Research has shown that developing learner voice may be the most powerful lever available to improve student learning in schools. Students learn better when they are engaged partners throughout the educational process.1 When students plan educational activities, their investment, ownership, and consequent learning is greatly increased.2

At Catapult Learning, we take the development of learner voice very seriously. The importance of student-centered, student-directed learning is reflected in our Attributes of an Exemplary School, the twenty-one activities and processes that our experts have identified from school improvement studies and our work with schools that ensure success for all learners when well implemented and sustained. The attributes are organized under five focus areas—Leadership, Pedagogy & Curriculum, Assessment for Learning, Learning Environment, and Student & Family Support—that serve as the foundation for our research-based Five Strand Design for school improvement and all our associated services. One attribute found under Learning Environment focuses on student-directed learning: Students take ownership of their learning and act as change agents to extend learning, broaden horizons, and enrich their understanding of themselves.

How can schools make this attribute come to life?

One simple exercise to help teachers get started is to reflect on the roles and responsibilities of students in the classroom. Using the Spectrum of Student Voice Oriented Activity, ask teachers to identify where the majority of their classroom activities reside.

Expression: Volunteering opinions, creating art, celebrating, complaining, praising, objecting

Consultation: Being asked for their opinion, providing feedback, serving on a focus group, completing a survey

Participation: Attending meetings or events in which decisions are made, frequent inclusion when issues are framed and actions planned

Partnership: Formalized role in decision making, standard operations require (not just invite) student involvement, adults are trained in how to work collaboratively with youth partners

Activism: Identifying problems, generating solutions, organizing responses, agitating and/or education for change both in and outside of school contexts

Leadership: Planning, making decisions and accepting significant responsibility for outcomes, guiding group processes, conducting activities (teacher may act as co-leader)

Once teachers have found where their activities generally fall on the spectrum, encourage them to jot down one to two concrete ways they can move their activities one category to the right of where they are now. For example, a teacher who plans most classroom activities to engage student expression may commit to administering a simple survey at the end of each week on what engaged students in learning and what topics or ideas they want to explore further. He or she would use this feedback to adjust their lesson plans to encourage more student ownership of learning.

Note that it is not unusual for teachers, especially those working with younger students, to tend towards left side of the spectrum where activities are more teacher-directed. The point of this exercise is not to shame teachers, but to encourage them to make small, but clear steps to promote student leadership.

In part two of this series, we’ll share strategies to amplify student voice.


  1. Beaudoin 2005; Olsen 2004; Dorman & Adams 2004; Cook-Sather 2003; House 2000; Kordalewski 1999; Newmann 1994; Wehmeyer & Sands 1998; Holdsworth 1996; Kohn 1993; Johnson 1991
  2. Flutter 2006; Grace 1999; Wehmeyer & Sands 1998; Platz 1996

Articles by SoundOut. Retrieved August 19, 2016 from SoundOut.