Student voice

Student voice

Student voice describes the distinct perspectives and actions of young people throughout schools focused on education. [Fletcher, A. (n.d.) [ "Broadening the bounds of involvement: Transforming schools with student voice."] New Horizons for Learning.]


Student voice is the individual and collective perspective and actions of young people within the context of learning and education. [SoundOut. [ Student Voice Tip Sheet] . Accessed 12/18/06.] It is identified in schools as both a metaphorical practice [Britzman, D. (1989). "Who has the floor? Curriculum teaching and the English student teacher's struggle for voice", "Curriculum Inquiry. 19"(2), 143-162.] and as a pragmatic concern. [Rogers, A. (2005). "Student voice: Bridges to learning." Seattle: University of Washington.]


Student voice work is premised on the following convictions:
*Young people have unique perspectives on learning, teaching, and schooling;
*Their insights warrant not only the attention but also the responses of adults; and
*They should be afforded opportunities to actively shape their education. [Cook-Sather, A. (2006). Sound, Presence, and Power: Exploring ‘Student Voice’ in Educational Research and Reform. Curriculum Inquiry 36, 4 (Winter), 359-390]

Several typologies differentiate the practices that identify as student voice. [Fielding, M. (2004). “New wave” student voice and the renewal of civic society. "London Review of Education" 2, 3 (November), 197-217] [Lodge, C. (2005). From hearing voices to engaging in dialogue: Problematising student participation in school improvement. "Journal of Educational Change", 6, 2 (June), 125-146. ] [Thiessen, D. (1997). Knowing about, acting on behalf of, and working with primary pupils’ perspectives: Three levels of engagement with research. In A. Pollard, D. Thiessen & A. Filer (Eds.), "Children and their curriculum" (pp. 184–196). London, Falmer Press. ] One identifies multiple roles for students throughout the education system, including education planning, research, teaching, evaluating, decision-making and advocacy. [(n.d.) [ Examples of Meaningful Student Involvement.] SoundOut website.]

Administrative approaches

The presence and engagement of student voice has been seen as essential to the educational process since at least the time of John Dewey, if not long before. In 1916 Dewey wrote extensively about the necessity of engaging student experience and perspectives in the curriculum of schools, summarizing his support by saying,::The essence of the demand for freedom is the need of conditions which will enable an individual to make his own special contribution to a group interest, and to partake of its activities in such ways that social guidance shall be a matter of his own mental attitude, and not a mere authoritative dictation of his acts. [Democracy and Education. John Dewey, 1916]

Today student voice is seeing a resurgence of importance as a growing body of literature [ [ SoundOut Student Voice Library] ] increasingly identifies student voice as necessary throughout the educational process [Alison Cook-Sather, "Authorizing Student Perspectives: Towards Trust, Dialogue, and Respect in Education" (2002)] . Areas where advocates encourage actively acknowledging student voice include curriculum design and instructional methods, Educational leadership and general school reform activities, including research and evaluation [ [ Student Voice Links] from the SoundOut website] .

Curricular approaches

Specific types of activities that can specifically engage student voice include teaching , education decision-making, school planning, participatory action research, learning and teaching evaluations, educational advocacy, and student advisories for principals and superintendents [ [ Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Students as Partners in School Change] Adam Fletcher, 2005.]

ervice learning

Engaging student voice is a primary objective of service learning, which commonly seeks to entwine classroom learning objectives with community service opportunities. Student voice is also present in student government programs, experiential education activities, and other forms of student-centered learning.

tudent as education decision-makers

Engaging students as educational decision-makers is the practice of actively teaching young people responsibility for their education by systematically engaging them in making choices about learning, schooling, and the education system in areas ranging from what affects them personally to what affects an entire student body to what affects the entire school system.

Choosing curricula, calendar year planning, school building design, teacher hiring, and many more issues are often seen as the duties of a school principal or teachers. Today those roles are increasingly seen as avenues for student voice. Students are joining boards of education at all levels, including local, district, and state boards. Some education agencies engage students as staff in programs where they make decisions about grant making, school assessment, and other areas [(n.d.) [ Youth Leadership & Service Team] Washington State Office of Supertintendent of Public Instruction] . Students are also participate in decision-making by establishing and enforcing codes of conduct and in personal education decision-making, such as choosing classes and deciding whether to attend school.

Worldwide examples

Education reform has long been the domain of parents, teachers, school administrators and politicians. In some nations, however, there is a trend beginning to encompass a much larger element of student participation in scholastic affairs.


The " [ Connect] " journal, published in Melbourne, features dozens of examples of student voice throughout education in its bi-monthly publication.


