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Climbing the Ladder of Student Involvement


Sources: Youth Rights Network. <http://www.youthrights.net/> and Fletcher, A. (2005) Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Students as Partners in School Change. Seattle, WA: HumanLinks Foundation. <http://www.soundout.org>.

How to use this tool
The following graphic and explanation offers a typology of student participation. Educators and students can use this tool to analyze the everyday involvement of students by using it to identify how schools currently engage students in their classes, programs, and other leadership opportunities. The Ladder can also encourage individuals and schools to aspire to higher levels by presenting the possibilities of meaningful student involvement.

A caveat. In order to reach the top level of student involvement, mentoring and teaching leadership skills is important. For example, a student group’s actions at the beginning of the year may have more teacher involvement because students need to be trained in the skills of leadership, communication, and so on, in order to lead a successful project. This training and mentoring will help to ensure the success of student-led initiatives, where students feel capable and proud of their accomplishments.
http://www.soundout.org/images/ladder2006.gif

Exploring the Rungs

The Ladder of Student Involvement in School was adapted from the work of Roger Hart, an international expert on children’s participation. By mapping situations and activities that involve students on the rungs of the Ladder, schools can assess the character of student involvement. The higher the rung on the Ladder, the more meaningful the student involvement. This guide seeks to guide and encourage schools to reach higher rungs – that is, increase the quantity and improve the quality of student participation in schools.  Note that the rungs on this Ladder need not be traversed in a lock-step process that covers each level in turn.  Student involvement can go from the second rung directly to the sixth.  The Ladder is meant to represent possibilities, not predictions, for growth.

Increasing Amounts of Involvement
Involvement generally increases as students move along this continuum (8 being the highest):

8) Young people-initiated, shared decisions with adults. This is the top rung, the highest form of involvement. It happens when projects or programs are initiated by young people and decision-making is shared between young people and adults. These projects empower young people while at the same time enabling them to access and learn from the life experience and expertise of adults. This rung of the ladder can be embodied by youth/adult partnerships.

7) Young people-initiated and directed. This step is when young people initiate and direct a project or program. Adults are involved only in a supportive role. This rung of the ladder can be embodied by youth-led activism.

6) Adult-initiated, shared decisions with young people. Occurs when projects or programs are initiated by adults but the decision-making is shared with the young people. This rung of the ladder can be embodied by participatory action research.

5) Consulted and informed. Happens when young people give advice on projects or programs designed and run by adults. The young people are informed about how their input will be used and the outcomes of the decisions made by adults. This rung of the ladder can be embodied by youth advisory councils.

4) Assigned but informed. This is where young people are assigned a specific role and informed about how and why they are being involved. This rung of the ladder can be embodied by community youth boards.

3) Tokenism. When young people appear to be given a voice, but in fact have little or no choice about what they do or how they participate. This rung of the ladder reflects adultism.

2) Decoration. Happens when young people are used to help or "bolster" a cause in a relatively indirect way, although adults do not pretend that the cause is inspired by young people. This rung of the ladder reflects adultism.

1) Manipulation. Happens where adults use young people to support causes and pretend that the causes are inspired by young people. This rung of the ladder reflects adultism.

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