Review: Look Who’s Talking Now; Student Views of Restructuring Schools

Originally published in Meaningful Student Involvement Research Guide by Adam Fletcher (2004) Olympia, WA: SoundOut.

Review of Look Who’s Talking Now: Student Views of Restructuring Schools. By J. Kushman & J. Shanessey. Published in 1997 in Portland, OR by Northwest Regional Educational Lab.

Look Who’s Talking Now is the story of a collaborative project that included researchers, teachers, administrators, students, university professors and parents who explored how to find out what students think about school.

Seven case studies were conducted that represented the views of more than 1,000 students from across the nation. The findings offer a broad palette of information for school reformers, and include suggestions about including students’ experiences, ideas, and opinions in school change.

This collection of research studies from across the nation offers a compelling backdrop to current school reform practices. Researchers found that listening to students can achieve important goals: Saving time for school leaders by gaining early student commitment and focusing restructuring work in the right places; Providing valuable lenses for educators to see whether their reform efforts are successful; Challenging adults to examine their own assumptions about student learning through the eyes of students, and; Treating students as responsible agents of change rather than products of change.

Data-gathering methods focused singularly on students, and included focus groups, written surveys, individual interviews, small group interviews, interviews anchored by classroom observation, videotaping, audiotaping, and note taking.

A few cases engaged students as researchers. The following conclusions were drawn from the data gathered in the studies:

  • Students are articulate and aware. They generally give thoughtful, honest answers to questions about their learning experiences and they are conscious of the restructuring and reform processes going on in their schools.
  • Listening to students and acting on what they say is not the norm. Though teachers and staff were open to hearing what students had to say, schools were often at a loss about what to do with the data.
  • There are many ways to find out what students think. There are also many ways to involve students and faculty in the research and inquiry process, and to integrate the inquiry results into the school improvement process.

There is also a section on what researchers learned, organized into the following topical areas:

  • Conducting student-led group interviews
  • Strategies for recording interviews
  • Maintaining quality research
  • Involving all stakeholders in data analysis
  • Knowing how and what to ask students, and
  • Sharing the results.

These chapters conclude with an outline of methods that schools can use to gather data from students in a short time frame.

The authors also review planning and preparation, focusing and designing the research, designing interview methods, collecting and analyzing data, developing feedback, and using student data for school improvement.

Look Who’s Talking Now provides necessary support for the inclusion of students in education reform efforts by detailing a variety of research practices across the country.

As a result, the stories of listening to students detailed here illustrate that student-inclusive school change can be a successful, powerful process for all who are involved.

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Review: Putting Students at the Centre in Education Reform

Originally published in Meaningful Student Involvement Research Guide by Adam Fletcher (2004) Olympia, WA: SoundOut.

“Putting students at the centre in education reform” By B. Levin. Published in 1999 in International Journal of Educational Change.

Putting Students argues that in order for school reform to be effective, students need to participate in the school improvement process. A foundation and framework are explored that engage students in defining, shaping, managing and implementing school improvement practices.

This paper offers a concise, detailed exploration of the principles and rationale that support student involvement from a practical perspective that focuses on progressive activities. After exploring the recent history of student involvement, the author provides the following arguments for increasing student involvement:

  • Effective implementation of change requires participation and buy-in from all those involved; students no less than teachers;
  • Students have unique knowledge and perspectives that can make reform efforts more successful and improve implementation;
  • Students’ views can help mobilize staff and parent opinion in favor of meaningful reform;
  • Constructivist learning, which is increasingly important to high standards reforms, requires a more active student role in schooling;
  • Students are the producers of school outcomes, so their involvement is fundamental to all improvement (p3).

Levin explains that the first three are related to organizational health; the last two have to do specifically with how learning occurs. He then continues to carefully detail the diverse literature supporting his arguments by including specific sources from the areas of education, psychology, sociology and business.

In a section exploring the role of the student in school improvement, Levin provides three steps schools should consider:

  1. Involve several students in formal management processes;
  2. Provide training and support students, and;
  3. Ask students to organize their own parallel process of discussion of change that could bring many more students into the deliberative process.

Levin makes a special note that educators should engage students in all grade levels in these efforts and not limit participation to high school students.

Putting Students provides a concise, deliberate rationale for meaningful student involvement while offering broad resources and diverse thinking for school improvement. The author situates student voice as a key component among current education reform practices and literature.

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Review: “Listening To Urban Kids: School Reform And The Teachers They Want”

Originally published in Meaningful Student Involvement Research Guide by Adam Fletcher (2004) Olympia, WA: SoundOut.

Review of “Listening To Urban Kids: School Reform And The Teachers They Want” by B. Wilson & HD Corbett. Published in 2001 by State University of New York Press in Albany, New York.

