The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Giving Students Choices

First off, a quick apology: I left my computer at school yesterday and didn’t realise it until nearly 8 pm. I have tried writing blog posts on my phone and on my tablet before and it just doesn’t work the same way. It wasn’t until I went to bed that it occurred to me that I had a Chromebook at home that I could have used. My apologies if you were looking forward to a post from me!

Getting on topic…

I am a big proponent of giving students choices, albeit always with age-appropriate limits. Allowing students to choose, I have found, increases engagement and buy-in to the activities we are doing. While there are certainly times that I cannot provide choices, such as when we are doing a math benchmark assessment and every student is required to do the same test at approximately the same time, I have discovered that it is usually possible to provide some sort of choice.

Sometimes those choices are between something desirable and something that is not desirable. In those cases, providing choices is a matter of letting them know that while they may pick what they do, the may not be able to pick the outcome. For example, if a student is not following directions in the classroom and it is causing a disruption, I may tell her, in a very matter-of-fact way, that she has two choices: follow directions and be able to participate with her class or speak with the principal and miss out on a preferred class activity. (When such a choice is presented, the student then has to wait until the principal is available and, in the meantime, misses the activity she wanted to participate in.)

Other times the choices are between two desired outcomes or there are an infinite number of choices but a limit placed by how the choice is carried out. During P.E. this afternoon, I gave my students such a choice. After doing our warm-up stretches, they were randomly placed into four groups (I use a set of playing cards for when I need four groups because there are four suits that are easily identified by shape and colour.) Then each group was given a large rubber ball and told that they had 15 minutes to come up with a game or activity that involved the ball.

Like I said, an infinite number of choices limited only by the fact that they had to incorporate the ball. Interestingly enough, I had four separate activities going on; no group chose to combine with another group (or groups) to use two (or more) of the balls. Two groups played Hot Potato. One group played basketball. One group played kickball, or a bizarrely shrunken version of the game. Each group stayed in their quadrant of the gym, assigned at the start simply to identify the four groups.

What I found most interesting was what happened when a student expressed that he did not like the activity chosen. I simply said, “But your group picked that activity and you helped them come up with the idea.” He looked at me a moment, then said, “Oh, right!” and went right back to working with his group.

I was really impressed by how well the four groups worked together. I will do a similar activity with them on Friday, although the groups will change as they will once again be randomly assigned. I will also use a different kind of P.E. equipment. But I am confident that the students will find a way to be successful as I give them choices and allow them to make decisions for themselves.


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