Do we have to do this?’ A question often heard in the classroom. If you want to avoid such questions and you want your students to do stuff, give them options.
All humans like and want to feel in control of their own behaviour, make their own choices and act independently. We as teachers want our students to be engaged, to learn and succeed and they need to feel motivated to do it. If the control in the classroom is always in our hands, if we make all the choices and if our students are very dependent on us they won’t be motivated to learn and succeed. Creating a sense of choice for our students can be groundbreaking in terms of engagement, active learning, collaboration, creativity and success. Moreover, it helps teachers to differentiate, to create learning experiences that will reach students of varying abilities and levels.
Choice means freedom. If students feel that they are free to choose what and how they will learn they will be happy and willing to learn because they get to choose what suits them and what is best for them. They feel they have some control over their work, their ability to make choices on their own is developed, their sense of autonomy is fueled and their intrinsic motivation is increased . However, giving students the power to choose shouldn’t be done in an open-ended and undefined way. When giving them options to choose from there are some important things to keep in mind- the number of choices should be limited, our options need to cater for different learning styles and we should always think about learning outcomes when creating options for our students.
How can teachers promote choice in the classroom? There is a variety of ways, tools and methods to do this. Let your students choose the topics they will work on, let them choose how they will demonstrate their knowledge, sources they will use, books they will read, homework they do. The list goes on. However, one of my favourite activities that allows students to choose the tasks they want to do and how to do them is a choice board. The name tells it- a board that offers a variety of choices. I usually create my choice boards in digital form using different web tools (e.g. Genially, Google Docs, Google Slides). They are set up in a grid, usually with 6 or 9 squares. Each square represents one task and focuses on a different standard. Sometimes students choose three tasks randomly, sometimes they choose items in a specific way (3 tasks horizontally or vertically). Each task is usually awarded a number of points. The longer, more difficult tasks are given more points than the shorter, easier tasks. Sometimes students can choose to do the tasks individually or in pairs. It is up to you and what you want to achieve, whether you want students to practice a skill or maybe demonstrate understanding or learning.
The example below is a digital choice board I created using Genially ( https://view.genial.ly/5de3f37a155e0a0f635e762a ). It is called Christmas challenge and was created as an interactive picture. Each ornament on the Christmas tree presents one challenge and students choose which tasks they want to complete. By clicking on each ornament a different task opens- students have to present one Christmas tradition from their country in a video, write a Christmas acrostic poem using a template, sing a Christmas carol and record it using Vocaroo, write a ‘Thank you’ letter to Santa etc. Sometimes I suggest tools that they could use for a certain activity and sometimes it is up to them.
Another Genially choice board Is an environmental choice board (https://view.genial.ly/5dd6f73f22fd8d0f36a01d3c ). Students haVE to choose three activities in a row – they choose which activities appeal to their interests and what level of complexity is suitable for them. They can create a short video promoting the need of recycling, describe and compare pictures, calculate their carbon footprint, list environmental problems and think about solutions for them etc.
I often let my students choose the books they will read- I provide them with a list of books in English, they choose one book per term and use the following choice board to demonstrate understanding ( https://view.genial.ly/5e879269d5aa510e32b61557 ). They usually choose three tasks from this choice board. Some of the tasks included are to create a comic strip illustrating one of the major events from the book, to choose one character from the book and create a one pager about them or to create a digital timeline of the major events from the book.
If you want to save time you can use ready-made templates available on the Internet, e.g. https://slidesmania.com/?s=choice+board .
Giving choice to students is a great way to differentiate, to discover students’ interests, aspirations and talents. It can boost student engagement and motivation and help them meet their learning needs, but always remember that it is very important to structure these activities carefully so that they support student engagement and learning.