Listening to Urban Kids provides a broad account of what middle school students at several low-performing schools think about their education. Based on the three-year study conducted by Wilson and Corbett in five Philadelphia middle schools, the authors conclude that successful school reform should become noticeable in what students say about school. They argue that students’ input should be an important part of planning, implementing, and adjusting reform.

The authors of Listening share students’ unaltered comments about a variety of topics that have direct relevance in school change. The second chapter addresses the changes that students said they witnessed during the three-year study period. The next chapter highlights the students’ descriptions of the differences in pedagogy, subject content, and learning environment as they moved from classroom to classroom. The fourth chapter contains the most crucial section of the book, emphasizing the value of students as constructive education critics. The remainder of the book discusses students’ experiences in middle school, the implications of the students’ descriptions and insights for educational reform, and the value of using students as resources on the progress of reform.

The researchers originally conducted a series of interviews with a cohort of 247 sixth grade students from six schools. Over three years the number was reduced to 153. Interviewing was an informal process that happened in casual settings throughout the schools, with the researchers emphasizing a casual approach in order to make students more comfortable. The book relies heavily on direct quotes from students, maintaining their original grammar. Throughout the book there is minimal commentary by the authors.

Listening offers several important thoughts from students:

  • Students value teachers who give them the extra help they need to succeed and explain their lessons clearly.
  • Students said that they want teachers who believe in them.
  • Students not only value having a variety of activities in the classroom, they value teachers who use content that mirrors real life, making schoolwork relevant and meaningful.

An important conclusion of the study comes from the authors’ advocacy for “reforming with, not for, students” (p126). Distinguishing between students as “beneficiaries” or “participants”, the authors call for educators to explore how successful any reform truly is. This is particularly important when reform practices runs counter to what the literature on change recommends – that is, engaging the recipients as main contributors to the process. According to this study, if education leaders listened to students, “they would find out that they have invaluable partners in the educational enterprise – if only students had the chance” (p128).

Ultimately, Listening offers an important introduction to the validity of student voice. However, without encouraging the engagement of students as meaningful actors in school change efforts, Listening misses the glaring potential of being a rallying call for meaningful student involvement.

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Career and Technical Education and Meaningful Student Involvement

In the summer of 2002, SoundOut presented a series of professional development sessions on Meaningful Student Involvement in Career and Technical Education in a Western Washington school district.

Scott LeDuc, a master teacher/trainer with SoundOut, and myself spent two days with teachers in Spanaway, Washington, covering this powerful integration of new roles for students as partners with lifelong learning and livelihood education.

Here are the descriptions from the district’s professional development catalog. Participants may attend both sessions, but it is not necessary to attend both because they are not sequential.

Engaging Students as Partners in CTE

This session introduced participants to SoundOut’s nationally-recognized “Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement.”

Participants explored the main elements, principles, key characteristics, and barriers to engaging students as partners in CTE. Participants used our popular “Strategies for Meaningful Student Involvement” and learn about our evaluation tools.

Throughout the session, participants examined real classroom case studies where students were powerfully engaged through Meaningful Student Involvement to meet 21st century learning goals through CTE. Hands-on and interactive activities, practical exercises, and meaningful examples allowed participants to draw on their own knowledge and experiences to enhance student engagement in their classrooms.

Integrating Student Engagement into CTE

Participants in this session explored the relationship of Meaningful Student Involvement to 21st century learning goals. Focused on SoundOut’s nationally-recognized “Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement” and 21st century skills, participants identified how to practically incorporate these skills into existing classroom approaches.

The session were very interactive, emphasizing classroom applications and shared knowledge. With Meaningful Student Involvement as a recognized high-quality standard in schools across the US and Canada, participants explored how to infuse practical standards into their classroom design and implementation.

By the end of this session, participants gained new abilities focused on teaching 21st Century Skills, discovered new avenues to promote positive, powerful student behavior, and learned effective ways to integrate feedback from students into classroom activities. They also began focused planning to apply this new knowledge.

As SoundOut moves further into CTE, we learned a great deal from these workshops. Scott’s experience as a CTE teacher for over a decade matched a passionately commitment to move the field forward. These workshops built on past CTE and STEM-related work we have done, including working in the fields of technology education, student leadership organizations, and others.

SoundOut has always been about real world and real life skills, and we look forward to connecting schools to the tools and training they need to bring students on board as partners in this field.

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Mississippi State Superintendent Advisory Committee

From 1998 through 2002, the Mississippi State Superintendent Advisory Committee included 23 students. With student advisors in grades 10 through 12 grades, they served two year terms.

Each year, the State Superintendent requested that each member of his Superintendent’s Advisory Committee, composed of 23 public school superintendents, selected a student member to serve on the State Superintendent’s Student Advisory Committee.

The group was informal and met periodically with the State Superintendent to discuss education issues in the state. The State Superintendent of Education voluntarily sought this student voice. There was no legislation in Mississippi mandating student input.

