Why Choice Matters
As adults, we enjoy the days where we get to choose how we spend our time. We chose a career we were interested in. We chose friends who make us happy. We chose hobbies that challenge and interest us. Whether it is photography, reading, or fishing… the best part about adult life is the choice.
Realistically, though, there are times where we do not have a choice in how we spend our time. We may have to attend a meeting we do not want to, have a conversation we would like to avoid, or complete a project that does not interest us.
Sometimes we have to do things we do not want to. This is part of life.
However, we are obviously more engaged in things that we CHOOSE to do, rather than things we have to do.
So often students walk into our schools and are given limited choices as to what they do with their time. It is not surprising that they are often disengaged.
Our goal as teachers is to engage students in learning. It only makes sense that allowing students choice in that learning would increase engagement in our classrooms.
This is not to say that students should get to choose whether or not they learn… but rather that by allowing them some choice in the classroom, they will be more engaged in what you want them to know and learn.
There is tons of research supporting student choice in the classroom, but my intent is not to regurgitate it for you. It is one Google search away if you are still doubting the impact of student choice in the classroom.
Instead, I want to show you some ways that I have successfully integrated student choice in my language arts classroom.
How I Make It Work
I begin by deciding what it is that I really want students to know or to be able to do. Then I think, how many different ways could they show me this skill or this knowledge?
CHOICE IN READING
In 12th grade Language Arts, we use a unit on novels to cover varying reading and writing skills. Students are given a choice (between 6-8 predetermined novels) in what they read to practice and demonstrate these skills. Students then work in teams (of other students reading the same book) to discuss and practice these skills. As students have chosen the reading that most interests them, the conversations that occur in these teams are richer and more meaningful.
CHOICE IN TOPIC
In another unit, students do a variety of research projects. These projects may include researching other countries, current events, debateable issues, etc. I use knowledge about my students’ interests and hobbies to suggest 5-10 varying topics for these different projects and allow students an opportunity to choose which topic they want to pursue.
CHOICE IN PROJECT
Whether students are studying a novel, a research topic, or a current event, whenever possible I allow multiple options of “projects” for students to demonstrate their understanding. This can be different presentation platforms, video or audio recording, journalism type writing, information in an infographic, an academic paper, etc.
- Too much choice can be tough for students so it is a good idea to have “options” for them rather than being too vague or broad with your activity.
- You might also consider having “specific ideas” for students who you know are likely to struggle with the skill or may be overwhelmed by the choice. Gravitate towards these students during the “choosing” and guide them in a direction that will be most beneficial to them.
- Remember to keep yourself and students focused on what it is you want them to learn. Allowing student choice can sometimes create products that lose sight of the main focus of the lesson.
Students in my classroom are always more engaged when they have the opportunity to choose.
Read more about student choice:
- 5 Ways to Give Your Students More Voice and Choice
- 7 Ways to Hack Your Classroom to Include Student Choice
- Let it go: Giving Students Choices
Keep the conversation going…
- Do you find that giving students choice in the classroom promotes student engagement?
- What opportunities do you give students for choice in their learning?
- What problems are there with providing students choice in the classroom?
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