Including student voice on district school boards was mandated by the Ontario Education Act in 1998. Students in each one of the 72 provincial school boards are represented by a 'pupil representative', commonly called "Student Trustee". They are meant to represent the needs and concerns of students in discussions with the school board administration and the province. The Ontario Student Trustees' Association has become Ontario's chief student stakeholder, providing professional development to its members and advocates for students' educational interests. [ [ OSTA-AECO] website.] The Society for Democratic Education is an organization in Toronto that includes many aspects of heightened student inclusion in education reform policy. The Society for Democratic Education was founded in early 2005 by Bianca Wylie. It has published several essays and position papers that discuss the importance of wide-scale education reform, especially in how it applies to secondary level education and civic education. [ [ The Society for Democratic Education] website.]

Another Canadian organization of note is Learning for a Cause founded in 2004 by educator and poet Michael Ernest Sweet [ Learning for a Cause] which promotes student voices for social change through creative writing and publishing opportunities for Canadian students.


A powerful example of student voice in school improvement comes from the 2006 student protests in Chile. Throughout the spring of that year, public high school students from across the country began a series of protests, school takeovers, and negotiations designed to bolster support for public education improvement. After seeing the massive effect of the students, government officials met their demands and are working to support ongoing reforms as necessitated by students.

United Kingdom

The English Secondary Student's Association is the representative body for secondary students in England. It aims to support students in expressing their views about education by providing workshops and a network of support with other secondary school students. Ireland's Union of Secondary Students is the umbrella body of all second level students in Ireland. [ [ The Union of Secondary Students] website.] The National College for School Leadership provides career-long learning and development opportunities, professional and practical support for England's existing and aspiring school leaders. Their goal is to ensure that school leaders have the skills, recognition, capacity and ambition to transform the school education system into the best in the world. [ NCSL] website.] The Phoenix Education Trust is the organisation that helped to found ESSA and currently provides the students with administrative support. It aims to explore and support education in which children are trusted and respected and their participation in decision-making is encouraged. [ [ Phoenix] website.] School Councils UK has been supporting schools to instill long-term, sustainable structures for effective student voice and particpation for over 10 years. Working with teachers and pupils in primary, secondary and special schools [ [ School Councils UK] website.] School Councils UK provides training, resources, ongoing support and access to a large UK network of schools, including exclusive member online facilities and services at their website [] , including a 'My School Council' area launched in April 2008. They have received project support from the DCSF and also work in partnership with many local authorities. The Organizing Bureau of European School Students Unions is the umbrella organisation for secondary school student organisations in European. [ [ OBESSU] website.] A range of state school are also pushing student Voice internally and independently across the UK. Schools like Quintin Kynaston School are now recognised for having one of the largest and most active Student Voice 'faculties' in the country.

United States

SoundOut is the only nonprofit education program in the US solely focused on engaging student voice throughout education. SoundOut works with students, educators, administrators, policy-makers, and academics to raise the profile, substance, and effect of student voice in K-12 settings across the country [ [ Soundout] website] . The National Youth Rights Association advocates for increased recognition for student rights in schools, including the right to privacy, student access to records, and student representation throughout the education system. What Kids Can Do shares stories of student voice throughout the educational process, both within the school system and throughout the community. Their highlights emphasize exceptional learning, belonging, and engagement of students in a variety of capacities for a variety of purposes, the greatest of which is in order to promote student voice. WKCD has authored several books about student voice, primarily written by Kathleen Cushman working with high school students, including "Fires in the Bathroom: Advice from high schools students for teachers" and "Sent to the Principal's Office". [ [ WKCD] website.] Education|Evolving integrates student voices with current major topics in education policy and maintains an online clearinghouse of student voices on education policy. Their website also has students describing the learning experiences on video. [ E|E]


Student voice is increasingly identified as a pillar of successful school reform, as educational researchers, academic institutions, and educational support organizations around the world increasingly advocate for the inclusion of students in the reform process after identifying student voice as a vital element of student engagement [Newmann, F. (1993) "Student Engagement in American Schools."] .


Critical educators including bell hooks, Paulo Freire, and Henry Giroux have voiced concern with the singular notion of a student voice. Another expert has written about this over-simplification, saying that::It is not enough to simply listen to student voice. Educators have an ethical imperative to do something with students, and that is why meaningful student involvement is vital to school improvement. [ [ Meaningful Student Involvement Research Guide] Adam Fletcher, 2003.]

ee also

* Youth voice
* Student engagement
* Teaching for social justice
* Student-centered learning
* Student activism
* Collaborative learning
* Democratic school
* Service learning
* Experiential learning
* Project-based learning
* Free school
* Unschool
* Educational progressivism
* Personal learning environments
* Inquiry education
* Learning by teaching (LdL)
* Youth-adult partnerships
* Intergenerational equity
* Minimally Invasive Education

chool examples

* Quintin Kynaston School (UK)
* Avalon Charter School, St. Paul, Minnesota
* Community High School (Ann Arbor, Michigan)
* The Nova Project (Seattle, Washington)
* Summerhill School (UK)
* Kirkdale School (UK)
* Sudbury-style schools (US)
* Coalition of Essential Schools
* Jane Addams School for Democracy
* Goddard College
* The Evergreen State College
* Overseas Family School


Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

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