Our students often feel that they have little to no choice as soon as they enter the halls of school, and this is why student choice matters. This is especially the case with middle and high school-aged kiddos. There are expectations set forth by their parents, their teachers, their school counselors, their administration team, and so on. Before school begins, students join their peers for student orientation where they are reminded of the school policies. In the classroom, policies and procedures are typically discussed on the first day. More rules to follow!
As tweens and teens, they typically understand the why behind the rules. Alas, this does not necessarily lessen the eye rolls when we remind them to take their hat off before entering the classroom, to spit out their gum prior to starting a lab, or to sit in their assigned seat as soon as the bell rings.
Why student choice matters
Student choice has been an empowering tool I’ve been aiming to use more and more in my class. I’ve found that when students have a say, there is a contagious sense of community in our class. When students feel that they are a part of the classroom community, there is
- a positive learning atmosphere
- a sense of safety to take academic risks and to make mistakes
- a sense of comfort and belonging
- reduced off-task behavior
- increased student engagement
- increased learning
- increased accountability
how to add student choice to your routines
Adding student choice to your routines is easier than you think. Here are eight ways I’ve implemented opportunities for student choice in my classes:
1) Students help establish the classroom policies.
They have even asked to establish “fair” consequences if and when policies are not followed. After the policies are established, we keep them displayed year-round.
2) Give early-finishers several choices for what they can do with their time.
This can include independent reading, playing a science game, writing in their journal, creating a study guide for an upcoming assessment, and so on.
3) Flexible seating whenever possible.
As teachers, we assign seats methodically and with purpose. Imagine how excited your students would get if they walked in and just for that day, or every Monday let’s say, you announce “sit wherever you want.” It’s such a small thing, but the excitement it brings to them is palpable.
4) Allowing students to choose their partner(s).
This is very similar to the flexible seating idea. We often assign partners based on similar abilities or to avoid off-task behavior by partnering close friends together. Sometimes we assign partners to avoid the same students being left out each time. However, I’ve also noticed that if students work with who they choose to work with, they could be more productive.
5) Ask students to choose the format of an upcoming assessment.
This could be for a section of the assessment or the entire assessment. Many students prefer multiple choice and true/false, while others prefer short answer. You may want to survey your students to see what they prefer and create an assessment that is a combination of their requests. By the way, this
may have been the format you were planning on using anyway, but now the students feel as if they had a say!
6) Have extra time at the end of the year?
Present your students with a list of units or topics and have them choose what they want to learn.
7) Ask students to choose the audience for their next presentation.
The audience can be the school principal, their parents, other teachers, an elementary school class, local police officers, and so on. This will really up the ante for them!
8) Finally, and this is my favorite, incorporating student choice directly into assignments.
Students absolutely love this one! If the goal is for students to exemplify their level of comprehension of a certain topic, give them a variety of ways in which they can do so. For example, when learning about meteorology, we focus on severe weather for two weeks. Within this time frame, students are provided with 17 opportunities to exemplify their level of comprehension of different types of severe weather in a variety of meaningful ways. Each opportunity has a different point value assigned to it, and they must choose at least 40 points of work.
Interested in learning more? Check out the severe weather resources. Your students will love them!