Student Choice in the Classroom

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As time marches forward in education, we are finding that students are becoming micromanaged to a fault. Whereas teachers have the responsibility of making sure that their students learn the specific curriculum and content material, it is creating a generation of students who don’t know how to take initiative and find out the answers to questions without specific directions to follow.

Most of our students’ day-to-day activities are structured and controlled by others. From a psychological point of view this makes them feel powerless. As teachers we should turn this on its head and instead conduct our classes in a way that makes our students feel empowered.

The number one way to do this is by establishing student choice in the classroom to demonstrate learning.

Why Student Choice?

Student choice allows for personalization of content and lessons but still is directly constructed by the teacher in knowing what the objectives and outcomes of that piece of curriculum. The key idea before you move into a fully choice-based classroom is to know what makes your students “tick”.

Knowing their learning styles, personalities, and even their interests allow them to build choice activities that will appeal to each student in your classroom. You may have one student that loves art projects, but another one that would much rather write about a topic. Another student may love video, while the next prefers explaining verbally.

In giving students choice, you create assignments where they all have the exact same learning outcomes but appeal to each individual student in your class. This is differentiation at its finest.

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The Benefits of Student Choice

When students are given this choice, their learning becomes much more authentic. Again, they are all learning the same things and demonstrating the same objectives, but in different ways.

If nothing else, it makes grading so much more entertaining when you have a variety of different assignments coming back at you and you are not grading the same monotonous assignment repeatedly.

While the standards are the same and the exact same elements of learning need to be displayed, it will come forth in ways that really allow the students to flourish with their own unique styles.

This also helps encourage ownership on behalf of the students. They are not just going through the motions of an assignment; they are developing something that they, believe it or not, become passionate about. A student who never wants to do anything in class may have a complete turnaround if they are able to demonstrate something on his or her own terms.

Their choices may not always be perfect but establishing this culture in the classroom allows for self-correction and improvement.

How to Implement Student Choice

It is always good to start off in a way that allows the students to ease into having such autonomy with their learning. It may start off as simple as giving them the option to complete an assignment by choosing option a or option B. You may have a topic that you need to cover, but you allow each student to find their own article to help explain what that topic is about. You can then bring all the students together, group them, etc. to work with all this information.

As time moves forward, you can move into choice boards, menus, or other self-directed opportunities to complete assessments.

Keep in mind, this is not going to go smoothly right away. Again, this is a generation of students that had been micromanaged most of their educational careers.

Giving them free rein immediately will not go well for any party involved.

It will take some modeling, consistency, and encouragement but over time you will see your students engage more and more and come to expect to be able to demonstrate their learning in a variety of different ways that appeal to them.

A fantastic study was completed in 2008 by Courtney Kosky and Reagan Curtis titled, “An Action Research Exploration Integrating Student Choice and Arts Activities in a Sixth Grade Social Studies Classroom“. They focused on giving students choice in their assignments and activities in the classroom to see if there was any benefit to teaching “outside of the box”.

Their findings were fantastic. As stated:

Offering students choice and mobility in classroom activities was a great way to get students involved in the leaming process. Why should students have to sit and listen all day? Why not give them the opportunities they deserve to be active participants in their own learning? Students were much more involved in activities that were different from what they saw as “regular classroom activities.” Just because the students were having fon in their leaming, did not mean that the activities were not meaningful. More often than not, students actually took more away from hands-on activities that got them up out of their seats and where discussion was used as opposed to a lecture format.

Think about this in your own life. We all have things that we enjoy, and we also have things that we do not. Given the opportunity, we would certainly want to do something that we enjoy.

In a time where we are doing everything we can think of to keep our students engaged, why shouldn’t we think outside the box a bit?

I am not saying that we need to make the children think that they will never have to do something that they do not care for, but it is our job to make sure that they master certain concepts. The rest will fall into place naturally.

Giving them a choice and getting them excited about the material is a phenomenal way to put them on the road to mastery and not just compliance.

We must remember that our students are just young human beings. They had the same needs, wants, and concerns that adults do. As the grownups in the room, we need to make sure we are teaching them how to propel themselves forward in the ways that will suit them best. Giving them choice in the classroom is a great first step in doing so.

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