My innate desire as a teacher is to script the day down to the minute to ensure that I wring every last moment of teaching out of the school day. I pour everything I have into my students, crafting each lesson to achieve maximum growth, higher scores, and deeper understanding.
Choice in the Classroom
I was startled a few years ago by an alternative avenue for achieving these goals. Phillip Schlechty believes that choice is an imperative design quality that we must offer our students intentionally, daily, authentically, and with meaning. Giving students the power of choice facilitates an atmosphere of ownership and higher levels of engagement. Integrating the element of choice as an intentional routine in my classroom environment has had unexpected revelations—I feared that in letting go, chaos would ensue. However, through trial and error, a comfortable “happily humming” sort of chaos has been found.
How to Incorporate Choice
Offering choice to your students consists of clear and concise expectations for learning, and known consequences for off-task or distracting behaviors. Some simple ways to start implementing choice include:
- Choosing even- or odd-numbered problems on a worksheet or with task cards.
- Working a page from top to bottom or bottom to top.
- Where to work in the room (goes quite nicely with flexible seating).
- Which students to do group work with in the room (I always reserve the right to end a partnership if learning/behavior expectations are not being met).
- Letting them choose which tech to solve or perform activities on, from mobile learning to working on the IWB.
- Visiting established centers after independent work is completed satisfactorily. (All centers are specifically designed to reinforce current topics and/or to spiral back to previous content so a center schedule is not needed.)
I would encourage you, after dipping your toe in, to take the next step. Project-based learning and guided instruction—such as guided reading or math—are designed around offering authentic and meaningful choice to students.Setting Students Up for Future Success
My goal is to prepare my sweet third graders for life beyond the classroom. I can provide in my four walls a safe space for them to fail at using choice well. While they are with me, I can give them the time to learn and grow, and to discover how to be successful with choice independently. I would argue that without having the idea of choice designed into our classrooms, a child could graduate from high school not having made a single decision influencing the successes in their education. Choice passes the joystick to the students—let them create, let them get excited, and let them explore. Sit back and watch their eyes light up as discoveries are made. Good luck in finding your happily humming chaos!
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