Why Does Student Voice Matter in the Curriculum?

Isabelle Wolfe
Language Teacher, International School Aberdeen


As parents, we can all relate to our children coming home from school and we ask when what they learnt today. Very often the answer is “nothing” and indeed, the child probably did not have much to say about what was going on in the classroom.

Formal student voice activities need to be actively promoted and ‘kept alive’ in the culture of the school. There is a clear psychological benefit from engaging in student voice even if the impact is not overtly evident. Being engaged in student voice activities is seen as important regardless of any impact from the delivered curriculum.


Why should we develop student voice in a pedagogical context?

Very often when a high school student is resistant to the curriculum he is exposed to, teachers can be quick to say that  he does not have a growth mindset, is unmotivated or worse disrespectful. The continuum goes from giving no say to the students to giving them complete power as Hart’s ladder demonstrates.


The first obvious reason for developing student voice is the students wellbeing. Research shows that people do better when they have more autonomy. Academic achievement increases when we give more say to the students.


Secondly If we want students to take more responsibility with their education, we have to give them more responsibility. There is a moral compass that we ought to have as educators and values that we should instil. Human beings should have a say whatever their age. We are training kids to live in a democracy


Thirdly, giving a more important role of the students voice in the curriculum also has a positive effect on teachers, It is more energising for both students and teachers when students are helping to plan the curriculum.


How can we foster student voice in a pedagogical context?


Before looking into this and as a preamble, it is important to stress that research shows that a process driven curriculum would foster student voice more than a heavy content one. A constructivist approach is more conducive. Student centred teaching, project-based learning rely heavily on autonomy.


Fostering student voice does not mean giving individual choice although that can be an option. What is more powerful is the idea of a choice, albeit a meaningful choice. Telling students for example that they can choose to read Book A or Book B is not as meaningful as having the students plan the learning  activities or even the curriculum.Real Autonomy comes from construction more than selection. The choice cannot be trivial. Students should have a role in the criteria, the standards, the goals the outcomes, the why we’re doing this.

One strategy to achieve this goal is for example to ask the students what questions they would come up with and ask them for an order of priority. Teachers can then use their questions to construct the curriculum as well as the assessment at the end.


How do we authentically promote autonomy?


Autonomy doesn’t mean that everything in a classroom has to be decided by the students but it means that everything could be. It is essential to tell the students that you have the last word. As the American psychologist Thomas Gordon said, the question is not whether rules and control are necessary but rather who sets them

When a unit is finished, the question is not just how well did the students learnt it but also how effectively how did I teach it and ask the students how can you show me you learnt it effectively?


In summary, how do we authentically promote autonomy?

Ask the students what they want to learn

Negotiate together

Advise and make suggestions

Ask them but tell them that you have the last word


In conclusion if we teach the same curriculum year in year out, we, as teachers, need to reflect on the place of the student in our classroom and if our curriculum is student centred.




Isabelle Wolfe is the Language Subject Leader at the International School Aberdeen.  She teaches French in Middle and High school as well as the French Mother Tongue programme to our French native students. Prior to teaching at ISA, Isabelle taught in England, Australia, and Egypt.




Richter, Max. “The autonomy-enhancing effects of choice on cognitive load, motivation and learning with digital media.” SelfDeterminationTheory.org, https://selfdeterminationtheory.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/2018_Schneideretal_choiceeffects.pdf. Accessed 17 November 2023.

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/09650792.2018.1436079.%E2%80%9D. Accessed 17 November 2023.

Kohn, Alfie. “Choices for Children: Why and How to Let Students Decide (*).” Alfie Kohn, https://www.alfiekohn.org/article/choices-children/?print=print. Accessed 17 November 2023.

“Multiple Intelligences – Howard Gardner.” Structural Learning, 14 February 2023, https://www.structural-learning.com/post/multiple-intelligences-howard-gardner. Accessed 17 November 2023.

“Thomas Gordon.” Gordon Training International, https://www.gordontraining.com/thomas-gordon/. Accessed 17 November 2023.

Untitled, https://www.myd.govt.nz/documents/engagement/harts-ladder.pdf.

Sweller, John. “The importance of cognitive load theory (CLT).” Society for Education and Training, https://set.et-foundation.co.uk/resources/the-importance-of-cognitive-load-theory.


0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *