Why choice matters to student learning

The Academic Benefits of Student Choice

I just read this article in Mind Shift and a lot of the content was familiar to me. It makes sense to give your students a voice in the classroom. Let’s face it, you want to make decisions concerning your own work. And yes, teachers have a curriculum to cover, or is it the other way around? Students have a curriculum they need to know? Either way, here is a thought, wouldn’t you be more inclined to make a greater effort if you could choose the why, how and when? It seems easy enough in theory, but as a teacher and school-leader I know it is not that easy. It might be the struggle of organizing, finding the time and the structure. But if you get there it might be worth the struggle. Here is an idea; go through the 6 points below with your students. And then have the conversation. You might be surprised. And I would love to hear about it, so please share! Here are my highlights. Excerpted from “Just Ask Us: Kids Speak Out on Student Engagement” by Heather Wolpert-Gawron. The following is from the chapter “Give Us Choices.

Here are some areas where teachers can give students choices:

1. People to Work With. Give students the chance to choose whether to work independently or with another student(s).

2. Resources to Use. Guide students in how to research, but don’t point them to every possible resource

3. Driving Questions. In inquiry-based learning, students tend to develop their own questions that require research in order to form a solution.

4. Ways to Show Their Knowledge. As Marzano said above, there are many ways in which a student can show what they know about the content area.

5. Which Rubric to Be Scored On. Some teachers have taken to developing different rubrics that reflect different levels of understanding. In other words, if students feel they are ready, they can attach the advanced rubric to their essay or if they feel they aren’t quite ready for that challenge, they can be assessed using a more standard or grade-level rubric.

6. What They Need to Work on to Improve/Learning Goals. And speaking of setting goals, allow students to set their own goals and objectives. Source: Mindshift

Student choice is listed as one of the most engaging strategies a teacher can allow in the classroom. Want to know how to engage students, enthuse them, and bring out their best effort? Want ways to differentiate organically? Give them a voice in their decisions. In a society that barely listens to each other, listen to our students. In a system that can be a flood of top down, let your classroom be one that allows voices to trickle up. We have, in our very classrooms, the brains that will solve the problems of tomorrow, but to give them training means we have to give their neurons a chance to solve the problems of today.

In fact, research proves that student choice increases both engagement and motivation for tween, teens, and in fact, all age levels. According to Robert Marzano, “When given choice by teachers, students perceive classroom activities as more important. Choice in the classroom has also been linked to increases in student effort, task performance, and subsequent learning” (Marzano Research, n.d.). Marzano goes on to report that granting students choice directly aligns with student engagement. He encourages teachers to give choice in the following:

1. Tasks to perform
2. Ways to report
3. Establishing their own learning goals

This seems to promote more ownership in their learning and outcomes. Marzano further recommends the following:

To provide a choice of task to students, a teacher can provide multiple task options on an assessment and ask students to respond to the one that interests them most. Similarly, a teacher can provide students with the option to choose their own reporting format. The two most common reporting formats are written and oral reports. . . . However, students may also choose to present information through debates, video reports, demonstrations, or dramatic presentations. To give students a particularly powerful choice, a teacher can ask students to create their own learning goals. When giving students the option to design their own learning goals, a teacher should hold students accountable for both their self-identified learning goal as well as teacher-identified learning goals for that unit.




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