The Power of Choice

In the classroom, strong links have been found between motivation and choice.  If teachers want to increase motivation, it can often be as simple as building in opportunities for students to make choices about their learning.  When given choices, students feel a sense of ownership over their learning and learn important lessons about the consequences of both good and bad choices.  Here are some ideas for how to make choice work in your classroom:

Whenever possible, empower students to make educated choices.

  • When students need to review for a test, for example, if they have a personal tracker where they have documented what objectives they’ve mastered and which they still need help on, you can confidently allow them to choose which objectives they want to work on since they have the data to make the best decision.  Given the choice, they’ll often feel empowered by making the right decision versus feeling like they have to work on that simply because we said so.
  • Or when allowing students to choose their own partners, try setting some guidelines to help them make the best choice.  Like thinking about their strengths and weakness and who might balance well with them, and in what circumstances a close friend might or might not be a good choice. When students choose their own partners or groups, there’s always the risk that some students will feel left out or slighted by classmates, so I did this sparingly and helped facilitate a grouping for the kids I worried could be left out.

Build in time for students to reevaluate their choices. 

  • It’s inevitable that students will sometimes make poor choices, so we can build in ways for them to evaluate and make better choices.  For larger assignments or projects, once students have had a chance to work for a day or two with their initial choice, take some time for them to look at their progress and evaluate whether they need to revise their choice.  Maybe they’re realizing the book they chose was boring or too hard for them, or they can’t find any information on their current topic.  And then if they stick with their original choice, maybe in the end they see they were able to overcome the initial obstacle or maybe they learn a good lesson about the consequences of their choices.  Either way, they will feel more ownership over their choices and the outcomes of those choices, if you give them time to evaluate and reflect on them.

Incorporate small choices for mini-bursts of motivation:

  • Allow them to choose the order in which they do a set of tasks
  • Add a couple of extra questions on an assignment and let them to choose the 3 out of 5 they want to complete instead of having to do all of them.
  • Give them seating options.  For example, allowing them to sit on the floor to read or in the hallway during group work.
  • If certain students are feeling discouraged or less motivated at a given time, allow them to choose some next steps.  For example, they might choose which problem you go over with the class or simply choose whether they want to take a break or keep working.

What other ways do you incorporate choice in your classroom and what has them impact been?  Leave your contributions in the comments!

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