Student Voice in the Classroom
Elevating student voice in classroom settings through offering feedback and collaborating on decision making is critical for young people to thrive. Explore more resources below.
Student voice practices (SVPs) can help educators improve their classrooms to enhance student engagement and learning. Students also benefit from SVPs that encourage them to reflect on how they learn and help them communicate their needs to the educator. When they engage in these ways, they improve their metacognition (e.g., self-awareness as learners) and self-advocacy skills.
There are two main categories of SVPs used in the classroom. The first involves seeking student feedback and input on the classroom experience. The second involves engaging students in collaborative decision making about the classroom experience in order to ensure they have an active role in their learning.
Within student feedback and input and collaborative decision making, the associated SVPs are organized into the following categories: curriculum, pedagogy, assessment or homework, or the overall learning experience. Although these tools are intended for use in middle and high school classrooms, some can be adapted for use by elementary school teachers.
Student Feedback and Input
Various tool types can be used to solicit student input into or feedback on curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and homework, classroom culture, or the overall learning experience. Some of these tools are survey-based, using either number scales or open-ended responses. Some are discussion-based, involving interviews, small group discussions, or whole class discussions. Some are more creative, and rely on skits and role-playing, drawings, or photographs. In the resource collections below, we offer examples of each tool type.
Anonymous online surveys can help students feel more comfortable offering constructive feedback.
If you are interested in analyzing certain trends, you can ask students to identify a couple of dimensions of their identity (e.g., gender, race, current grade in the course). Asking too many identifying questions, however, may inadvertently reveal their identity and prompt them to be less forthcoming than they would otherwise be.
How you frame the purpose of the survey to students matters. If you make clear to them that you will take their responses seriously and adjust your practice in response, they may be more likely to offer constructive feedback than validation.
Surveys can contain a mix of close-ended and open-ended response options. Do not include more open-ended items than you have time to review and synthesize. To be systematic in your analysis of the open-ended responses, you may want to review their answers for different themes or ideas that emerge. You can then look for patterns: are certain themes more common among students who are struggling in the class versus those who are doing well?
If using close-ended response options, consider developing your survey in google forms, as it will generate some statistics for you and the responses can be downloaded into excel, where you can run further analyses.
Waiting until the end of the year to administer a survey means that you will not have time to make adjustments for your current students; shorter, more frequent surveys can help you become more responsive to student needs, preferences, and interests.
After administering a survey, it is critical to circle back to students to summarize what you have learned, to share what you will do with what you’ve learned, and to enlist their help either in resolving disagreements among respondents or clarifying confusing responses.
Effective discussions generally take more time than a survey. They are useful for understanding students’ thinking as they allow you to probe for explanations underlying responses. We recommend reserving at least 20 minutes for a discussion. It is also a good idea to prepare questions in advance, but to be willing to deviate from the set list to ask students to elaborate, clarify, or provide examples.
Before holding a discussion with students, it is important to stress that there are no right or wrong answers you are seeking and that they will not be penalized in any way for sharing their perspectives. Reaffirm your goals in having the discussion: what you are hoping to learn from them and why.
Discussions can be one-on-one, in small groups (e.g., focus groups or fishbowls), or with the whole class, depending on whose perspective you are seeking. If you are not involving the whole class, be intentional about whom you invite.
Decide whether you want to focus on a particular set of students (e.g., those who are struggling in the class) or seek representatives of different types of students (e.g., those who love the subject, those who are indifferent, and those who seem to hate it).
To avoid groupthink, it is important in small group and whole class discussions to invite people to offer contrasting views or disagreement.
End the discussion by summarizing what you heard and sharing what you plan to do with the information and ideas students furnished.
These types of projects generally take more time and resources (such as markers or cameras) than surveys and class discussions; however, they can be engaging and fun for students and generative for you, the educator.
The creative product provides the fodder for a conversation about how to improve the learning experience for students. Discussion and reflection are vital components of these activities, so remember to preserve time for those activities.
When students complete particularly impactful creative projects, you may want to ask their permission to keep them to show to future students to help inspire their thinking.
Survey, discussion prompt, and creative activity for Student Feedback as it relates to curriculum development.
Survey, discussion prompt, and creative activity for Student Feedback as it relates to pedagogy.
Survey, discussion prompt, and creative activity for Student Feedback as it relates to assessment and homework.
Survey, discussion prompt, and creative activity for Student Feedback as it relates to classroom culture.
Survey, discussion prompt, and creative activity for Student Feedback as it relates to overall learning experience
Collaborative Decision Making
Various tool types can be used to engage students in collaborative decision making about the curriculum, pedagogy, assessment and homework, and classroom culture. Some of these tools require working with an individual student, some are better suited to small group work, and others are designed to promote whole class discussion. Whichever tool type you use, the benefits will redound to the entire class. Below we offer an example of each tool type for each focal area.
Keep in mind that when you engage in collaborative decision making with students, you are not relinquishing your authority in the classroom or hiding from students your expertise and experience. Students value your perspective; they want to continue to learn from you. Students also appreciate having their ideas challenged and honed. It is critical that you share your insights, expertise, and rationale.
Your voice and vote should be weighed carefully against those of the students. Sometimes, it may be appropriate for you not to have a vote; other times, your vote might count equally to that of the students. And in other cases, you may want to reserve the right to veto or override their proposals; however, you should always be clear about your reasoning and establish your role in decision making from the outset of the conversation.
To avoid groupthink or the possibility that a particularly assertive student could pressure other students, try to build in room for debate and disagreement. You may want to assign a student or a small group of students to play “devil’s advocate” or take that role on yourself.
If students do not want to engage, if they express a desire to “go with the flow” or to choose the path of least resistance, it may help to offer examples about what other students or other classes have done with the opportunity. If you do not have past examples, you can share your vision and hopes for them. You may also remind them of why you believe this process will help improve their learning experience.
Individual, small group, and whole-class activities for collaborative decision making on curriculum.
Individual, small group, and whole-class activities for collaborative decision making on pedagogy.
Individual, small group, and whole-class activities for collaborative decision making on assessment and homework.
Individual, small group, and whole-class activities for collaborative decision making on classroom culture.
The content on this page and all resources associated with "Student Voice in the Classroom" were created by Jerusha Conner and Caitlin Wilson, with technical and editorial assistance from Search Institute Staff. Suggested Citation: Conner, J. & Wilson, C. (2023). Classroom Student Voice Practices. Villanova, PA: Villanova University.