Sunday, May 9, 2021

Empowerment Through Choice

Agency in the classroom is about giving students more control over their learning through greater autonomy and purpose. It is driven by many factors, one of which is choice.  The underlying premise is to move learners from a state of engagement to empowerment so that they exert more ownership over their learning.  Consider the following in the context of the professional world of work and employee success.

One of the simplest ways of employee empowerment is to give them the choice to approach their work. The underlying idea in this approach is that choice gives employees a sense of personal control, which can enhance their intrinsic motivation towards their work, resulting in higher morale, creativity and innovation, better performance, more significant organizational commitment, and lower turnover (Chua and Iyengar, 2006).

It is essential to understand just how critical choice can be when thinking about lesson design and pedagogy.  It might be one of the most uncomplicated components to integrate daily, whether you are face-to-face, remote, or hybrid. In Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms (chapter 5), I go into detail on strategies such as choice boards, must-do/may-do activities, and playlists while sharing an array of practical examples by grade level.  Each provides students with greater control over their learning while also freeing up the teacher for targeted instruction or support. Best of all, there are unlimited possibilities on how to create these activities.  

Case in point.  Recently I received a text message from Nathan Hall, the principal of Corinth Middle School, where I have been coaching for the past two years.  He shared with me an image during a walk-through of a choice activity that Betty Graham, one of his 8th-grade teachers, implemented with a great deal of success. I loved the image so much that I asked him to send me some more context. Below is what Betty sent as well as the choice activity that she created. 

During intercession, some of my students asked if I could bring back the board they could click on as they enjoyed it so much. They said it was easier to follow. So, after spring break, I worked on making a board for my students. They wanted the links so they would not have to click different places. With this board, they know what they have to do daily, weekly, and what to do when they are finished. One thing I do like about the board, I do not hear, "What do I do now?" They are working. Today I asked my first period what they liked about the board, and they said it was easy to follow, plus they love the links.

It has been incredible watching Betty, and her colleagues at Corinth Middle School grow over the past couple of years.  As I think about what she created, I can't help but reflect on all the many different choice activities I have seen in classrooms or those shared virtually.  Below are some tips to consider as you either develop, refine, or provide feedback on your own options.

  • Use pre-made templates
  • Organize tasks into squares or columns
  • Integrate a timer for pacing
  • Pull learners for targeted support
  • Make available through your learning management system (LMS)
  • Build in rigorous and relevant options
  • Monitor regularly to ensure on-task behavior.
  • Integrate technology
  • Use adaptative learning tools for differentiation 
  • Create a scaffolded formative assessment 

Choice is the great differentiator that helps to meet the needs of ALL learners. Don't think that you need to always utilize the strategies discussed in this post.  It can be as simple as choosing the right tool for a task, topic to write a research paper about, or how to create a product to demonstrate learning.  The key is to always look for opportunities to include choice, as well as voice, during each lesson.  

Chua, Roy Y.J., and S Iyengar. "Empowerment through Choice? A Critical Analysis of the Effects of Choice in Organizations." Research in Organizational Behavior 27 (2006): 41–79.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Student Success Relies on Future-Proofing Learning

Imagine if we all had a crystal ball? It sure would have come in handy prior to the pandemic. What if I told you that we might have actually had one in the form of a retro animated series that aired over fifty years ago that predicted some modern technological innovations? Below is how I opened Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms:

One of my favorite shows as a kid was The Jetsons. Even though it only aired for one season in the 1960s, I got my fill thanks to non-stop reruns throughout my childhood. For those who have not seen the show, it focuses on a futuristic family residing in Orbit City, whose architecture looks like it was invented by Google with all the living residences and businesses raised on adjustable col­umns high above the ground. The entire series revolved around the family’s life one hundred years into the future assisted by labor-saving technologies that often broke down in humorous ways. 
The Jetsons provided us with a glimpse into what society could look like one day and inspired people young and old to dream about the future. Some of the show’s bold predictions actually came true, includ­ing video conferencing, robots, smartwatches, drones, jetpacks, holo­grams, and automated homes. Other inventions are within our grasp such as flying cars, driverless vehicles, and computers so powerful they have the operating capacity of the human brain.  Things are moving fast in our world. In the words of the wise Ferris Bueller, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while you could miss it.” This is spot-on advice to keep in mind as we enter further into our own Jetsons moment.

Life sure does move fast. Even before the pandemic, it was difficult, if not near impossible, to keep up with all the exponential change as a result of the 4th Industrial Revolution. The “Jetsons moment” has become engrained in our lives no matter where we live or work. In a short period of time, we have seen innovative companies such as Uber, Lyft, Vrbo, DoorDash, and Robinhood disrupt many traditional service areas.  While there might be a consistent focus on disruption now, the fact remains that it is not new and has been impacting the world since the beginning of time.  A ride through Epcot’s Spaceship Earth shows how papyrus paper, the printing press, television, and the first home computer not only disrupted but revolutionized the world.  

Exponential change is the new normal. To adequately prepare students, the key is to future-proof learning, so they are always ready for whatever faces them. While this might seem like a stretch or even impossible, I assure you it’s not. Here is how to begin:

  • Develop higher-order thinking through scaffolded questions and tasks
  • Authentic application of knowledge and concepts in connection with real-world problems.
  • Purposeful use of tech-driven by the learner
  • Equity and cognitive flexibility through personalization
  • Learning environments that reflect current (and future) contexts


Creating a classroom culture that empowers students to replace conventional ideas with innovative solutions to authentic problems can lead to prosperity in a bold new world. Disruption is here to stay, thus the need to future-proof learning. Disruptive thinking is the way to get there. To learn more, get your copy of my new book on Amazon.