The Choice Classroom
Choice. Urban slang; originally spoken in New Zealand, is used as a pun at the way New Zealanders speak. Used as description of something you think is good. Synonyms: radical, wicked, awesome, brilliant, best-thing-ever.
It describes a classroom that I want to be a part of. But more than the above description, choice also means the enabling of being able to choose between two or more options. This is my classroom.
What choice means in the classroom
Choice is valuing students as individuals.
Choice is students working independently at their own level, at their own pace.
Choice is students working on what they want to work on.
Choice is motivating. Choice is engaging. Choice is inspiring.
Students who can choose their activity, the way they present their work, the time or place that they do their work, and even their consequence or behaviour management, become much more learning oriented purely because they have control over it. Powerlessness is the leading cause of burn-out, and not having control is key to this feeling of powerlessness. In regards to being able to choose their learning, what they do when, and how they present it, means that students have an investment to the learning ahead of them and are automatically motivated because the choice has been theirs. Even with choosing consequences or behaviour management, students become more self-disciplined as they have been able to have an active part of the process.
A very interesting article looks into the issues surrounding choice in the classroom. ‘Choices for Children: Why and how to let students decide‘ says “At least one recent study has found that children given more “opportunity to participate in decisions about schoolwork” score higher on standardized tests; other research shows that they are more likely than those deprived of autonomy to continue working even on relatively uninteresting tasks. There is no question about it: even if our only criterion is academic performance, choice works.”
How choice works in the classroom
Firstly, this is an almost inexhaustible list of ways you can use choice in your classroom. This certainly isn’t anything major, but there are some examples that follow that I use in my classroom. They work, and I can vouch for them with my given experience.
The first hurdle is doing it. You have to make a conscious decision, or choice, to include it in your classroom.
Then begin introducing choice in the following ways:
Presentation is one of the easiest ways to allow students to have choice in the classroom. Instead of saying “Make a poster” for the latest bit of topical research, say “Make a poster, or a power point presentation”. Students will make the choice based on their strengths, though many will choose the slideshow option because of the allure of technology. Additional choices could include a class speech, a short video, a diorama, a 3D model, a hanging mobile, a book, a pamphlet, or a webpage.
No, not naughts and crosses. Tic-Tac-Toe are nine related activities that require the use of different skills or intelligences. Students choose three activities in a row in order to complete the task. I used these to good effect as a reading follow up task, where students would choose activities as a follow up to the text that they read with me. A good Tic-Tac-Toe will have three different activities in each three-in-a-row possibility. One might include an aspect of drawing, one an aspect of writing, and a third might include a worksheet.
The game changer for me when it came to choice was initiating Daily 5 in my classroom. Daily 5 allows students to choose the activity they work on, selecting from the five options of read to self, read to someone, listen to reading, work on writing, and word work. These each have rules and guidelines decided on by the class, and so rather than students being put in a group, read a set book, do a follow-up worksheet as a daily rotation, students have these five literacy activities that they get to choose from. Essentially, rather than have a group rotation of activities, students choose from the activities based on what they want to do at the time. Rather than students doing a worksheet they don’t want to do, they might choose to do some word work where they practise their spelling words. Or rather than being forced to read with the teacher, they might choose to read to someone instead. What this means is individualised learning, where the teacher can conference with students during the time, and students are motivated because they are choosing their learning.
One of the big pushes in education over the last 3 years has been the idea of ‘Inquiry’, where students learn what they want to learn about. Inquiry essentially replaces what used to be called ‘Topic’. Topic was teacher decided, with learning activities and experiences made up and put into the unit plan to scaffold students to a set destination. Using Inquiry changes all that to the students. While curriculum areas still need to be covered, a ‘big idea’ is come up with by the teacher, syndicate, or school, sometimes with student input, and then the rest is left up to the students, especially in regards to what they want to find out about the big idea, and how they want to go about finding it out, and what they’re going to do with their new found knowledge. Completely student focussed. Completely student motivated.
So that’s how you start. The options are limitless. The choices endless.
What a choice classroom!