Listen Up: 4 Ways to Give Your Students a Say in the Classroom

When you picture your ideal classroom, does it involve vibrant discussions, debates and collaboration? Or does it look like a cut-and-dry lecture with you standing at the head of the room talking as your students take notes with their heads down? Probably the former, because you want proof that your students are engaged and feel their fair share of ownership in the classroom.

The real magic happens when students feel like their voice is a valid part of their classroom community. Suddenly they understand that they have a choice in everything from how they tackle their academics to the classroom layout. Here are four ways to give your students more of a say in school.

Be Willing to Diminish Pedagogical Control

Of course, you’re the authority figure in the classroom. But that doesn’t mean that you want your students to learn that only your voice matters! Letting your students know that you’re interested in listening to them and working with them to find a curriculum that works for everyone will go a long way. It starts with breaking down the outdated lone-figure-at-the-front-of-the-classroom model of teaching.

As Education Week writes, “A side effect of relinquishing pedagogical control is that the classroom becomes a warmer, more joyful place. You are demonstrating your compassion for [your students] by allowing them to select their options.”

Create Flexible Assignments and Projects

And how can you give your students a better sense of choice and independence? The next time you assign something for a grade, offer several project options from which to choose. This frames projects and assignments as a “choose-your-own-adventure” type journey, rather than a prescriptive “one-size-fits-all” task.

Think about it this way: An essay might cater to young wordsmiths, but perhaps visual learners would be more inspired and engaged if they could instead create a diorama, poster or art project based on the same subject. A student who spends their spare time playing an instrument or creating music may want to write and record a song. By offering three or four different prompts (all of comparable difficulty) or one central prompt with a variety of “adjacent” add-ons and allowing students to choose which one they want to pursue, you’re giving them a say in how they learn.

Collect (and Actually Use) Poll Results

The most democratic of classroom decision-making models, taking a vote is a great way to include everyone’s opinion before proceeding. And the best part is that you don’t have to count hands or deal with blurted answers every single time you want to make a decision.

Let’s say that you want to change up your classroom layout. Instead of surprising students as they walk into the room on Monday, you want to survey them on Friday and learn their preference. After all, they best understand how they collaborate, learn and move around. With classroom polling, you can whip up an online poll in 30 seconds and collect everyone’s answers instantly. In front of everyone’s eyes, the survey results move in real time to accommodate the answers rolling in. The winner is clear!

Of course, that’s a simplified version of how polling in the classroom can help give your students a voice. They can help choose everything from their next lesson topic to how you structure your review activities. It’s the quickest link between their brains and your curriculum.

Create a Constitution

It’s empowering to create something together. Why not make a class constitution, complete with contributions from everyone? This gives students a voice by allowing them to really flesh out what it means to be a community member. Instead of simply saying “Respect your classmates,” you all can brainstorm how this would actually look on a daily basis. Everyone can offer up their contributions and have a lively discussion about your collectively chosen principles, morals, aspirations and guidelines.

A dynamic classroom includes everyone’s voice. Get started with these four ideas and help your current and future students find their voice and agency.