The term "Student Voice & Choice" was developed as part of the democratic schools movement over 30 years ago. It refers to a set of interconnected ideas related to positive youth development, motivation, and engagement theory, grounded in the belief that students have wisdom about their learning needs and interests, and it's essential to give this wisdom a central place within the school context: both as a mechanism for listening to students' voices as an end in itself, and as the means or driver for creating educational programs that allow students to make their own choices related to their learning path.
Students entering middle and high school have rarely experienced "voice and choice" in their previous schools. As a result, they can often be resistant to the concept, viewing it as a situation in which the adults do not know what they are doing or are abdicating their responsibility to educate. In order to help students begin to enjoy the power of their voice and choice, it's helpful to establish routines and practices that scaffold student learning. For example, at Carpe Diem, in Cincinnati, students choose the courses they want to undertake. During a March visit, a student shared that she had taken and received "credit" for 2 online science courses. She didn't have any other credits, but the school's priority was that she exercise "choice and voice" in mapping her path to gradution. The student had just decided to take on higher-level math classes so that she could take physics in the fall.
Tips for a Short Implementation Time-Line
In a personalized mastery-learning program, students would be excercising considerable choice and would need to learn to become strong advocates for their choices. In a short time-line it's not always possible to create a broad array of opportunities for this. For example, if you purchase a contract with an online curriculum provider, student coursework will be limited to those courses; or if teachers develop their own courses, students will be assigned to a set scope and sequence, especially in a small school with limited staff members. Under these circumstances it can be helpful to look for "enhancement" opportunities for student choice and voice, that still build capacity and engagement. For example, at the EPIC schools each Advisory takes repsonsibility for facilitating the School-wide Morning Meeting for a full week. They plan and implement games, activities and discussions for the whole school, using their daily Advisory period to plan the sessions. Over the course of a year, each Advisory has had the opportunities to facilitate many meeetings.
Curated Resources: This collection of resources from the field includes models and exemplars, as well as “DIY” guidance to facilitate your exploration of this term.