Identity and Student Voice – a rant

“Take away identity and what do you have? If you have a student that doesn’t know who they are, do you think they care about what goes on in the classroom?” (Montero, Bice-Zaugg, Marsh and Cummins (2013, p. 90).

Over the past few days, I have been mulling over what student voice means to me both personally and professionally.  I have read numerous academic articles, research papers, and teacher reflections on the topic but somehow; I did not feel completely fulfilled with what I have read.  It is not because what I have read is not true; on the contrary, everything that I have read pertaining to one’s understanding of student voice is student centered and shows a true passion on the part of educators to incorporate students into the learning process.  Yet, something to me is missing.  Then I read a short story by Neil Gaiman and I recognized the missing piece of the my student voice puzzle, identity.

Neill Gaiman (n.d.), in his short story Two Minutes to Run, Two minutes to runspeaks to a society where trust was created through developing a community where one can arrive at work safely only to at some point, have that same society ripped apart by war.  At the end of his story, he asks the reader the think of the following “You have two minutes to run. What will you take with you?” (Gaimain, n.d.).   So, how does this connect to the missing piece of the student voice puzzle I spoke of earlier?  It speaks to empathy, identity, and cultural understanding.

I am fortunate to work in a school where students from all over the world arrive at our doorsteps at any given time of the year.  They come with stories that no child should ever have bared witness to share and yet, they come with eyes wide open, ready to learn.  However, we, as educators, often reflect upon our own social and culturally upbringings and apply said knowledge to our teaching practice.  By doing as such, we miss out on hearing the stories of our students and providing them with authentic learning opportunities that promote their cultural background.  I know for certain that some of my students were faced with the question posed by Gaiman and were lucky enough to escape their homeland with a few family possessions before arriving in Canada.  However, how often do we as educators apply this historical experience of our students in their learning process?  Of course, age, readiness, and language play a role in this decision but can the option during writing and reading not be made available to students?  Student voices needs to extend above and beyond including students in the learning process.  Student voice, including one’s mother tongue,  needs to reach out to the identity of students to promote cultural understanding, empathy, and ultimately, an appreciation for all that exists in our world.

We, as educators, need to promote student identity within our classrooms under the umbrella of student voice that extends above and beyond story telling and instead, integrate culture into our planning on a daily basis.  Then students voices can be truly heard and perhaps, make learning and the world a slightly better place.


Montero, M. K., Bice-Zaugg, C., Marsh, A. C. J., & Cummins, J. (2013). Activist literacies: Validating Aboriginality through visual and literary identity texts. Journal of Language and Literacy Education, 9 (1), 73-94. Available at:

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2 Responses to Identity and Student Voice – a rant

  1. carla says:

    I particularly like your point about including a students first language within the classroom and as part of their student voice. It has been my limited experience that many students for whatever reasons do not speak their first language while at school. It is disappointing to me to experience the number of children and parents who do not support French nor the acquisition of a second language or more. I want my students to be praised and honoured for the fact that they can or will be able to speak more than language! I would like to share a story about one of my shy students. The ELL support teacher and I worked together to create a journal type booklet for his trip to Vietnam. We were not sure if he would attempt to complete it while on his trip. Well, the joy, bright shiny eyes and large smile were heart warming to see as he shared pages he completed in his book such as a map, names of places he visited, food he ate, what he did, etc. What a shining moment for that student to feel how his culture and experiences were honoured and valued by the entire class as he owned the spotlight and demonstrated his strongest student voice ever!

    Liked by 1 person

    • fuisza says:

      Thank you for sharing your story Carla. I could not agree more. In a world filled with cultural misunderstanding, how can we turn a blind eye to the most amazing learning experiences in our very own classrooms?


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