4 Ways to Empower Student Voice During Distance Learning

By Patti Drapeau, author of Inspiring Student Empowerment: Moving Beyond Engagement, Refining Differentiation

Student voice matters. Voice allows students the opportunity to influence what they learn and how they learn. In some cases, students use their voice to influence how they are assessed. According to researcher Russ Quaglia, when students have voice, they are seven times more likely to be motivated to learn, four times more likely to experience self-worth, eight times more likely to experience engagement, and nine times more likely to experience purpose in school.

Here are four ways that students can use their voice in the online learning classroom and tips for teachers to encourage them.

4 Ways to Empower Student Voice During Distance Learning

1. Students Advocate for Their Learning Needs

Students can use their voice to express their thoughts and feelings about their learning goals. It helps if teachers give students a questionnaire to help them determine their learning needs and preferences. Students are able to share these findings electronically with their teacher. There is a reproducible questionnaire in my book Inspiring Student Empowerment, or some can be found online at ThoughtCo or QuestionPro. The information gained from these types of questionnaires allows students to use their voice to advocate for their needs because they understand:

  • Their strengths and weaknesses
  • Their likes and dislikes
  • When to seek support for what they need to accomplish a task
  • How to specifically express a personal disconnection with the content or a lack of understanding

2. Students Communicate Effectively Online

With distance learning, it is difficult for educators to pick up on students’ negative body language and disengagement. To maintain a positive online learning environment, teachers can encourage students to use positive communication and provide them starter phrases such as:

  • I am interested in . . .
  • The purpose of learning this is . . .
  • I know I can . . .
  • I can break down this task into parts and complete this by . . .
  • I am curious about . . .
  • I am responsible for . . .
  • I have control over my own learning because . . .

3. Students Assess Their Learning

Teachers use rubrics to assess student learning. They can offer students opportunities to use their voice in the assessment process in many different ways. For example:

  • The teacher and student complete the same rubric and compare their scores. If the student and the teacher score the rubric differently, they meet privately online to discuss the discrepancy.
  • Students use their voice to evaluate their own learning. They complete a teacher-generated rubric online and may or may not submit their rubric to the teacher. This type of assessment is designed for student self-reflection.
  • Peer assessment is another way to encourage student voice. However, for this type of assessment to be meaningful, students should use language specific to critiquing. Written comments posted online can be taken the wrong way. Therefore, it is very important for peer reviewers to make their comments specific to things they like, things they are not sure about, and suggestions for improvements. The person who is doing the critique can make comments such as these:
I liked I’m not sure about My suggestions for improvement
Things you did well were . . . I was confused when . . . You still need to explain . . .
This reminded me of  . . . Why did you include   . . . Can you provide examples of . . .
Your evidence was strong for . . . Am I right in thinking . . . I think it would be clearer if . . .
I like how you said . . . Can you explain why . . . I was wondering if . . .

4. Students Practice Leadership Skills

In successful student leadership programs, teachers and students work together. Teachers can provide students with leadership skills and opportunities in the following ways:

  • Prepare students to lead by teaching them problem-solving skills. These skills can be shared electronically and practiced in their distance learning groups.
  • Encourage students to use their voice to help to create or make changes to codes of conduct specific to online learning.
  • Allow students to call meetings, set goals, and create plans of action. This can be carried out through most online platforms.
  • Provide opportunities for students to engage in service learning, community service, and school governance through electronic communication. Developmental psychologist Shepherd Zeldin found that when student leadership was part of a community-based program, students showed greater self-confidence, increased ability to take on governance roles and responsibilities, and a strengthened sense of organizational commitment.

Students should be able to express themselves during the school day. This can happen in an online environment where teachers provide opportunities for students to use their voice and where students feel safe and supported. Students need to feel listened to and they need to know there is a chance that action can be taken on their ideas. Salgado and Hammond said, “Student voice isn’t just about listening; it’s about including students as active change agents.” Four key questions to ask yourself about student voice are:

  • Do I offer opportunities for every student to use their voice to influence their classroom distance learning decision-making?
  • Do I offer opportunities for every student to use their voice to influence schoolwide decision-making?
  • Do I offer opportunities for every student to use their voice to influence concerns in their town or city?
  • Do I offer opportunities for every student to have a national or global voice?

If your answer is yes, you are encouraging student voice and helping students make a difference. If your answer is no to any of the questions, think about ways to incorporate more opportunities for students to express their voice. With distance learning, your role is to support your students, offer them opportunities to use their voice effectively, and encourage them to use their voice in positive ways that have the potential to make a difference.


Drapeau, Patti. Inspiring Student Empowerment Moving Beyond Engagement Refining Differentiation. Minneapolis: Free Spirit Publishing, 2020.

Namahoe, Kanoe. “Cultivating Student Voice.” ASCD SmartBrief, March 25, 2017.

Quaglia, Russ. “Student Voice.” June 23, 2015.

Varlas, Laura. “Districts Wired for Student Voice.” Education Update 62, no. 2 (February 2020): 3.

Zeldin, Shepherd.  “Youth as Agents of Adult and Community Development: Mapping the Processes and Outcomes of Youth Engaged in Organizational Governance.” Applied Developmental Science 8, no. 2 (2004):75–90.

Patti DrapeauPatti Drapeau (pattidrapeau.com) is an internationally active educational consultant, author, and presenter, with more than 25 years of classroom experience. Patti conducts keynote sessions as well as short- and long-term workshops in the United States and abroad. She commonly presents on the following topics: differentiation, creativity, engagement, gifted education, student empowerment, and personalized learning.

Patti is the founder of Patti Drapeau Educational Consulting Services and has received the New England Region Gifted and Talented award for outstanding contributions in gifted education and the Maine Educators of the Gifted and Talented award for exemplary service. Patti coached programs such as Odyssey of the Mind, Future Problem Solving, Explorer Vision, and math teams. She also developed a curriculum model for the regular classroom called “Affective Perspectives: Combining Critical Thinking, Creative Thinking, and Affect,” and authored a variety of articles for the Maine Exchange, Teaching Matters, and Understanding Our Gifted. Her other books include Sparking Student Creativity: Practical Ways to Promote Innovative Thinking and Problem Solving, Differentiating with Graphic Organizers: Tools to Foster Critical and Creative Thinking, Differentiated Instruction: Making It Work, and Great Teaching with Graphic Organizers.

Patti currently works as a consultant and she is a part-time faculty member at the University of Southern Maine. She lives in Freeport, Maine.

Inspiring Student EmpwermentPatti is the author of Inspiring Student Empowerment: Moving Beyond Engagement, Refining Differentiation.

We welcome your comments and suggestions. Share your comments, stories, and ideas below, or contact us. All comments will be approved before posting, and are subject to our comment and privacy policies.

FSP Springybook Signature(c)© 2020 by Free Spirit Publishing. All rights reserved. The views expressed in this post represent the opinion of the author and not necessarily Free Spirit Publishing.

This entry was posted in Teaching Strategies and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply