Build Your Own Adventure! Why Student Choice Is Important for All Grades
From the moment we wake up, we are presented with choices. What should I wear? Will I have toast, yogurt, or eggs for breakfast? Should I have all three? Will I have one cup of coffee, or two? Which route will I take to get to work? While at times overwhelming, making choices adds excitement to our daily lives and gives us a sense of control and agency. Adults aren’t the only ones who benefit from having options available to them. Oftentimes, teachers make most of the decisions on the day-to-day activities in a classroom; however, giving students choices within these activities helps both to increase engagement and empower them to take ownership over their learning. By allowing multiple ways to reach one learning objective, teachers can show students that they recognize different learning styles and that there is more than one way to demonstrate understanding of a concept.
What Does Student Choice Look Like?
Incorporating student choice in your classroom is much more than simply allowing students to choose which color folder they want or the team name for their group project. In an article on Phi Delta Kappan, authors state that “giving students real choices in the classroom—having to do with the material they study, the assignments they complete, the peers with whom they work, and so on—can boost their engagement and motivation, allow them to capitalize on their strengths, and enable them to meet their individual learning needs.” This may seem easier to implement with older students, but teachers of younger children might be wondering how this translates to their classroom of kindergartners or first graders. Adding student choice into activities will likely look very different depending on the age of the student and what is developmentally appropriate for that age group.
In elementary classrooms, teachers can incorporate choice into lessons by giving students the option to demonstrate understanding in their preferred learning style. For example, they can show that they understand the process of metamorphosis by drawing the life cycle of a frog, recording themselves naming and explaining the stages of metamorphosis, or they can act out a frog’s life cycle. Different students learn in different ways which is why it can be beneficial to allow students to meet the learning objectives in the manner they find most enjoyable and effective. If students don’t yet know their preferred learning style, allowing for choices is a great way to encourage exploration to see what works best for them.
In older grades, students may have stronger opinions about the subject matter that they want to learn about. This is a perfect time to allow for some choice while still meeting a necessary learning objective. For example, if a science class is learning about the impact of invasive species on the environment, allowing students to choose which species to research gives them a more vested interest in the outcome of their project. Students in middle and high school can also be given the choice of how to present information. For example, some students may prefer to write a report, some may want to create a poster, and others may prefer to create a digital slideshow presentation. Giving students these types of choices will increase student engagement, as well as create a differentiated learning experience for each child.
Choice boards are a fun and popular way for students to choose how they will learn a new concept or demonstrate mastery of it. These simple boards can be colorfully designed or minimalist—the important outcome is that students benefit from learning based on their own interests and learning style. In an edtech classroom, a “choice” could range from answering a question in class to completing a typing lesson or increasing typing speed by X words per minute (WPM).
Student Choice in TC Curriculum
Our new typing curriculum encourages students to make choices that guide their learning experience in a variety of lessons. Starting in grade 1, learners will have the opportunity to choose content that they find most interesting, while still developing their typing skills. As students progress through each grade level, they will encounter more opportunities to make choices that shape their individual typing journey.
In the elementary grades, students will lay the foundation for understanding and exploring student choice through multiple lessons embedded in their grade-level curriculum. In grades 1 and 2, students will decide which rhyming words they would like to practice typing to help develop key phonics skills.
In grades 3–5, students will practice typing synonyms of their choosing in our thesaurus activity. There are also opportunities for students to make choices in our digital citizenship units, which offer scenario-based activities. Starting in 5th grade, students will choose a historical figure to email back and forth. They will decide what types of questions to ask each historical figure, which will guide the email conversations they have.
Middle school students thrive with opportunities to assert their independence and voice their opinions. Giving middle schoolers ample time to make choices in the classroom will encourage them to take ownership over their learning. In our cross-curricular unit, middle-school students will choose the subject areas that interest them most when typing dictionary definitions. They also will choose their way through our email activity, deciding which historical figure to message and the direction of the conversation. Finally, in the creative writing unit, middle school students will create their own unique story by choosing their way through one of our “Type Your Own Adventure” stories.
High school students are already making consequential decisions in their lives about important topics, such as pursuing jobs or careers, learning to drive, and applying to colleges. They are capable of making important choices outside of school, so it makes sense to offer them the same opportunities in the classroom. In our high school curriculum, high school students will choose which subject areas they want to study in our test-prep vocabulary lesson. They also will decide which fictitious job they want to apply for while completing our resume activity, learning how to correctly format a resume for a job that they find most interesting.
Implementing opportunities for students to make choices in your classroom may seem like a daunting task at first, but it will become easier over time. Students will develop confidence in their ability to make academic decisions, and you will get to watch them reach learning objectives in a way that they find both interesting and fun!