8 Things that happened when I gave my students choice
Giving students choice. It’s a scary idea. As a teacher, it was one of my biggest fears. I found myself always making excuses as to why I couldn’t let my students have more control in my class. It all started a little over 4 years ago when a student asked if he could wear headphones and listen to music while working. My first thought was, “ABSOLUTELY NOT. That goes against everything I’ve been taught about keeping classroom control.” Ultimately I bit my tongue and let him wear headphones. I let him wear the headphones and you know what? The world didn’t end. He was on task and no longer was a discipline problem. That was the first decision to start giving my students choice in my class. Over the last 4 years, I have been giving students much more choice from when they assess to when they do the work and how they do it.
Here are the 8 things that happened when I gave my students choice.
1. They choose their own seating. I let students use the space however they see fit. They can sit on the floor, go out in the hall, stand the whole period, etc. They can also move the furniture without asking me.
2. They learn at their own pace. Students are now given the date at which I want mastery of the content and how they pace themselves is up to them. I now let them decide when to take their assessments as well. Some students work far ahead and some don’t (and that’s okay).
3. They decide when, and if, to turn in classwork. At the start of this year, I decided to no longer grade or collect classwork. It was something I always thought I had to do and if I didn’t, my kids would somehow fail. Students now only turn in the work if they need extra feedback in addition to what I have given to them in class. I still give classwork and activities and kids still do it. The quality of work is actually better than when I collected it and I am no longer spending endless amounts of time doing busy work.
4. They perform better on assessments. When students get to decide when to assess, they reduce the anxiety they have to cram for a test. By giving them autonomy, you let them decide much more in their own education. Class and district benchmarks have improved.
5. They decide when to reassess. Students get to choose when they come in and reassess a particular standard to improve. Students will now tell me specifically what standard they need to improve on and which ones they want to redo. Students now know the exact content they need to improve on.
6. They choose what concepts to learn. I now give students the same project each year, having them pick a math concept they know nothing about but want to learn more about. They can make any sort of presentation they would like on it but they can learn anything. I recently had a student tell me his project will be to see how Fitbit uses math to calculate the relationships between steps, calories and how it all works with technology. Awesome! I can’t wait to see the end result.
7. They choose how to present their content. I no longer tell students that they have to make a poster, a Prezi, a movie or any other way to present. All of these are acceptable ways to present material but let students decide. They will think of ways that you haven’t. Why should you restrict them?
8. They teach each other. Each evening, they get the instruction from me through flipped videos. In class, they now work collaboratively with each other. They teach each other which gives kids a second exposure to instruction. When kids can teach each other, it strengthens their understanding of the material. Nothing is more fun than sitting back and watching kids take charge! The goal of myself as teacher is to enable my students to get along without me.