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Empower Students with Choice

With digital tools, giving students a choice has never been easier.

Amber Paynter | March 30, 2015

When I was a kid, my mom would tell me to do the dishes, and I would argue after every meal. However, when I was presented with the power of choice -- “OK, Amber, you will be cleaning a room today but you can choose between the bathroom or the kitchen” -- it somehow made all the difference. All of a sudden, I felt like I had a voice and was ready to clean because I made the choice, even though I was either going to be scrubbing toilets or those dang dishes.

Teaching practices of the near past included detailing exactly what a student should do to demonstrate their learning. Students knew the exact number of paragraphs and sources needed or what sections they had to include on the tri-fold poster. I have been guilty of assigning work like this. I thought that if I laid out everything I expected, my students would reach those expectations. The reality, unfortunately, was that they never exceeded what was asked, had no creative input or ownership, and were locked into just one way of thinking about their learning.

With digital tools, giving students a choice has never been easier. Teachers know that providing choice is essential in a culturally responsive and differentiated classroom. With some inspiration from Carol Ann Tomlinson, teachers can provide choice of content, process, and learning by using tools like SymbalooEDU. Symbaloo is a site that allows you to visually create bookmarks by using tiles. Teachers can create tiles, put the tiles in a certain location, and even color code. Students can also create their own Symbaloo page as a way of demonstrating their learning and putting all of their evidence in an easy-to-use site for a public audience.

Another great tool, ThingLink, lets teachers and students creatively share content from multiple sources by making images come alive. Reading Anchor 7 in the Common Core State Standards says that students should “Integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words.” ThingLink is a great site to use when incorporating multiple sources. You can add links, videos, images, infographics, written captions, music, and more to a single image by creating hotspot buttons. Students can evaluate an essential question with several of the sources provided to make an argument.

When students participate in project-based learning or choice assessments, it's essential that they reflect on their learning. Ongoing reflection can also help teachers know where their students are in the learning process and provide support and feedback for their students along the way. Movenote allows for content (like Google Slides, PowerPoint, PDFs, or images) to be viewed alongside a video of the person speaking. This is a great tool for reflection. Students can choose to type up a reflection of their learning or create a video presentation and go through all materials they used, what they learned, and how they learned it. Students can also create a Movenote as a means of presenting information to classmates or by embedding it on their own sites or portfolios.

There are so many resources and ideas available for teachers to integrate technology and choice in their classroom. Student engagement and ownership of the learning is enhanced when they are able to make decisions and create. from the Buck Institute for Education provides resources for successfully implementing project-based learning with rubrics and lesson ideas. Common Sense Education's edtech ratings and reviews are also incredibly helpful for finding inspiration and ideas on how to seamlessly integrate technology in the classroom.

Photo: "Your Choice" by Scott MacDonald. Used under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.