation about how they are feeling.