Because we want to increase the likelihood that students will engage in learning and complete tasks, we should become skillful at selectively using student choice of activities, materials used to complete a task, or order in which tasks are completed. Students can also be given choices for with whom they work, where they will work, and what they can do once their task is complete. Offering student choice appears to help both with compliance and affect.
While all lessons or activities do not need to incorporate choices, using choice when it does not negatively impact the outcomes or learning will have broad impact and therefore, make it opportune in many situations.
As with activity sequencing, offering student choice can be used class-wide or with individual students. For example, choice may be offered to a class, group or an individual student that has multiple unfinished tasks. In these situations, offering choice on which task to do first increases the likelihood the work will be completed.
Providing students with a choice of activities, materials, grouping, etc. You will notice in this picture students are using different materials, working alone or with others, some are using technology. Standards-based teaching lends itself to offering choice. Think about the learning objective – if the goal is for the students to identify the states of matter, describe and give examples of each, could some students choose to write a short essay, while another might create in infographic, another record a podcast called, “What’s the matter?” and another create a video/narrated PowerPoint? Creating a rubric and ensuring students know the criteria, but have choices in how to meet it can be very effective.
Considerations for offering Student Choice:
- Type of activity or mode of the task (e.g., written, oral, project, etc.)
- Materials used to complete an assignment
- Order or sequence in which tasks are completed
- How the work will be done or with whom to work (e.g., work in a group, pairs, individually)
- Where to work
- What to do when task is done
Below is an example of how one teacher incorporated choice into a class-wide project:
Mr. Franklin knows that his students enjoy project-based activities that relate to their everyday lives. He also knows of students who love using technology rather than paper and pencil tasks. He considers his resources (e.g., available computers, physical space, staff, and time) and develops his plan carefully.
When presenting the new unit on recycling, Mr. Franklin offers students a choice of two activities: 1) plan a recycling program, or 2) develop a recycling survey. He has students vote on what activity they want to pursue that day. Students then divide into two groups according to their choice.
Mr. Franklin further gives his students choice by allowing group one to develop a recycling plan for either their classroom or neighborhood; group two can develop their own survey questions or browse the internet to search for other surveys to use as an example. He further allows students to select whether they prefer to work in their group, pairs, or individually. After these decisions are made, Mr. Franklin guides them to choose the materials they will need. For example, students can handwrite or use the computer.
When the work is completed and shared, Mr. Franklin asks students to write on a piece of paper what parts of the lesson they enjoyed most and why. He plans to use the feedback for future lesson planning.
(Adapted from Kern & State, 2009)
Do you use choice in your classroom? Are there ways that you could increase the opportunities for student choice without compromising learning outcomes?
Watch this video about the benefits of offering choice in a flexible classroom.
Colvin, G. (2009). Managing noncompliance and defiance in the classroom: A road map for teachers, specialists, and behavior support teams. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Kern, L., & State, T. M. (2009). Incorporating choice and preferred activities into classwide instruction. Beyond Behavior, 18(2), 3-11.
The George Lucas Educational Foundation. (2015, August 04). Flexible classrooms: Providing the learning environment that kids need. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/video/flexible-classrooms-providing-learning-environment-kids-need
MO SW-PBS Tier 1 Team Workbook 2018-19