Choice, Voice and Collaboration

The What

Student voice is a student-centered strategy that empowers students to contribute their perspectives based on knowledge, interests, aspirations, and cultural backgrounds, to inform educational experiences, structures, and policies.

A voice-centered strategy for curriculum and learning design provides opportunities for:

Students belonging to Roosevelt High's College & Career Committee, including Stephanie Matsuda and Anna Gan, pictured, hosted a fair on campus in which the whole school would spend a day to learn about post-secondary opportunities. The event included representatives from nearly 40 local colleges and organizations, and nearly 100 speakers who provided career insights and advice.
Students belonging to Roosevelt High's College & Career Committee, including Stephanie Matsuda and Anna Gan, wanted to host a fair on campus in which the whole school would participate. The event included representatives from nearly 40 local colleges and organizations, and nearly 100 speakers who provided career insights and advice. Read the story.

Designing opportunities for students to have voice, choice and collaboration requires shared beliefs and values as well as a trusting relationship between and among administrators, teachers and students.  

Student voice, choice and collaboration are based on a school’s beliefs and values that a student-centered school design promotes motivation, engagement and equity.  This is grounded in the belief that students should have a voice in pursuing their interests based on their learning needs and should be partners in driving the educational programs. This allows them to make choices in their learning journey that prepares them for their future aspirations. 

Schools are empowered to design the optimal learning environments that support students to experience authentic opportunities that allow them to own, apply and drive their learning while supporting their social-emotional wellness and sense of belonging.  These experiences will prepare them for college, career and community life once they graduate from high school. 

The Why

Research has shown that when students have a voice and choice in their learning, they feel they are being heard, valued and respected.  This gives them a sense of purpose, feelings of self-worth and increases engagement in school (see Quaglia Institute’s School Voice Report).  Research has also shown that increasing student voice in the classroom has a positive impact on social-emotional learning, especially self-efficacy and social awareness (Smyth, 2006). 

The ability to communicate and collaborate is essential as students use their voice to navigate their vision of personally relevant learning, goal setting, authentic experiences and a more self-directed role in their educational experiences and life plans. 

Integrating voice, choice and collaboration can influence how learning experiences are organized and designed.  This design impacts both mastery of the content taught and application of knowledge and skills. Merging a rigorous academic standards-based curriculum with real-world, experiential learning based on voice, choice and collaboration provides the relevant application of knowledge and skills students need for the future. 

The How

There are various approaches schools can take when designing curriculum to support voice, choice and collaboration.  

Reform Movements in Content Standards

The Hawai‘i Department of Education’s standards (both locally designed and nationally adopted) provide consistent expectations across the state, while allowing curricula and instructional design to invite student voice and choice.  

Through collaboration, teachers are empowered to design learning that takes into account not only the knowledge of their content but their understanding of the students and communities that they serve.  This allows students to learn while being immersed in their local heritage, cultures and landscapes unique to Hawai’i. 

Student-Centered Instructional Approaches

Inherent in the design and sequencing of instructional approaches are opportunities for students to collaborate with their peers, exercise their voice and make purposeful decisions as they address real-world issues or questions. Student-centered design can include inquiry-based instructional approaches as well as co-construction of criteria and peer feedback. 

Curriculum Integration Approaches

Student-centered instructional approaches can be purposefully used to support more integrated approaches to curriculum implementation, allowing students to construct meaningful connections between disciplinary concepts, draw on a wide range of cross-disciplinary skills and apply knowledge from different disciplines to a common theme in collaborative environments.

Understanding by Design (UbD)

UbD is a framework that utilizes the backward design process to create learning opportunities that help develop and deepen students’ understanding. 

Personalized Learning

An approach to learning and instruction that is designed around individual learner readiness, strengths, needs and interests.

Choice-based texts and learning products

Students are given a topic of study and given the opportunity to select texts to read as their method of demonstrating their learning through their choice of work product.

Applied Learning

Empowers and motivates students by connecting academic content to meaningful real-world contexts.  

Student voice resources

Hawai‘i examples


Career and Technical Education (CTE) Performance Based Assessments (PBAs) exemplify opportunities for students in choice, voice and collaboration in individualized learning and evidence of their proficiency in technical skills and knowledge.  The three PBA options described in the PBA Overview include, 1) Design Challenge; 2) Skills Challenge, and 3) Work-based learning demonstration/Internship. Students work with their teachers and a client, industry, or employer partner to agree upon expectations, standards, and products or demonstrations as evidence of proficiency.

CTE Pathways facilitate choice and voice by offering a wide range of pathways that students can select based on interest and prior experience. In the video, watch how Waipahu High has structured this.


A weekly student news show with a statewide network of schools that allows students to draw on their community’s voice to share information and meaningful stories.  

Culture-Based Learning

Roosevelt High partners with Kamehameha Schools to co-design and implement Hawaiʻi based curriculum and HĀ-ful (Nā Hopena Aʻo) environments that engage students through project-based learning while embedding opportunities for student voice and collaboration.  Visit

Applied Learning

KETC3LIVE – Applied Learning at Kainalu Elementary School 

Kainalu Elementary School creates and broadcasts a daily news program-  KETC3LIVE. This news program is an example of applied learning at the elementary school level.  Students build read-world life and journalism skills. Students identify story ideas, communicate with the entire school community, and build the technical skills associated with broadcasting a daily news program. Students also strengthen their ability to work collaboratively and joyfully. Students are motivated and empowered by the opportunity to leverage their skills to provide a service to their school community. KETC3LIVE thrives because of the tireless dedication of Kainalu’s staff and administration. 

Applied Learning- Marine Science Learning Center Waianae HS 

Waianae High School Marine Science Learning center is one of 29 learning centers in Hawaii’s public high schools.  Learning Centers are organized around single themes or focus areas. The Marine Science Learning learning center has an outdoor aquaculture facility that serves as the foundation for hands-on learning experiences that teach students sustainability, teamwork, entrepreneurship, and personal responsibly. Juniors and seniors come together to receive a 2-year integrated English/Science learning experience.  The learning center students apply their marine science classroom learning immediately in their aquaculture facility.  They further personalize and apply this learning through senior projects that address an aspect of marine science learning they wish to explore in-depth.  The Learning Center focuses on the importance of relationships and builds such a tight-knit community through retreats and classroom culture that the students often refer to their teacher and marine science coordinator 

ReferencesSmyth, J. (2006). When Students have power. International Journal of Leadership in Education, 9(4), 285-298..