Voice and Choice in Student Learning

Children have the right “to voice their opinions on activities and decisions which shape their lives, and the right to receive and share information in different ways” Articles 12 & 13, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (Bucknall, 2012, p. 4)

Why Choice and Voice?

Providing choice in student learning has multiple benefits ranging from increased student engagement, to allowing for differentiation through providing appropriate challenges. The following chapter from “Learning to Choose Choosing to Learn” by Mike Anderson, ASCD may be of interest.

Similarly, student voice is important not only for sharing opinions and decisions on a student’s personal life and school matters, but also on emerging social issues. Research shows that even children of primary school age are aware of community, national and global issues, including racism, violence, and poverty, and would also like to be better informed and more involved in helping to solve problems (Holden, 2006; Taylor et al., 2008; Bucknall, 2012). In fact, student voice can allow for personalized, diverse educational experiences as it begins and ends with the thoughts, feelings, visions, and actions of the students themselves (Toshalis & Nakkula, 2012).

Remote learning; a crisis and perhaps an opportunity?

“Providing students with a place to voice their needs and interests, and a place for choice in the process, starts with teachers” (Garry, 2018, p. 5).

Students might:

  • own their learning journey and develop as self learners
  • share ‘power’ over the learning plan with instructor
  • discover their passions
  • experience contextually-relevant learning that is related to their own homes, families and neighbourhoods.
  • share and discuss learning interests with parents and siblings

Let’s explore a few opportunities!


Choice of Meaningful, Contextually-Relevant Content

Learning is most engaging when it is relevant to students’ personal lives.
Encourage students to respond to your questions by looking around in their environments; home, backyard or neighbourhood. For example, in Math, you might ask them what 2D shapes or 3D shapes, patterns or mathematical representations they see in the world around them; at home, from a window or outside.

In a science lesson on features of mammals or reptiles, encourage students to come up with their own examples from a book or an online image, take a photo, label it, and share with the class. The various shared examples will foster a better understanding across students, and allow for peer feedback.

Choice of Books

Ask students to read books of their choice and prepare general questions that would support their development of skills. Pernille Ripp (teacher and author) offers sample question in her article, “Switching to Remote Learning While Still Offering Choice”.

Choice of Instruction

Encourage your students to explore topics of interest using a wide array of online resources. They might view videos provided by Khan Academy or TEDEd Talks. For more suggestions, check this list of distance learning tools provided by the Albert Team.

Choice of Activity
There is a rich pool of choice boards that have been developed recently by educators for various subjects. John Spencer shares “4 Ways to craft choice menus” in his blog and describes how a teacher might create choice boards that don’t overwhelm learners.

Here are a few:

Choice of Process

Ask your students if they prefer working individually, in pairs, or in groups?

Choice in expression of assessment response

  • Provide students with a wide range of choices regarding the way they share their response. Check this post for examples of multimodal student response systems
  • For read-aloud resources, visit this post in the Scarfe Sandbox.
  • Encourage students to share their findings multimodally using apps like ShowMe.
  • Soroya Smith, second grade classroom teacher, shares ideas, for some apps that allow for student interaction with read-alouds.

Choice of Online Time

Try not to rely too heavily on synchronous online sessions, as it might cause stress to some students. Give students the choice to work online, or work offline on an activity and share it afterwards using an app, for example using ShowMe. It can be supportive to NOT require the use of video camera when doing synchronous web conferences as this can make visible issues of poverty/circumstance. (That said, allowing video may also help learners feel more connected… as always, important to know your students and context)

For more ideas, I found this podcast by Brian Aspinall (teacher and teaching excellence award winner) and Michelle Hunter (grade 6 teacher) on creating opportunities for student choice during remote learning inspiring.



As you are providing students with choices, consider inviting them to voice their opinions, ideas and preferences.


At the start of a class session, you might encourage students to share their feelings for the day (once a safe environment and guidelines for the community have been clearly established – you know your context). An anonymous quick poll might be incorporated here instead of ‘vocal and identified’ sharing. Providing opportunity for students to voice their emotions in a safe, supportive environment, helps you know where the class is at and also allows students to feel they are not alone.

Interests and Preferences

In order to allow for personalized learning, encourage students to share their interests and learning preferences to inform the creation of choice boards..

Issues that matter: Students as Researchers

An interesting movement, Students As Researchers (SARs) creates a new role for children in social research and gives them a voice (Bucknall, 2012, p. 3). By allowing students to act as researchers (SAR), their perspectives and voices are allowed to come to center stage and students are empowered “to bring realities of everyday life to the attention of the staff” (Thomson & Gunter, 2007). Choice of research topics allows school staff to perceive unseen issues. Students might even explore their own feelings, the challenges and possibilities with respect to remote learning, and what suggestions they have.

Similarly, students could search societal issues of concern. For example, students could discuss their roles at a time of the pandemic.

Podcast to share ‘voice’

As a means to share their opinions or research, students could create their own podcasts, videos, vlogs, blogs, images/memes where they voice their opinions and share with a larger audience. In a reflection on their own experience creating podcasts with students published in Edutopia, “A Way to Promote Student Voice – Literally”, teacher Paula Diaz provides some suggestions and examples.
Guest Post: Nashwa Khedr, EDCP graduate student, project assistant 2020; editing & contributions by YD


Bucknall, S. (2012). Children as Researchers in Primary Schools. London: Routledge, https://doi.org/10.4324/9780203116302

Holden, C. (2006) ‘Concerned citizens: children and the future’, Education, Citizenship and Social Justice, 1(3):231–247.

Garry, Adam, et al. Personalizing Learning Through Voice and Choice: (Increasing Student Engagement in the Classroom), Solution Tree, 2017. ProQuest Ebook Central, https://ebookcentral.proquest.com/lib/ubc/detail.action?docID=5105830.

Taylor, N., Smith, A. and Gollop, M. (2008) ‘New Zealand children and young people’s perspectives on citizenship’, International Journal of Children’s Rights, 16:195–210.

Thomson, P. & Gunter H. (2007) The Methodology of Students-as-Researchers: Valuing and using experience and expertise to develop methods. Discourse: studies in the cultural politics of education, (3), 327-342.

Toshalis E. & Nakkula, M. J. (2012). Motivation, Engagement, and student voice . The Students at the Centre series. A Jobs For the Future Project. Retrieved from http://www.edugains.ca/resourcesSV/StudentVoiceResearch/MotivationEngagem entandStudentV oice.pdf

United Nations (1989) ‘Convention on the Rights of the Child’, UN General Assembly, Document A/ RES/44/25. Online.


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