Students were eligible for appropriate state reimbursement.

The State Superintendent of Education requested diverse candidates, and efforts were made to include students who are not always presented with honors or awards.

Members included students from vocational organizations (FFA, FBLA, etc.), students with varying GPA’s, and students from varying gender and racial categories.

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  • No additional information is available at this time. Please share anything you know about this activity in the comments section below.

Illinois State Board of Education Student Advisory Council

The Illinois State Board of Education Student Advisory Council, or ISBE SAC, is a group of 16 high school students from across the state to bring student concerns to the attention of the State Board of Education. The ISBE SAC was established in 1975.

The ISBE SAC is meant to be a diverse group of students from across the state who have demonstrated a strong work ethic, the ability to think creatively and work well in groups. Membership is open to sophomores, juniors and seniors attending a public high school in Illinois.

The SAC members represent student concerns and can provide thoughts on ISBE’s existing and proposed programs, policies and regulations. The student members also choose a special project to research and present before the State Board of Education at the end of the school year.

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Organization of Ontario Secondary Students

The Organization of Ontario Secondary Students, or OOSS, is a network of students who want to address education issues in Ontario and beyond.


The OOSS has one goal: to push students past what they thought was possible. We know there can be many hurdles ranging from school to finances with anything one does. We want to ensure that every student is successful in respect to their passion, be it science, business, social activism, athletics, sleeping, or anything else of their choosing.

Currently, OOSS is placing a special focus on reaching more schools across Ontario, strengthening the student-School board relation, improving organization and challenging ambassadors to take on more leadership opportunities within their region.

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Resiliency and Meaningful Student Involvement

In modern schools... Belonging happens through Meaningful Student Involvement. Learn more at in their educational experiences can foster resiliency in students. Teachers, curriculum, peers, school buildings and the entirety of the education system all influence students’ abilities to be persistent in school, overcome challenges to student voice, and building Meaningful Student Involvement. They develop hope for the future of schools.

Through student/adult partnerships, students get to discover the educators in their school aren’t just caring adults, but that they are capable of treating students in just and appropriate ways reflected in the characteristics of student/adult partnerships. Resiliency allows students to become more capable of withstanding negative educational experiences and secure their commitment to lifelong learning.

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California State Board of Education Student Member

The California State Board of Education Student Member has been a fixture since 1969. They have been full-voting members since 1983.


Starting in 1969, the SBE appointed a student to serve as a board advisor. In 1983, the Legislature and Governor granted the student full participation and voting rights.


In order to become student members of the SBE, students must be:

  • Any student enrolled in a California public high school who will be a senior in good standing
  • Be available to attend a statewide conference in November
  • Serve a one-year term from August through July
  • Attend all SBE meetings held during that time, which includes a minimum of two days every other month for approximately six meetings per year
  • Vote on educational policies vital to California’s students and schools

According to the State School Board of Education, the position provides a wonderful opportunity to influence educational policy in areas such as curriculum, standards, assessments, accountability, and Local Control Funding Formula.


  • California law requires that school district governing board student members select six of the 12 semifinalists for further consideration by the SBE
  • The SBE uses the annual Student Advisory Board on Education, or SABE, conference to perform this function.
  • Twelve semifinalists must attend the Student Advisory Board on Education (SABE) Conference.
  • Semifinalists will participate in all SABE activities.
  • Semifinalists will make individual presentations to all other SABE participants about their interest in, and qualifications for, the student member position.
  • Following a secret ballot by the SABE participants, the names of six candidates will be submitted for further consideration by the SBE’s Screening Committee.
  • The decision of the SABE participants is final.
  • Each of the final six candidates will be interviewed by the SBE’s Screening Committee.
  • The Screening Committee will recommend three finalists to the SBE.
  • Following the Board’s action to select the three finalists, the names of the three finalists will be sent to the Governor.
  • The SBE’s recommendations to the Governor are final. Interviews and the selection of three finalists will occur before and at the SBE’s November meeting.
  • Representatives of the Governor will interview the three finalists, probably in the late spring or summer.
  • One of the finalists is be appointed by the Governor to be the Student Member.


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Mindsets and Meaningful Student Involvement

mindset is the way someone thinks about something. A growing body of research and literature has shown that students’ mindsets determine educational effectiveness, school culture and much more. Mindsets affect student voice and Meaningful Student Involvement as well.

A Meaningful Mindset

By focusing on the intersection between mindset and strategy, educators can help students learn a practical framework for identifying opportunities so they can proceed from promising ideas to practical actions in schools.

Whether seeking to start a school improvement campaign or infuse a meaningful mindset into their current classrooms, SoundOut offers products and services that allow students to learn directly from the firsthand experience of students who’ve experienced meaningful involvement throughout education while immersing them in school improvement activities that share knowledge, build skills, and launch students into student/adult partnerships that transform learning, teaching and leadership and own their own education.

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