Skip to main content

Amplifying student voice and agency in the classroom

{{youtube:large|KEnJglWNEjM, Mark Hofer, co-director of the Center for Innovation in Learning Design, explains how giving students more voice and choice in the classroom can re-engage them in their learning.}}

Having led hundreds of workshops for K-12 teachers and school leaders focused on topics from deeper learning to leadership development, the School of Education’s Amy Colley and Mark Hofer know how to engage and inspire teachers, while at the same time giving them practical strategies they can implement in their schools right away.

Colley, a former assistant superintendent, is executive director of the School-University Research Network. Hofer, professor of educational technology, is co-director of the Center for Innovation in Learning Design. A new collaboration between the two centers is exploring the role of student voice in the classroom, and raising funds to design an online workshop on the topic to reach more teachers, including those in rural and isolated areas of the country where opportunities for professional development are few and far between.

The idea grew from their experiences leading cohorts of local school principals through School Retool, a professional development experience designed by IDEO and the Stanford d.School to help schools implement deeper learning strategies and develop a hack mindset to evolve school practices. As part of the experience, school leaders engaged in a “Shadow a Student Day” challenge, selecting one of their students to shadow for an entire day.

“One of the biggest takeaways our principals had from the experience was how little influence students have over their day-to-day lives at school,” said Hofer. “Everything from when you can go to the bathroom to what you’re learning about is largely dictated by forces outside the student’s control.”

This lack of autonomy, he continued, plays an important role in the dramatic decline in student engagement that happens by the end of elementary school. A 2016 Gallup survey of nearly one million U.S. students showed that only 17% of 11th graders reported that they have fun at school or get to do what they do best. Only 32% reported that they had learned anything interesting in the previous seven days at school.

“How could things look different if we gave students more self-determination in their daily lives and more agency over their own education?” asked Hofer.

He developed a face-to-face workshop that equips teachers with a broad set of research-based strategies to amplify student voices in the classroom and create an environment where students have more autonomy. Together, Hofer and Colley collaborated to bring the workshop to area teachers as an after-school offering.

“Not only do we want share these strategies with teachers, but we want to make them as accessible as possible — working with teachers to choose the tactics that are going to be most successful in their particular context and the simplest to incorporate into the work they’re already doing,” said Colley.

For example, teachers learn how to give students more choice on assessments by allowing them to choose how they’d like to demonstrate proficiency on a unit or topic—by test, paper, or project.

Participants are also encouraged to incorporate students in determining how the school is run — for example, by acting as consultants on proposed policy issues or as interpreters to gather and synthesize feedback from students.

“We call these tactics Student Voice Amplifiers and we aim to help teachers not only develop an aspiration for their students, but also build out the action steps they’ll need to take to actually implement some of these tactics in their schools,” said Hofer.

Given the success of the after-school workshops, Hofer and Colley began brainstorming ways to reach more teachers — particularly those who couldn't travel to the School of Education. They now plan to redesign the face-to-face workshop as a 4-6 week course delivered entirely online, which will allow them to significantly scale the number and diversity of teachers they’re able to serve. The online course will also go more in-depth, supporting teachers not only as they design and implement these strategies, but also by providing feedback and helping teachers measure the impact in their classroom.

To fund the development of the online course, Colley and Hofer launched a Tribefunding campaign in early November with a goal to raise $6,000 by December 7, 2018. Offered twice a year, Tribefunding is a crowdfunding initiative that helps William & Mary students and faculty raise money for projects they’re passionate about.

“Teachers and leaders are looking for ways to implement deeper learning practices and emphasize student agency. They know that these are critical times for students and learning and are determined to create experiences designed to maximize student success,” said Colley. “This project will help us continue to spread these practices to more teachers and impact more students.”

Learn more and make your gift.