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.

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