How can we promote and encourage the effective use of student voice?
Children love to talk. So why not give them an opportunity to talk about their learning inside a Big Brother style diary room?
A diary room is a private space where children can go to record their views on camera. It is a reflection room where they verbally express how they feel about an experience.
Claxton and Carlzon example one school where children record their views about their learning. Pupils talk about their achievements, their frustrations or a new way of working and the videos are then played back on screens around the school over the school day. Parents and visitors can then watch children talk animatedly about their learning adventures.
“Today we have been learning about improving our writing in English and working together with a partner. Collaboration has helped by asking questions to get everyone involved.”
You don’t have to have a dedicated room for a diary room as you can use your own classroom. However, a dedicated space that is safe, secure and non-threatening helps children open up and say what’s on their minds.
It helps if you can use a sofa or comfortable chair with decorative lighting and coloured background to make it a more relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere. You don’t have to use a video camera as a tablet does the job just as well.
How you set up the diary room is important. You can’t have loads of kids piling in so it’s sensible to set a limit. Many students go in solo, as a pair or trio. The more voices there are the less can be heard. I’d say no more than four in the room.
Children enjoy using video diary rooms because they are familiar with the reality TV format and seem to intuitively ‘know the rules’. It acts almost like a confessional. Many students will already be experts in vlogging and talking to their own cameras anyway.
You can make this an unstructured experience whereby children use the diary room to speak about anything but a semi-structured approach is more productive.
Some schools have used their diary rooms as a ‘praise pod‘ where children go and talk about their achievements and good behaviour. Others call it ‘the Shed’ and use it for pupils to self-reflect on their strengths and areas for improvement. Diary rooms have also been used as ‘vlogumentaries’ for students to express their inner-most lives no-holds barred.
Giving children a few prompts and questions focuses their minds on teaching and learning elements you are keen to assess. It might be a good idea therefore to be more specific. Sometimes it can just be for fun and a video diary room might be used for transitions, memories, thanks, congratulations fond farewells and good luck messages.
Diary rooms can be wonderful places for children to reflect on their experiences with frankness and emotional honesty. They often say a lot more too because they aren’t interrupted by others as they might be in class. Some children use a diary room to speak up and really say how they feel. Some speak up in a diary room because they don’t always speak their minds in class.
Another way of using the diary room recordings is to show them in class and use them as rich discussion points to reflect and improve learning.
Diary rooms can be used to record feelings before embarking on a new experience and then used during a project and at the end. This enables children to see how much they change during a process and what they go through in different learning situations.
Cooley et al (2014) researched the semi-structured video diary room to investigate students’ learning experiences during an outdoor adventure education groupwork skills course. They found that students recorded their feelings and learning experiences in great depth and discussed key elements that stood out as being particularly meaningful.
Recording verbal feedback in this way is so much more powerful than written feedback because you experience the raw emotion. Writing how you feel isn’t easy for many children so being able to communicate this in a diary room is easier, more authentic and enjoyable. Talking to a video camera enables capture of body language and facial expression and so you get to see the ‘real’ person.
Investigating the student learning experience is an important part of what we do as teachers. The diary room can therefore give us a unique insight into what pupils really think and allow them to feedback and share their thinking. You could make it part of your accelerated learning provision.
Diary rooms are an empowering feedback and feedforward tool and serve as an ‘active accommodator’ in supporting self-reflection and self-expression. They let children spill their thoughts in an exciting environment where they can be as candid as they like. For assessment, it is heaven-sent.
The diary room doesn’t just have to be for pupils. This is a room for staff too. Are you brave enough to enter and speak your mind?