Illustration of a teacher and students in a classroom raising their hands

Every teacher wants their students to feel involved in the learning process. Knowing how to empower students is a valuable skill. Student empowerment is an approach to teaching that puts students at the center of the learning process, allowing them to make decisions about their education and giving them the confidence to achieve their goals.

Empowerment has positive results on student outcomes. A study published in 2016 found that “highly empowered students reported better grades, fewer behavioral incidents, increased extracurricular participation and higher educational aspirations than students who were less empowered.”

Teachers can use student empowerment activities to help learners feel engaged in the classroom. Engagement is a critical step in student empowerment, ensuring students have a say in their education. Whether it’s as simple as voicing if they liked a book or as intense as forming test questions for their peers, student engagement leads to feelings of empowerment.

Unfortunately, students report feeling less engaged, and therefore less empowered, as their education progresses. A Gallup poll found that engagement decreases as students advance through school. “We found that nearly eight in 10 elementary students who participated in the poll are engaged with school. By middle school, that falls to about six in 10 students. And by high school, only four in 10 students qualify as engaged,” Gallup reported.

Through student empowerment, teachers seek to engage students and create a learning process where students feel that their voices are heard and their opinions matter. Here are some ways to encourage student empowerment in your classroom.

6 Ways to Enhance Student Empowerment

Motivating students to take charge of their learning is an effective way to ensure they are empowered in the classroom. Here are several ways to enhance student empowerment.

1. Let Students Lead

One of the simplest ways to empower students is by encouraging leadership behaviors. Provide ample opportunity for students to take charge, whether that’s through group activities or explaining a concept they’ve grasped to the rest of the class.

How your classroom is organized can either facilitate or impede student leadership. The teacher positioned at the front of the room with students facing forward in rows can decrease engagement and make students feel that they’re watching instead of participating.

You can encourage student leadership by arranging desks into clusters and having one student be the leader of their group each week. The leader completes tasks like handing back papers and reporting group answers to the rest of the class during activities.

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2. Ask for Feedback

Students respond well to being asked for their opinion. Consider giving students a chance to provide feedback about assignments, routines and other elements of the day. You might ask questions like:

  • What was your favorite activity this week? What was your least favorite?
  • Do you have any questions about what we learned?
  • Do you prefer group work or completing projects on your own, and why?

Of course, empowering students goes beyond just asking for their opinions. To make students feel heard, you’ll want to incorporate their feedback into your lesson plans. For example, if most students prefer group work, adjust assignments to allow students to work together when possible.

It’s also a good idea to share your plans with students. Clearly tell them you are making decisions based on the feedback they gave. Seeing their thoughts and opinions lead to changes in the classroom can build trust and encourage them to speak up more.

3. Incorporate Self-Assessment

Giving students opportunities to assess their own learning helps them understand their own strengths and struggles. There are many ways to incorporate self-assessment into the classroom, such as allowing a few minutes at the end of the day or at the end of the week for students to reflect on what they learned through journal writing. In their journal, they can answer questions like:

  • What did I learn today? What interested me most?
  • What am I confused about? What outstanding questions do I have?
  • How can I apply the concepts that I learned today inside and outside of the classroom?

These self-assessments can provide valuable insight into students’ progress toward learning goals. You can use them to identify areas in which a student might need extra help, give resources to satisfy curiosity and have one-on-one conversations about their challenges.

4. Prioritize Real-World Application

The final journal question above opens an important one that all students must answer: What is the real-world application of my learning?

Many students feel that what they learn isn’t applicable to life outside the classroom. A study by The Princeton Review found that almost half of students said the main driver of getting good grades is getting into college. College is important, but when students don’t feel that what they learn can be applied outside of the classroom, it can create a hurdle for student empowerment.

Therefore, it’s important for teachers to connect the outside world to the classroom. This can come in many forms, including volunteering, incorporating community projects into units or sharing what is learned with outside communities who could benefit.  When students understand their education has value beyond tests and grades, they are more likely to engage with the material.

5. Encourage Students to Share Their Work

Sometimes, students can learn more from each other than when they just listen to their teacher. Share successful assignments with the rest of the class, and let students know ahead of time that you’ll be sharing examples of excellent work. This encourages them to put more time into the assignment and inspires confidence when the work they’ve done is chosen to be shared.

Alternatively, students discussing their work with their peers is an ideal way for them to grasp concepts. It gives them a chance to demonstrate their knowledge. You can set up discussion groups or allow groups of students to share what they’ve learned in front of the class. This idea of recounting what they’ve learned has marked effects. Researchers found that students who taught material to their peers outperformed those who did not.

6. Give Students a Choice

Incorporating student-directed elements into your lesson plans can give them a sense of ownership over the process. Something as simple as letting a student choose whether they want to write a book report or present the book to the class can help them engage better with concepts. They may also feel more confident when delivering what they’ve learned in a way they feel comfortable.

Here are more ways to incorporate choice:

  • Allow students to decide which book they want to read, within certain parameters like length and reading level.
  • Assign math problems from that week’s chapter, but let students choose which ones to complete within a preset minimum.
  • Provide testing options like multiple choice, essays or short answer questions to let students choose how to show what they’ve learned.

Giving students a say in how they learn shows them that you are willing to be flexible by empowering students to make decisions about their education.

Helping Students Succeed

These strategies can be used in any classroom, regardless of grade level or age. Partnering with students in leading the learning process shows them the important role they play in their own education and empowers them to want to learn more.

Incorporating student empowerment activities in the classroom is important, but these principles can improve learning outcomes at the school and district level as well. Teachers can take what they’ve learned about student empowerment and help other teachers and administrators apply it across the board. Earning a master’s degree in educational leadership can prepare you to make student empowerment a priority from the top-down.

Southeastern University’s online Master of Education in Educational Leadership helps educators develop valuable skills for the classroom while gaining experience for administration positions. Learn how to cultivate a thriving educational community that empowers students as you study in a flexible online learning environment designed for your success