Student choice is a powerful tool for transforming classrooms! It’s a cost free, low prep, and high impact way to engage all learners. It can feel scary to give up some control to students, but giving students the power of choice in the classroom does not mean that a classroom is unruly. Rather this gradual release of responsibility allows students to become more active in the learning process. It also frees teachers up to be the guides of learning instead of acting as the ultimate source of knowledge. I have found that when teachers make the shift to give students more ownership of their learning, it pays off greatly in student motivation, engagement, and student performance.
Here are some simple ways to begin integrating more student choice into your classroom:
- Choice of Books—If we want students to become lifelong readers than it is imperative that they have the ability to pick out books to read that interest them! Depending on your grade level this may take some modeling on how to find books and use the classroom library, but your students will be more engaged in their reading if they read books they like. My first graders have full ownership of our classroom library and one of the students even has a leadership role as the “classroom librarian” to help put new books away or help friends that need to find a book.
- Leadership Roles/Classroom Jobs-I tell my students that it is not my classroom, it is our classroom, so we work together as a team and all play an important role. I am not just preparing my students to be successful in first grade, I want them to be successful in life! Therefore, I intentionally release some of the control to my students by giving each of my students a leadership role or classroom job. While this will look different in the primary classroom then in the upper grades, the concept is the same. When you set high, yet attainable expectations, you’ll be amazed at how your students step up and soar when they feel like they are an integral part of the classroom!
- Assignments—Our classroom is full of diverse learners, which is why I like to incorporate student choice into some of my classroom work. Things like homework choice boards, writing about topics that interest them, and picking their center activity are just some of the ways that you can incorporate choice into your student’s assignments. Student motivation and engagement is greatly impacted by giving them ownership of their learning within the structure of a classroom guided by an effective teacher.
- Behavior—This one is crucial and our language here is so important. I teach my students that, “You have the power to make your own choices!” It doesn’t matter if someone else “told them to” or “started it first,” they have the power to decide how they will respond and act. Giving your students ownership of their choices is life-changing and is not something they learn in one lesson, but instead is a daily, ongoing life lesson that we continually model and teach.
- Learning Goals—Even in first grade, I want my students to take ownership of their learning, which is why we talk about learning goals. We have ongoing conversations about areas where they are strong and areas they need to grow. I will often ask them during student conferencing, “So, what’s your current goal? What is one area you are going to work hard on growing in?” It takes some guidance, but there is nothing like seeing the accomplishment on a student’s face when they have met a learning goal that they have set! This also helps teach them metacognition and how to be a lifelong learner.