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Allowing Student Choice in the Learning Process


Between planning and instruction, teachers make an insane amount of decisions each day. The sheer number of minute-by-minute choices we must make cannot be appreciated by anyone who hasn’t done it.  It’s no wonder that by the end of the day, you are so worn out from making decisions that you really don’t care what’s for dinner, just as long as you don’t have to decide. But what if I told you that there are ways that you can relieve yourself of some of the decision-making? What if you could let go of control just a smidge and have someone else make the choices? Even if that someone else is… your students?!

By allowing students to have a choice in how they learn, how they demonstrate their learning, and how they are assessed, you can teach students metacognitive skills, responsibility, and accountability.

“What we learn with pleasure, we never forget.” – Alfred Mercier

Student Choice: How They Learn

If your goal is to have students learn a topic or skill, then does it really matter how they learn it? There are many routes to knowledge and one can be more successful than another depending on learning preferences. Some students can read about a topic and understand immediately; others would learn better from watching a video; others might learn best from playing an online game. If given the choice in how they learn the material, students will be more engaged and feel more responsible for their learning because they got to make the decision. If you can’t decide which learning video to show the class, why not give them the choice? A quick vote and all of a sudden, your entire class will feel more invested and have a sense of ownership in their learning.

“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing it is stupid.” – Albert Einstein

Student Choice:  How They Demonstrate Mastery

Many concepts we teach can be expressed or demonstrated in multiple ways. So instead of having a single way for students to demonstrate that they have mastered the standard or skill, give them the option to be creative and express their learning in a way that interests them. Some students don’t test well, while some students may have difficulty putting their thoughts into writing but can have deep, educated discussions on the topic. You will need to be very clear with your students on the goal of the assessment — they must prove to you that they know this skill or that standard adequately — but the method in which they prove it can be their own choice. Instead of a book report, for example, have students prove their understanding through a collage, diorama, music video, skit, TikTok video, series of Instagram posts, a poem, a presentation, a speech, or game they coded themselves. Not only will your students be able to show you what they have learned by using their strengths and talents, but the assessment will be much more interesting and entertaining for you. Obviously, there are certain concepts and skills that can only be assessed one way, but for those that can have multiple methods of expression, give your students the chance to be creative.

“Tell me and I forget; teach me and I remember; involve me and I learn.” – Benjamin Franklin

Student Choice: What They Are Assessed On

So this one requires a bit more faith in your students and the right standard or skill, but it can be a useful strategy to have students reflect upon their strengths and weaknesses while also relieving you of your grading load. Instead of grading each student on every aspect of your rubric, choose one non-negotiable category, but have your students pick another category they think they were successful with and another category that they struggled with. For example, if your goal is for them to demonstrate they know how to structure an essay, only focus on grading that, instead of also assessing their intro and conclusion, topic sentences, evidence, citations, paragraph structure, conventions, counterargument, AND thesis statement. Choose your non-negotiable and have your students pick one or two other categories to be assessed. This has students practice assessing themselves and their own work ethic (and it makes them feel like they are “getting away” with something) while your grading work is drastically reduced.

“All students can succeed, but not in the same way and not on the same day.” – William G. Spady

These are three simple ways that you can incorporate student choice into your classroom, relieving you of some of the small decisions and giving your students more control of their learning. It’s true that one-hundred percent free choice may be paralyzing to some students, so you may want to start off small — just give them two or three options at first. Giving students the chance to be creative and take their learning into their own hands is not only more interesting for them, but way more interesting for you, too. While it may take you a while to warm up to the idea of students making decisions, you will soon see how much more invested and engaged your students are when they have some say in the classroom.

For more ideas on how to incorporate student choice in your classroom, head to Credits for Teachers. While there, K-12 teachers can also enroll in online self-paced Professional Development courses in exchange for graduate credit from our university partner that can be used for salary advancement or license renewal – Learn More Now!

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(NOTE: Credits for Teachers provides self-paced online Professional Development courses for K12 teachers.  Teachers who take our courses receive graduate credit from our university partner that can be used for salary advancement or license renewal – Learn More Now)

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