Jennifer Brown, class teacher at Kender Primary School in Lewisham, has been teaching Enabling Enterprise projects with her Year 4 class since September. She has experienced first-hand the value of putting an emphasis on pupil voice in the classroom.

Education Associate Sarah Ritchie has been supporting Kender’s programme this year. She catches up with Jennifer to find out more…

Amazing Ideas

“Children have amazing ideas”, Jennifer reflected, “but they rarely have the opportunity to explore those ideas because we are always telling them, ‘This is what you’ve got to learn, this is how you’ve got to do it.’”

In 2014, the Department for Education published statutory guidance on the importance of listening to students and consulting them on matters that affect them. It recognised that encouraging pupil voice can not only boost achievement and attainment, but can also support them to become cooperative, responsible young people. But what does this look like, when applied in the classroom?

Letting the students speak

The idea that children have ideas that are exciting, innovative and worth exploring has been an emphasis of Jennifer’s teaching throughout her 13 year career: “I always say to the children that they have a voice.”

She believes that listening to students and involving them in deciding the direction of their learning is fundamental to effective classroom practice. The project-based learning approach in each Enabling Enterprise project has, from Jennifer’s viewpoint, given her the tools to do this in a structured, meaningful way.

For example, during the Number Crunching lesson time project, students worked in teams to create exciting new chocolate brands. Throughout the entire process, students were actively making decisions that would impact on the final outcome of their project: How will we conduct market research? How can we create a strong brand identity in our packaging designs? How will we present our business portfolio to the judges?

And getting them to listen

But as Jennifer says, it’s more than just speaking out: “The breakthrough I’ve seen, during the Enabling Enterprise programme, is that they’ve grown in confidence because they’ve had to listen to and support each other.”

As the lesson time projects progressed, Jennifer’s students became more engaged in their learning, keen to share their ideas and able to work better in groups. One of the ways she ensured more productive team work was by encouraging active listening: “You can’t teach a class of children if they are not listening to each other.”

Jennifer encouraged her students to make group decisions as well as individual choices. This helped her students to probe each other’s thought processes, whilst developing their own ideas. It has been a continuation of her commitment to pupil voice: that students were being heard by peers and adults alike. “Actually having the opportunity to share their ideas, not only in the classroom setting but presenting to adults out in the world of work, has had a huge impact on them.”

Applying these skills beyond the classroom

During a visit to Esmée Fairbairn, a foundation which supports the arts, education and learning, the environment and social change across the UK, Jennifer recognised the value of giving children opportunities to get their ideas heard outside of the classroom.

In a break-through moment, her students realised that adults were willing to give up their time to listen to their ideas. That their voice could be heard beyond their usual circle of friends. For Jennifer, this was a powerful tool in building the children’s confidence. She was able to show them that their ideas matter.

This boost in self-esteem had positive impact on their behaviour back at school. Children who had previously been sent out of class on a regular basis were now able to stay in class. Individuals who struggled to stay positive were now supported by their friends to keep going when challenges presented themselves:

Continuing to learn

Crucially though, Jennifer knew that they had to keep working at it: “I got them talking about the Enabling Enterprise skills, like listening carefully, staying positive and aiming high. The skills became part of our classroom ethos.”

Jennifer involved students in the assessment process, supporting them to understand their own strengths and weaknesses. Through regular self-reflection, students gained the ability to set their own targets, which fed directly into their decisions about where to take their learning next. This also provided more opportunity for students to recognise their own achievements, which boosts motivation and self-esteem (McBer, 2000).

By making the skills part of the day-to-day classroom language, Jennifer enabled students to recognise and articulate specific examples of when they had demonstrated different skills: “The approach of EE showed me that it’s ok to take risks; that children don’t need to be sat quietly; that you can have all this noise going on, with groups working together, but at the end of it there can be a tangible outcome which they can present.”

Following the Enabling Enterprise programme has supported Jennifer to use pupil voice to promote confidence and skill progression in her students. If you’d like to find out more or get involved, just contact us.

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