Students have unique knowledge and perspectives about their classrooms and learning experiences. Students improve academically and are more engaged when they are given the opportunity to share their knowledge and perspectives with teachers and teachers respond to and value the students’ perspectives and voice (1). Moreover, teacher practice and pedagogy is influenced when students are able to share their voices and contribute to solving classroom problems. Inclusion of student voice in a classroom can take many forms and spans a continuum, from students articulating an opinion and being heard by the teacher, to students collaborating with and working alongside the teacher to solve and improve on classroom practice and instruction, to students leading classroom projects, discussion, and units (2). These practices are modeled after work in community development, where youth participation has been depicted as a "ladder of participation" ranging from tokenism and manipulation to projects that are initiated by youth (3). In addition, sharing power with students is an important aspect of student voice and teacher-student developmental relationships. Sharing power is the way students and teachers influence, learn from, and collaborate with each other through their relationships (4).
One form of student voice is student choice. When teachers incorporate choice in their classrooms, students are more invested in their work and in the learning process. Choice can be offered to students in a number of different ways in a classroom. Teachers may provide choice that is organizational where, for example, students are able to: choose a partner, select a seat in the classroom, or create classroom rules. Choices can also be procedural where teachers allow students to: decide a presentation style, choose a project for a learning objective such as an essay or art project, or choose a project due date. Finally, there are cognitive choices which are more inclusive and provide more long-lasting, positive psychological effects than organizational or procedural choices. Cognitive choices are opportunities for students to become the initiators of their own learning. With cognitive choices, students are able to discuss multiple approaches and strategies on a topic, problem solve on their own, ask questions and debate ideas freely. Cognitive choices require teachers to spend more time listening, as students take the lead. Teachers must strike a balance between the three types of choices described, but understand that the cognitive choices are the essential ingredient to maximize student engagement and motivation (5).
Teachers who incorporate student voice in their classrooms must also ensure that the voices are heard and that they respond authentically. Students who feel that they are taken seriously and who believe the teacher is responsive to their feedback are more motivated and engaged and have a stronger sense of self and value. Moreover, teachers who incorporate student feedback in their classrooms, improve their teaching practice and become better teachers.
- Mitra, D. L. (2004). The significance of students: can increasing "student voice" in schools lead to gains in youth development? Teachers college record, 106, 651–688.
- Mitra, D. (2006). Increasing student voice and moving toward youth leadership. The prevention researcher 13(1), 7-10.
- Hart, R. A. (2013). Children's participation: The theory and practice of involving young citizens in community development and environmental care. Routledge. (Hart's Ladder of Youth Participation)
- The Search Institute. (2018, June 14). The Power of Sharing Power [Video]. Retrieved from https://www.search-institute.org/power-of-share-power/.
- Stefanou, C. R., Perencevich, K. C., DiCintio, M., & Turner, J. C. (2004). Supporting autonomy in the classroom: Ways teachers encourage student decision making and ownership. Educational Psychologist, 39(2), 97–110.