In death people have applied his quotes to all manner of human endeavours. If there was one area though in education where Steve’s wisdom has light to share it’s within the arena of Student Voice. To me it shows up some of the flaws in the way it’s sometimes applied, and also it’s power in improving learning.
Intuition, Not Focus Groups
“Know thy customer” is the first commandment of any successful business, so Jobs’ approach was always going to ruffle a few feathers.
When asked what market research went into the iPad he replied simply “None. It’s not the consumer’s job to know what they want.”
Sometimes that’s interpreted as Steve saying that all market research was baloney, but it’s actually more nuanced than that. Apple performed lots of research on the iPad, specifically user testing to refine the user interface and the like, but what they didn’t do was just to sit down and ask people what they want.
As Matt Bai of the NY Times expands, “In other words, while Jobs tried to understand the problems that technology could solve for his buyer, he wasn’t going to rely on the buyer to demand specific solutions, just so he could avoid ever having to take a risk. This is what’s commonly known as leading.”
It’s a similar line of thought to Henry Ford on the Model-T
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.”
The Weakness of Applying Market Research to Schools
So far, so businesslike – but what does all this have to do with schools?
Well it seems to me that Student Voice is an attempt to replicate that same kind of Know Thy Customer attitude within schools. But just like the business model that it’s taken from it is in danger of being misapplied.
That’s where you get the fanciful press stories about it being out of control in classrooms.
Ultimately, ask your students what they want and a good portion will say no lessons and free chips in the canteen. That’s not feedback that will help you run a school.
Or for a more realistic example – is there really a point in letting students feed in to the interview process for new headteachers or senior members of staff? Yes – seeing how the candidate interacts with children will tell you something about them, but beyond that a student is not best placed to make a judgement on what constitutes the effective school leader.
Which all seems a bit like an argument against student voice, but on the contrary I think that student voice can have an incredibly powerful role to play in schools when applied to the right questions.
Students can help you answer two key questions – what the problems are and how effective you were at fixing them.
In practice the problems students face will be well known to you – hence why Jobs knew he didn’t need to ask – but what they will tell you is if what you do is working.
If students want exciting lessons, they won’t be able to tell you how to craft an engaging starter activity or to differentiate for multiple learning styles. What they will be able to tell you is whether the lesson was boring or interesting, whether they learnt things at the end of it or not.
Using student voice like this actually empowers, rather than restricts teachers. The kids aren’t telling you what you need to do, but they are telling you what the outcome needs to be. That bit in the middle – that’s your professional judgement and your skills as a teacher.
So if we follow Jobs’ line of thought Student Voice isn’t anything to be scared of, or even anything that controversial, like all assessment the crucial element is high quality feedback.
What do you think – do you think that student voice is just a trendy fad or an essential tool in the classroom?