So I have heard about it and read about it for years: Student Choice. The positives are clear to everyone: Students like having choices and choice often leads to student engagement. The negatives are also clear: It’s a really hard road to get there. However, I am making a commitment to travel down that road and hope you will join me for the ride.
I know, cliche you say! However, you really can find little ways to give students choice throughout the day. It can be as simple as letting students choose the order of task completion. Baby steps down the road…
Benefits: Learning to manage time, priortizing, and learning about preferences
Prepare for Choice
Instead of planning out task after task and scheduling away the day, find opportunities where you can give choices. I have started doing this with some of my ELA centers. My sight word center is basically a menu. After I have modeled all the choices and students have tried them all, I just give them materials and set them free! They choose the ones they enjoy most to practice their words each week. I offer hands on and creative tasks to engage many different learners. There was more work at the front end, but then it became easier to manage. Don’t want to do all the prep work, but want to try? My sight word center is available here.
Benefits: Save yourself prep time, student engagement
Get Others on Board
Don’t do it alone! Having colleagues to bounce ideas off each other is a great way to find success. My coteacher and I are going to try our hand at student choice with seating this year. We are currently setting up my classroom with many options for student work spaces. (I am trying not to turn around and head back up the road as I send away chairs, tables, and bookshelves that I may never get back.) I will post more on this adventure, but the plan is to give students a choice in their work space. This one is big for me (Where do their nametags go??), but I am so excited! The support from other teachers (and administration) is going to be huge in making this a success!
Benefits: Flexibility (students and teachers), Collaboration
We often struggle with choice because we have so many “have-to-dos” in education.
Even as a teacher, I feel that I often lack choice. I shudder whenever another program or curriculum gets sent my way. However, this feeling reminds me that I like choice too. Being told what to do is not engaging for me as a teacher. I know flexibility will differ depending on your school and your administration, but do as much as you can with what you are given. Build in choice whenever you have the opportunity. Do the “have-to-dos”, but set aside any time you have left for choice. Since I am always up for a challenge, I am hoping to try my hand at a little “Genius Hour” this year. Basically I will be setting aside time for students to have some choice in what they learn.
Benefits: Flexibility (for all), engagement
A side note…
Choice may not be best for every student. I was talking to a colleague today about seeing things from different student perspectives. I had a student last year (we can call her Jane), who HATES making choices. Jane thrives when she knows what to expect and what to do. Flexible seating would likely have given her serious anxiety. If I have a Jane this year, I would talk to her and find out what seating she liked best and assign her a seat. Jane would need support to choose a genius hour project and maybe a partner. Be ready to put yourselves in other students’ shoes in all situations and continue being flexible!
Make student choice a priority this year and enjoy the benefits. Share your ideas and adventures and I will continue to share mine! Connect with me on social media to join me for the ride!