Student Voice Beyond the Classroom

Student voice—which is any expression of any young person about learning—is getting a lot of attention these days. More than ever, educators are realizing and research is demonstrating the efficacy of engaging students as partners in learning, fostering student/adult partnerships, and infusing meaningful student involvement throughout the educational environment.
Combining brain science, social conditioning theory, and more than 25 years of research on student engagement, educators are realizing the significance of student voice in the classroom. A recent, powerful study called Motivation, Engagement, and Student Voice written by Eric Toshalis and Michael J. Nakkula shows exactly that, and I highly recommend that you read it.
However, relying on long-substantiated practice and data leaves the authors at a loss. They focus on the classroom curriculum and academic performance the locus of control for students. This diminishes the true capacity of students, and makes their proposition instantly obsolete. I believe they didn’t intentionally set out to exclude innovative practice in their study, but without acknowledging that student voice can and should play a substantive role beyond the classroom, they negate the potential of their study. 
The practice that I’m alluding to is Meaningful Student Involvement, or MSI. A decade ago when I was working for the State of Washington’s education agency I led a multi-year action research study to identify best practices for engaging students as partners in education. Basing my work on an exhaustive scan of the then-scant research supporting student voice and engagement, I discovered the connection between a previously under-explored approach to engaging student voice. Across the country and around the world I identified an emergent trend to involve students in substantive, meaningful, and expansive activities throughout the educational system. I also identified a series of patterns that came through in my study. Wrapping all these findings into a comprehensive system of support for educators, I called my tools the Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement. Since then, hundreds of schools in dozens of districts across the U.S. and Canada have used these frameworks to inform policy and practice from individual classrooms to school boardrooms.
The frameworks do many things to identify how, where, why, when, and which opportunities exist for student voice to become infused throughout the education system. Engaging all learners as education researchers, school planners, classroom teachers, learning evaluators, systemic decision-makers, and education advocates happens across all grade levels. As a whole school approach to improvement, Meaningful Student Involvement infuses the passion of classroom engagement with the purpose of systemic engagement to show all student that their voice isn’t the only thing that counts; more importantly, that they have purpose beyond their own narrow interests. Instead, they learn that they are integral to the function of schools. Every single student in every single school.

Toshalis and Nakkula carefully identify many of the meaningful bases for their study, and these bases can be used to further substantiate Meaningful Student Involvement. However, without acknowledging that students can have roles beyond individual affect they negate the ownership, purpose, and function student voice should have throughout education. Schools need these roles for students; let’s identify more evidence to support them.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Published by Adam F.C. Fletcher

I'm a speaker and writer who researches, writes and shares about youth, education, and history. Learn more about me at

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