ARTICLE Student voice needs action in order to become Meaningful Student Involvement. The Ladder of Student Involvement shows how that action can happen, showing how students can move from being manipulated in schools to becoming partners throughout education. Discussion Tools Homepage


Examining the Meaning of Student Involvement:

The Ladder of Student Involvement in School


By Adam Fletcher


Simply calling something “meaningful” doesn’t make it so. Just like saying that schools are complex is an understatement, saying that student involvement is to complex is overtly simplistic. According to the following "Ladder of Student Involvement in School," many student roles may actually be non-involvement. But there is hope.


The following graphic and explanation offers a typology that explores a variety of ways students are involved in schools. Educators and students can use apply this tool to the everyday involvement of students by using it to identify how schools currently engage students in their classes, programs, and other leadership opportunities. The Ladder can also encourage individuals and schools to aspire to higher levels by presenting the possibilities of meaningful student involvement.


    The Ladder of Student Involvement in School was adapted from the work of Roger Hart, an international expert on children’s participation. By mapping situations and activities that involve students on the rungs of the Ladder, schools can assess their levels of meaningful student involvement. The higher the rung on the Ladder, the greater the meaningfulness of student involvement. This guide seeks to help schools reach higher rungs – that is, increase the amount and improve the quality of student participation in schools.  Note that the rungs on this Ladder aren’t necessarily a developmental process that happens over finite increments.  Student involvement can go from the second rung directly to the sixth.  The Ladder is meant to represent possibilities, not predictions, for growth.

Increasing Amounts of Involvement

Involvement generally increases as students move along this continuum (8 being the highest):


8. Student-led decision-making shared with adults. Projects, classes, or activities are initiated by students, and decision-making is shared among students and adults. These projects empower students while at the same time enabling them to access and learn from the life experience and expertise of adults.


7. Student-led, student-directed, student-centered decision-making. Students initiate and direct a project, class, or activity focused only on student concerns. Adults are involved only in a supportive role.


6. Adult-led decision-making shared with students. Projects, classes, or activities are initiated by adults, but the decision-making is shared with students involved.


5. Adult-led decision-making informed by student voice. Students give advice on projects, classes, or activities designed and run by adults. The students are informed about how their input will be used and the outcomes of the decisions made by adults.


4. Adult-led decision-making with students assigned to respond. Students are assigned a specific role, told about how, and taught why they are being involved.


Degrees of Non-Involvement


The degrees of non-involvement include (1 being the lowest):


3. Tokenism. Students appear to be given a voice, but in fact have little or no choice about what they do or how they participate.


2. Decoration. Students are used to help or bolster a cause in a relatively indirect way; adults do not pretend that the cause is inspired by students.  Causes are determined by adults, and adults make all decisions.


1. Manipulation. Adults use students to support causes by pretending that those causes are inspired by students.


Students and educators can use this tool in a variety of ways to measure their classrooms, schools, and communities. Beyond this tool, there is a need to imagine what steps are necessary for students to progress beyond measurement and into action. That is what the rest of SoundOut is for!


The Ladder of Student Involvement was originally published in the Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Students as Partners in School Change. For more information or assistance, contact us.


Suggested citation: Taken from Fletcher, A. (2005) Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Students as Partners in School Change. Seattle, WA: HumanLinks Foundation. Available online at


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