Sunday, August 6, 2023

Why Choice in Learning Matters

Do you like being told or directed to do something a certain way even though you know it doesn’t align with your innate strengths, interests, or learning preference? Pretty frustrating, right? It becomes even more of an obstacle to growth if you know how to demonstrate understanding but aren’t afforded different pathways to articulate a response. Choice matters when it comes to learning if that is the ultimate goal. The key is first to be open to giving up some control and understanding that, in many cases, there isn’t always one right way to demonstrate competency.

While educators can leverage many high-agency strategies, choice might be the most essential element of personalization because it allows students to take ownership of their own learning in so many different ways. When students have a say in what they learn, how they learn, and when they learn, they are more likely to be engaged and motivated. They are also more likely to see the relevance of their learning to their own lives and interests. Most importantly, when they are able to demonstrate understanding on their own terms, it builds invaluable confidence in their abilities.

I shared the following in Disruptive Thinking in Our Classrooms:

Choice is the great differentiator that helps meet the needs of all learners.

There are many ways to incorporate choice as a means to personalize. For example, students can choose their own learning:

  • Goals by involving them in setting individual goals, working with a group to set group goals, or choosing from a set of pre-determined goals.
  • Materials such as a variety of textbooks, articles, websites, technology, or other resources to assist with or demonstrate learning.
  • Activities such as hands-on activities, simulations, projects, or tasks in a choice board, playlist, or must-do/may-do list. During Tier 1 instruction, there are opportunities where students can choose to show their understanding using individual whiteboards or dry-erase surfaces (text, drawings) or technology (video, audio, drawing, text, images, etc.).
  • Pace by setting their own deadlines for completing assignments, projects, or when working on a personalized task.

In my work with principal Nicki Slaugh and her Quest Academy Junior High School staff, student choice as a high-agency strategy has begun to flourish. Below you can see a few examples. I also encourage you to check out these posts from Wells Elementary (TX), Snow Horse Elementary (UT), Juab School District (UT), and the Corinth School District (MS).

Giving students a choice in their learning can be a challenge, but it is worth the effort. While some might see it as more work or just another thing to do, once you find a schedule that works for you, choice can be integrated routinely, even if it is once a week. When students have a say in their learning, they are more likely to succeed. Here are some of the benefits of giving students choices in their learning:

  • Increased engagement and motivation
  • Improved understanding of the relevance of learning
  • Increased self-regulation and direction
  • Enhanced problem-solving skills
  • Increased creativity and innovation
  • Improved critical thinking skills

If you are interested in incorporating choice into your classroom, here are a few tips:

  • Start small. Try to do only a little at a time.
  • Be clear about your expectations. Let students know what they need to learn and how they will be assessed.
  • Provide students with a variety of choices. This will help ensure that everyone can find something they are interested in.
  • Be flexible. Be willing to adjust your plans based on student feedback.
  • Celebrate student choices. When students make good choices, be sure to let them know.
  • Share templates and ideas. Don't reinvent the wheel. Leverage your best resource, which is other educators invested in the work.  

Giving students choices in their learning can be a powerful way to improve their engagement, motivation, and understanding. If you are looking for ways to personalize your classroom, I encourage you to give choice a try. For an array of strategies, check out this post.

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