10 Ways To Engage Student Voice

Do you reflect upon your classroom and consistently think, is the learning deep enough? Have I provided enough opportunities to allow my students to transfer their learning?  All the work we do as teachers is for nothing if students fail to appropriately transfer their learning.  John Hattie, Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey all clearly outline that one of their concerns is that students transfer without detecting similarities and differences, therefore the transfer does not work.

As an educator, I am extremely passionate about students moving through the learning currents of surface to deep to transfer.  Student leadership provides a lens for this and within this blog today, I would like to focus on how we can maximise the opportunities to transfer leadership learning.

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Picture: Peter Dewitt article

All students need surface level learning but it is critical to understand that the ‘what and when’ are equally important when it comes to instruction in all learning currents.

effective student leadership


“Surface learning does not mean superficial learning. Rather, surface learning is a time when students initially are exposed to concepts, skills, and strategies. Surface learning is critical because it provides a foundation on which to build as students are asked to think more deeply.” – Hattie, Fisher and Frey (Visible Learning for Mathematics, 2017)

To support student’s progress with their leadership learning in Grade 6 at Irymple South Primary School we provide multiple opportunities to allow surface, deep and transfer of learning to occur.  Working through a number of elements of the Leaders of Evolution program, I would like to share how we have had success:

  • Explicit Instruction

Direct teaching of the Leaders of Evolution Curriculum, focusing on the 4 C’s (Competence, Confidence, Character and Connectedness) to help develop the effective student leader.

As a teacher we listen to guest speakers, watch TED talks and learn from our colleagues.  The Hub provides the surface level learning for students to begin their journey like us, learning about a variety of key leadership aspects from various angles.

  • Identifying Goals

Students use the Leaders of Evolution 4 C’s survey to determine areas of strength and improvement.  This helps them define a focus for personal growth.

  • Mentor Feedback

All students at Irymple South connect with a mentor.  The mentor provides invaluable feedback structured to support the development of each student’s personal learning goal.

  • Peer Feedback at your own school

We connect with our peers on a consistent basis to provide ongoing feedback, in relation to the Leaders of Evolution success criteria matrix.

  • Peer Feedback from other schools

We are currently connected with a school in London, Ark Greenwich Free School. Our students are provided with the opportunity to share their leadership learning, using co-created criteria to further develop their surface learning.

effective student leadership


“We define deep learning as a period when students consolidate their understanding and apply and extend some surface learning knowledge to support deeper conceptual understanding . . . We think of this as a ‘sweet spot’ that will often take up more instructional time, but can be accomplished only when students have the requisite knowledge to go deeper.” – Hattie, Fisher and Frey (Visible Learning for Mathematics, 2017)

  • Use of metacognitive strategies
    Metacognitive strategies such as self-reflection and self-regulation are imperative. We integrate our school based visible learning model in with the 4 C’s, providing a clear framework to help the students add depth in each area.
  • Class discussions

These are structured to support the students in a formative way to improve communication skills by voicing opinions and thoughts.

  • Use of success criteria
    The success criteria matrix developed by Leaders of Evolution provides students with direction and clarity. It allows us all to speak a common language and have a common understanding.  The continuum empowers and embraces student voice, agency and leadership.
  • Peer and Mentor feedback

This is mentioned in surface, deep and transfer. During the deep stage of learning, students use peer and mentor feedback to consolidate their understanding and then apply and extend to support deeper conceptual thinking.

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“Transfer learning [is] the point at which students take their consolidated knowledge and skills and apply what they know to new scenarios and different contexts. It is also a time when students are able to think metacognitively, reflecting on their own learning and understanding.” – Hattie, Fisher and Frey (Visible Learning for Mathematics, 2017)

The LoE Learning Framework’s 4 C’s allows us to have a common language and common understanding, allowing the students to have the opportunities to take ownership.  The teacher’s role significantly reduces here and scenarios and contexts allow students to apply, reflect and learn in authentic situations.

  • Group community projects

All students are involved in a group community action project, where they develop an action plan, work collaboratively, co-create criteria for success, reflect during and after and deliver the project. We have seen major success with our projects, contributing to a vast array of outcomes for the local, broader and global community.

  • Peer and Mentor feedback

As stated above, this is highlighted across all learning currents.  Students are continuously using feedback to analyse their group community projects and reflecting on that feedback to be more effective.  We therefore see students transfer their learning and become more self-aware of their strengths and the areas they can improve.  This is both reflected in personal growth and collaborative situations.

  • Authentic situations to apply skills and strategies

Like the group community projects, we recognise when authentic situations arise to either apply our skills and strategies or reflect upon the experiences of this application.   Developing agency is a critical focus at our school and voice plays a major part to support that – which we see as more about action as opposed to words.

The shining light for me as an educator every year is witnessing first-hand the improvements that each child makes.  I can confidently and clearly discuss all students and their leadership growth, not only because I am passionate about it, but because we have the framework, resources and tools to support it.

school leadership training

Whether schools are starting out the journey with student leadership or are well down the track, we must recognise that everyone’s journey is different.  I recently undertook a Prep Tour with a family who were visiting their 6thschool in the area.  The visiting parents clearly stated that all the schools were ‘so’ different.  I liken this to our Student Leadership program.  Each year we have a new cohort of Grade 6 students enter the Leadership program and they are completely different from the previous group.  It is important to acknowledge this.

My final word is to use an improvement cycle to support you.  Having the cycle embedded keeps you focused on your ‘why’! The Victorian Department of Education’s FISO Improvement Cycle is what we use and opens up respectful and challenging discussions on many areas of student leadership.

Following on from ISPS Assistant Principal Ben Milsom’s thought provoking blog on transferring student leadership into the school context comes this resource for educators. Ben has identified his top ten tips on how to engage student voice in your student leadership program.

These tips have proven to be successful in the programs Ben has led and co-designed with teachers and students over the years. With a little finesse these strategies can easily be applied into your context at your school community for immediate results.

We have found student voice to play an integral role in supporting students to show transfer in their learning.  For student voice to be heard, find the balance of listening and speaking, teacher responsibility, student responsibility and determining importance with urgency.  Ultimately, we want students to become the catalyst for continued learning, whether we as teachers are present or not.

Thank you for reading, please click below to download your free copy of 10 Ways to Engage Student Voice in Your Leadership Program download.


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Leaders of Evolution are passionate about education. We expertly design and deliver technology enhanced e-learning courses focused on leadership, social and emotional learning, career readiness and sports coaching for students, teachers, athletes, coaches and the wider community.

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Ben Milsom

With close to 20 years experience in education, Ben has held roles as a primary school teacher and leader at Kilmore Primary School, Mildura Primary School and is currently Assistant Principal at Irymple South Primary School. Ben is passionate about developing self-regulated learners (adults and students) and supporting them through learning cycles to achieve success. Ben is married to Laura, has four children aged between 8 - 16 and has held numerous leadership in community organisations over the last 15 years.


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