Although there is certainly such a thing as too much free choice, especially when it comes to our children and all the learning they still have to do, choice is undeniably an essential part of learning and growing up. As students grow and start to develop their own ideas, we must allow them to incorporate more and more of their own decision making into their lives. Here are some options to offer older students more choice in the classroom.
1. Group work: give students the chance to choose whether to work independently or with others. As a teacher, you can still maintain some control by giving students input. Poll them to see the four students they would most want to work with and then give them the guarantee that at least one of those students will be working with them. Let’s face it, life would be great if nobody got left out of the picking process or if every student felt welcomed in every group, but teachers might want to maintain some input here as well, if only to help students who socially need the push. Nevertheless, give students the ability to have some say in their coworkers. Don’t you wish you could have some say in yours?
2. Learning goals: allow students to set their own goals and objectives. When students begin the revision stage of essay writing, for example, you could have them first state what they would appreciate feedback on most, allowing for more targeted grading from the teacher. They will not only show they are reflective and aware of the skills they need to work on, but also pay closer attention to the feedback overall. The comments function in Google Drive is a great tool for this. Student choice, in this way, helps teachers help students.
3. Scoring rubrics: some teachers have taken to developing different rubrics that reflect different levels of understanding. In other words, if students feel they are ready, they can attach the advanced rubric to their essay or if they feel they aren’t quite ready for that challenge, they can be assessed using a more standard or grade-level rubric. Rubrics can also be used to assess different elements of an assignment. Just imagine a student setting their own goals and then selecting the rubric to match that goal.
4. Note taking and organization: by the time students get to middle school, it is vital that they have a choice in how they take notes. At this point, it’s likely that they have been exposed to many different ways of taking notes and organizing their thoughts and school supplies. Trust them enough to know what works best for them. While forcing all students to use the same methods may make things easier for the teacher if they conduct binder checks or other similar check-ins, it usually makes things harder for the students. Teachers can dictate that a brainstorming element must be included in the learning process, but they shouldn’t be dictating for students what scaffold works best for them. One method does not fit all!
5. Choice of prompts: give students options of prompts to respond to and/or create open-ended questions that can only be answered by each individual student. By giving them leeway to decide on their own opinions or choose from a list of content-related prompts, you will find that their excitement for responding increases. If their engagement increases, you will get the highest level of response they can muster.
6. Seating arrangements: choice of seating is something most students desire, and the older they get, the more capable they are of handling it. Different kids like to work in different positions, so it’s great if you can offer a variety in your classroom. Most teachers find their students tend to make wise choices. More hyper kids, for instance, will work better when given the opportunity to rock in a video game chair than if they are seated static at a desk. Additionally, when students are more comfortable with the people they are seated with, they can be more likely to get their work done on their own.
7. Deadlines: in order to avoid the rush of receiving a whole classroom’s worth of assignments at once, some teachers allow students to have some say in their deadlines. Once they introduce a long-term assignment, the teacher can then open up a window of dates for students to choose from. The date they select would be their firm deadline. As an advantage of turning in the assignment on one of the earlier dates, you could offer to give those students feedback and allow them to resubmit after editing. This allows teachers to honor both responsibility and the process of bringing students into the decision-making process.
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