By Lani Aquino
Choice. It’s something often taken for granted. Daily choices surrounding food, exercise, fashion, viewing, friends, etc. play a huge role in developing a person’s identity. For a learning environment to replicate real life, students need to also encounter choices in this pivotal setting of their development. Students need to have a voice in creating their learning identities.
When students are offered more choices as their learning journey unfolds, they are likely to be much more impassioned about making the most of it. While the goal of teachers and schools is not to run a dictatorship (we hope), some students may feel a bit imprisoned by the lack of choices they are given. Rather than staring at the hands of the clock waiting for their daily instructional sentence to end, sprinkling some more opportunities for student choice into the day will make for a more engaging and student-centered school day.
What does the power of choice provide?
Decision-Making- When students are able to make more choices throughout the school day, they are given practical situations for honing their decision-making skills. They are also able to develop an understanding of the consequences of those decisions.
Ownership- If you want students to buy into something, it’s important that they feel they own it. Through the ability to make choices, an ownership of the learning takes place; as opposed to simply completing Mrs. Smith’s requests.
Personalization- As personal choices are made, a student is able to add their own personal flair and voice to their learning. Students become an integral part of a learning journey that is largely created by them, rather than for them.
How can more choices be integrated into learning?
Flexible Seating- Start with the basics- personal comfort. Rather than a sole option of a rigid desk and chair combo, flexible seating allows students to make some choices about posture, comfort, and wiggle room. The choice to sit at a desk, stand in a workspace, bounce on a ball, recline on a beanbag chair, etc. can be very freeing and positively received. From garage sales to grants, there are lots of ways to increase the flexible seating options in learning spaces.
Personalized Learning- Student choice is at the heart of personalized learning. A Snapshot of Personalized Learning delves into what this pedagogical method is and isn’t. Learner interests are in the driver’s seat when personalized learning is utilized, and student choice and voice stand out.
Project-Based Learning- PBL is an in-depth inquiry study with a host of great resources for implementation. When this study revolves around a student-centered interest, students become the voices behind the solutions/discovery. As students work through these projects, there is a lot of decision-making involved that allows their personal choices regarding the direction of the project to be at the forefront. With no set answer in place, this is truly a methodology that is driven by student choice.
Genius Hour- This program allows students to delve into a topic of their choosing. Based on a practice utilized by Google employees, a set amount of time is dedicated on a regular basis for discovery surrounding a personal interest. Implementing a Genius Hour is a stepping stone for the creation of a lifelong learner who revels in the ability to make personal choices in areas of continual study.
Alternative Assessments- Continually being told how a learning project should look can be stifling. When no ability for creativity or thinking outside of the box is offered, many students will tackle learning with limited enthusiasm. When students are given some choices and freedoms in determining an end result that will check all the same mastery boxes, it shouldn’t matter if that result looks like a speech, a paper, a 3D model, a short film, etc. When the end results are pigeonholed, creativity and engagement can be too.
One of the most impactful learning tools students can be given is the ability to choose. As students are offered more choices in directing their learning, they are likely to glean more lasting takeaways. The ability to hone a variety of real-life skills is the result of implementing more strategies and methods that give students a voice through the power of choice.
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