28 Jun 2017

The Power of Student Choice

I consider myself to be a generous tipper, but I’ll admit it. I’ve never felt particularly compelled to contribute to the tip jars at coffee shop counters. Maybe it’s because there’s not enough interaction to fire up my tipping conscience or maybe it’s because I just don’t carry cash on me very often. But today was different. While waiting for my Vanilla Chai, I searched the depths of my purse to find $2 and contributed to the coffee shop counter tip jar with a smile. Why was today different? Choice.

The tip jar was presented as a “Tip Debate” with the simple choice “Mustang or…Camaro?” and a jar dedicated to each choice. This simple change not only compelled me to give money, but made me feel great about it. For the 90 seconds I waited for my drink, I was transported into a daydream of riding in a mustang along a winding mountain road. By offering a choice, I was authentically engaged with the activity of tipping rather than obligatorily participating or outright ignoring it.

Then I thought maybe this barista should be a teacher! Isn’t authentic engagement over obligatory participation what we’re after with our students? If we want to engage them in our content, we have to find ways to incorporate student choice whenever we can. Student choice offers instant ownership of learning, investment in the outcome, and positive outlook on the content.

Student choice doesn’t mean you turn over the curriculum to the class or you give up all classroom management. Like the example with my barista, sometimes simple opportunities for choice can go a long way. Here are a few places to add student choice (across all grade levels and content areas) into your lessons without creating chaos and mayhem.

Choice in Language Arts

  • Studying cause and effect….Let them choose a phenomena or a text that illustrates example.
  • Learning consonant blends….Let them find and present items that start with that blend.

Choice in Math

  • Learning parabolas…Have them find and take photos of real-world examples.
  • Working on multiplication facts…Have them make their own story problems.

Choice in Science

  • Collecting data….Let them decide how to represent the data.
  • Conducting an investigation…Have them determine some of the variables.

Choice in Social Studies

  • Studying the Civil War…Let them choose a historical figure and present the war from that figure’s perspective.
  • Learning parts of a map…Let them choose the map location.