SoundOut for Meaningful Student Involvement

Students as Researchers

Meaningful Student Involvement can take the form of engaging students as education researchers. Following is an introduction to these roles, as well as some details, stories and resources.

Middle school students in a SoundOut planning workshop in Washington State.
Middle school students in a SoundOut research workshop.


Meaningful Student Involvement engages students as researchers of the educational settings, practices, beliefs, and outcomes that they are subject to. When students research their schools, they can become critical consumers of the institutions that affect them most.

In participatory action research, or PAR, students participate in research design, execution, analysis, and writing about schools, environments, the teaching and learning process, and more.

Meaningful Student Involvement in education research turns the microphone around, making the student the examiner as well as the examined, and turns the feedback loop an engine for school change. This is essential for meaningfulness and for Student/Adult Partnerships.


Some areas in education for students as school researchers include:

  • Classrooms: Students can examine student, teacher, and district decision-makers’ interest in a given subject; student engagement in class; the efficacy of a particular way of teaching; factors that encourage learning and barriers that prevent learning; how to deal with noise in the classroom; what they would like more and less of in lessons; different ways of grouping students; peer support in learning; best ways of starting and ending the lessons; ways of catching up if students do not understand or if they miss work.
  • Administration: Students can analyze current student involvement practices in a school; district policies regarding the active engagement of current school partners such as nonprofits, parents, or businesses; or activities of designed to meet school improvement goals.
  • Culture: Students can compare student/administrator/teacher/parent perspectives of Meaningful Student Involvement; the effects of education about education on students; or student/teacher/administrator/parent attitudes towards student achievement, and much more.

As education researchers, students become critical thinkers and engaged participants in learning. The following examples focus on students engaged in research design, execution, analysis, and writing about schools, environments, the teaching and learning process, and more. Their work represents a critical step towards Meaningful Student Involvement.

One of the most important keys for Meaningful Student Involvement is the consistent support and willingness of adults to integrate students in all aspects of schooling, including teaching, learning, and decision-making. The role of Student/Adult Partnerships is central to involving student as education researchers.

Stories of Students as Researchers

The following examples illustrate how supportive learning environments can foster deep academic understanding, and therefore achievement, for all students.

 Considerations for Students as Researchers

With the recent national debate on scientific research in education, Participatory Action Research can provide educators with a refreshing approach to classroom research. PAR is designed to allow the perspective of students to constantly inform and help navigate the goals of schools, and better inform educators’ practices consequently. Perhaps this is better for schools than traditional forms of scientific research. By listening to the experiences, opinions, ideas and knowledge of students, PAR provides a responsive, urgent analysis of schools, as well as a validating avenue for Meaningful Student Involvement. Meaningful Student Involvement in education research can be the opportunity many students need to speak on behalf of their own learning and education as a whole.

Resources supporting Students as Researchers

This section features books or chapters in books that specifically address engaging students as researchers in schools.

  • Silenced Voices and Extraordinary Conversations: Re-Imagining Schools. Wies, L. & Fine, M. (2003). This book is a collection of papers that examines many social justice issues in public education. The first section is a collection of papers mostly from the 1980s that explores the active “silencing” that plagues students of color and low-income students in American schools. The second section is co-written with students, exploring their perspectives and the research these student researchers have conducted to provide powerful lessons for pre-service and experienced teachers.
  • Students as researchers: Creating classrooms that matter. Steinberg, S. & Kinchleloe, J. (1998). Bristol, PA: Falmer Press.
  • “Chapter 3: Research in the hands of students” Shaughnessy, J. & Kushman, J. in Restructuring Collaborative (1997) Look Who’s Talking Now: Student Views of Restructuring Schools. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.
  • Students Teaching, Teachers Learning. Branscombe, A., Goswami, D., Schwartz, J. (1992). Portsmouth, NH: Boynton/Cook. This book focuses on shared inquiry. The research projects detailed in these chapters show how classroom dynamics change and more active learning takes place for both teacher and student when collaboration is involved. The projects here range from elementary through graduate school in both rural and urban, public and private settings.


Spaces for Student Voice
These are the spaces where student voice should be engaged throughout education.


Related Articles


  • Fielding, M. & Bragg, S. (2003) Students as researchers: Making a difference. London: Pearson.
  • Groundwater-Smith, S. & Downes, T. (1999). Students: From informants to coresearchers. Paper presented at the Australian Association for Research in Education Annual Conference. Melbourne, November.
  • MacBeath, J., et al (2003). Consulting pupils: A toolkit for teachers. London: Pearson.
  • Roberts & Kay, Inc. (2002) Turn up the volume: The students speak toolkit (Third Edition). Lexington, KY: Partnership for Kentucky Schools.
  • Shaughnessy, J. & Kushman, J. (1997) “Chapter 3: Research in the hands of students,” in Restructuring Collaborative. Look Who’s Talking Now: Student Views of Restructuring Schools. Portland, OR: Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.
  • SooHoo, S. (1993). “Students as partners in research and restructuring schools.” The Educational Forum 57. Summer: 386-393.
  • Steinberg, S. & Kinchleloe, J. (1998). Students as researchers: Creating classrooms that matter. Bristol, PA: Falmer Press.



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