Giving students options is a powerful way to engage students through active learning. However, just hearing the word “options” can set some of us into a panic, especially if we are required to closely follow a scope and sequence for a state-mandated curriculum. But giving students options doesn’t mean throwing all of that out in favor of a free-for-all.
Some of the best student work I’ve encountered has come from giving students choices. My Anatomy and Physiology students wrote love letters to the element Carbon, created campaigns for brain lobes to run for president, choreographed dances of different types of movement, and so much more while staying true to the content of our district approved curriculum. When I took the risk of letting them make choices about the process or product of their learning, they jumped in with both feet and surprised me with creative and high-quality work.
A fundamental part of Quest Forward Learning is giving students the opportunity to have that kind of agency over their learning. As the teacher, this translates to providing helpful boundaries that give students structure, focus, and support while offering them meaningful freedom.
There are many small ways to start incorporating student choice into your classroom. Two of my favorites are through activity structures like Tic-Tac-Toe boards and Menus. Here are two templates that can be used in any classroom.
- Tic-Tac-Toe Board – This models how students can make choices in how they demonstrate content mastery. Students work on the same standards while making choices based on their preferences.
- Student Choice Menu – This models how students can make choices on what they spend more of their time on. It includes options that are more broad and varied, so students can potentially work on different standards. It would also work well in a class where some students need to review certain material and others may have “finished early”.
Giving your students choices can help keep them engaged in your classes. It also helps them to practice essential skills they need to self-regulate, work independently, and experience success beyond the classroom.