Using choice boards for increasing student ownership
Teachers are consistently coming up with new ways to help their students to learn better. This could be new activities, different strategies or just a new approach. Here’s more on choice boards to increase student ownership.
Amidst the morphing of education system from in person to remote learning, I picked up a conversation with my colleagues discussing the most common challenges faced by students in online classes: lack of appropriate materials and resources, technical issues, distractions and time management, staying motivated, understanding course expectations, lack of in-person interaction and uncertainty about future. I asked them, “Does it seem that most of the students who struggle with these challenges are the same ones who struggle with academics?” They conceded that they were. “And do these students get really interesting school work—assessments, projects, challenges, fun puzzles, and choices about their daily work, or do they spend most of their day doing quiet seatwork? They acknowledged that the latter was usually the case. All these challenges inspire teachers to ponder upon certain imperative questions like: Is our teaching catering to the needs of all our learners? Is the pedagogy in sync with the assessment to make classrooms more engaging? Are students being able to achieve the intended learning outcomes? Does the student choice and voice matter in a classroom?
Nicol and Macfarlane Dick’s principles of good feedback (2006) proposed a shift in the thinking of conventional practices towards increased student control of assessment. It has been observed that students do not exploit assessment to improve their learning nor view it as a feedback of their work in the future reference. Simple reason for the same is that, assessment is more teacher-driven, non-flexible, based on one size fits all concepts and focused only on correct responses. As a result, students’ get disengaged, are less enthusiastic and do not apply their understanding of concepts to the real-life experiences.
Regardless of the challenges that came up with the transition to online classes, teachers of DLF World School prompted to recreate assessments thereby bridging the gap between current assessment practice and lifelong learning. The present article focuses upon modeled role of flexible teachers to leverage choice board as an engaging instructional strategy to provide learners with autonomy to choose a favorable mode of assessment stimulating student engagement and motivation.
Current shifts in assessment practice
Too often in schools, teachers own the work. We create and teach lessons, dole out assignments and assess the results, leaving students feeling like worker bees, dutifully completing assigned tasks with little power or control.
But do they really get it? is a BIG question that is asked consistently by teachers throughout the day. Teachers are consistently coming up with new ways that will help their students to learn better. This could be new activities, different strategies or just a new approach. When creating these new activities, strategies and approaches a teacher needs to keep in mind that all students are different. They think differently, act differently and learn differently. Of course, students vary in ways other than their skills and abilities.
In any given class, you will have students with a wide range of interests and passions. Some students are interested in nature, some history, others sports. Some students love working in collaboration while some prefer to work on their own. Craft projects and artwork may be appealing to some, and computer and technology may be preferred by others. For many of teachers, this can be the greatest worry of ones work. We spend hours crafting lessons and creating units only to watch students’ eyes glaze over and their heads drop.
“Do we have to do this?” they groan. “These students just don’t care!” is a common sight with most of the teachers. Perhaps instead we should answer with a question of our own: “Why should they?” What does the learning in front of them have to do with the achievement of learning outcomes? How does it elevate their interest or tap into their strengths? A reluctant writer who loves science fiction may be excited to write a Star Wars sequel. A student who is unenthusiastic about learning about the American Revolution but is excited to work with computers may be excited to put together a Prezi showcasing key causes of the war. A student who doesn’t always love math but loves to play games may enjoy playing a simple game with dice and cards to practice working with fractions.
Part of the growing up process is learning to make good choices. From the time babies begin to talk, we encourage them to think about their actions and the choices they make. But sometimes in school, we limit the choices in the assignments that we give them. That’s where differentiation comes in.
What are Choice Boards?
Teachers are consistently coming up with new ways that will help their students to learn better. This could be new activities, different strategies or just a new approach. When creating these new activities, strategies and approaches a teacher needs to keep in mind that all students are different.
So how can we give students choice? A simple way is to use choice boards.
A choice board is a graphic organizer that allows students to move at their own pace and have choice over what they learn and how they interact with the content. Students are able to choose which activity they are most comfortable completing first, master that activity, and then can move to other activities on the choice board.
