How much ‘choice’ and ‘voice’ are students given in their lessons?

Publication Details

This paper describes the level of choice (autonomy) and voice (expression) students are given in their lessons and how these relate to academic and non-academic outcomes. Using data from international research studies, international comparisons can give insight into New Zealand’s relative strengths and weaknesses in this area.

Author(s): Emma Medina [Evidence, Data and Knowledge: Ministry of Education]

Date Published: August 2019


These findings will be of interest to education professionals as well as providers of initial teacher education and professional development.

Key Findings

  • Many Year 5 students have some level of ‘choice’ in their lessons, from choosing what they get to read to being able to decide their own problem-solving methods and science experiments. Year 9 students experience choice less often.
  • Similarly, most Year 5 students have ‘voice’ (they are able to express themselves) in every or almost every lesson across reading, maths and science. Year 9 students have fewer opportunities to express their ideas but approximately 8 out of 10 agree that their teacher listens to what they have to say.
  • According to PISA data, 15-year-old students are given more choice in their science classes (specifically, they are allowed to design their own experiments) in poorer disciplinary climates and lower decile schools, while students are given more voice (they have opportunities to explain their ideas) in classrooms with more positive disciplinary climates.
  • In addition to achieving higher reading scores in PIRLS, Year 5 students who are given a choice of what they read every day or almost every day also report greater confidence, engagement and enjoyment of reading compared with students who are given a choice less often.
  • In contrast, for 15-year-olds, choice (being allowed to design their own experiments) is associated with lower science scores in PISA, and lower motivation and epistemic beliefs, even after accounting for student and school socioeconomic characteristics. This implies that choice at the secondary level may be used as a technique with struggling or less motivated students.
  • 15-year-old students who are given voice (opportunities to explain their ideas) do not score significantly differently in science but do have greater enjoyment of and interest in science, sense of belonging, efficacy, epistemic beliefs, and motivation, and lower schoolwork-related anxiety.

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