Choice boards can take several different formats, but all choice boards are focused on students’ specific learning needs, interests, and skills. Choice boards can be easily adapted across all grade levels, subjects and content areas. The choice board strategy can be used to present students with new information, to make students practice and master academic content, to assess student mastery, or as a combination of all three.
Usually a choice board carries these aspects:
l 9-square grid
l Each square has an activity
l Each activity should relate to one of the multiple intelligences
l Level of difficulty can vary or stay consistent
How do students complete
a choice board?
Students can progress from one activity to another either in an organized or random order:
Tic-Tac-Toe Choice: Students are encouraged to perform a set of three activities so that it forms a Tic-Tac-Toe. Students can choose these activities horizontally, vertically or diagonally. In this method the “FREE CHOICE” square can be in the middle
Random Choice: Students can randomly choose any three activities based upon their preferred interests of multiple intelligences.
Teachers tips for designing Choice Boards
Choice boards give students autonomy and choice in their learning while allowing teachers to differentiate, observe, and assess in real time. It increases student ownership and provide teachers with opportunities to differentiate and support students at their individual learning levels.
It is best to give students plenty of opportunities to practice and master the concepts taught in class. However, structuring such activities is not an easy task, as teachers need to take into consideration the need for differentiated instruction and varied learning styles. Use of Choice Boards is a strategy that can help simplify lesson planning and address learning requirements. Choice Boards can be created for weekly tasks, homework, projects and even assessments. Here are easy and simple tips for teachers to design and implement Choice Boards in the classroom which can help promote learning as well as stimulate student motivation and engagement
l Identify the instructional focus and learning outcomes of a unit of study. What do you want students to know and be able to do by the end of the unit?
l Determine student readiness, interests, learning styles, and needs using assessment data, student surveys, and learner profiles.
l Design nine different tasks that meet your students’ various interests, needs, and learning styles. Arrange each task so it has its own grid on the tic-tac-toe board.
l Out of 9 grids, choose the middle square as non-negotiable, the one activity that teacher wants every student to complete. This could be reading an article, watching a video or any idea which students enjoy the most in a given class. Some teachers also make the middle square a free space where students can propose their own ideas to demonstrate their learning.
l Ask your students to complete three tasks, one of which must be the one in the middle. Students should complete their tasks in a vertical, horizontal, or diagonal tic-tac-toe row
l Decide how much duration students will need to complete the choice board (i.e. one day, two days, and one week). This will help you decide what type of activities to create.
l When creating the boards make sure to frame activities that cater to every learning style such as:
Naturalist (nature smart)
Musical (sound smart)
Logical-mathematical (number/reasoning smart)
Existential (life smart)
Interpersonal (people smart)
Bodily-Kinesthetic (body smart)
Linguistic (word smart)
Intra-personal (self smart)
Spatial (picture smart)
Computer (*technology smart)
Visual/Spatial (art and space smart)
Culinary (food smart)
• Arrange the tasks on a choice board template based with a Purpose/Use.
• Give each student a paper or digital version of the choice board with clear instructions to complete the activities.
• When presenting the choice board, the students must be provided with specific instructions to select the activities and pace themselves through the work. Model and/or debrief how to select an appropriate activity from the board. Remind students to consider their learning style and what activity is appropriate for them..
• In case of a multi-day assignment, consider creating a personal development plan or a calendar for students to monitor their progress throughout the activity.
• While students are working through their choice board activities, use the time to individually conference with students on their progress, queries, sticking points, etc.
• An extra credit or token of appreciation can be included to encourage students to motivate their learning.
• Provide students with a rub
ric for the areas of growth and achievement planned to assess for each designed activity.
• Consider the assessment options for students (self-assessment, peer assessment, formative assessment) and introduce the assessment options to students for their better understanding.
Choice boards give students autonomy and choice in their learning while allowing teachers to differentiate, observe, and assess in real time. It increases student ownership and provide teachers with opportunities to differentiate and support students at their individual learning levels. Choice Boards provide students with the power to choose “how” to learn a particular subject or concept. It also allows them to work on the activities at their own pace. The boards are useful for teachers as it enables them to identify and use student interests and preferences to stimulate active learning and student engagement. This freedom encourages students to be more responsible, accountable and independent in their learning.
Don’t we wish to hear our students choice and voice in our classrooms?