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 that they have in the assignments that we give them. That’s where differentiation comes in.
Educational research has shown that choice leads to more confident, more capable, and more interested students. Alfie Kohn’s classic article “Choices for Children” cites the findings of a number of studies on student choice. He describes a study that showed that giving second graders choice in learning tasks led to greater task completion in less time. Another study concluded that high school students asked to write up chemistry problems without step-by-step instructions completed better write-ups and later remembered the material better than those who had been told exactly what to do. Student choice, when implemented correctly, works.
Giving Students Choices
So how can you give students choice? A simple way is to use choice boards. Also called extension menus or Think Tac Toe, choice boards present a variety of choices for students to select from. This Think Tac Toe board on The Hunger Games for eighth grade students, for example, requires all of them to complete the activity in the center of the board (the “free space”) and then complete three in a row by selecting two other activities to do. The teacher remains in control of the content being covered and the depth to which students must learn the content. But the students are able to showcase their learning in ways that meet their individual needs.
To allow even more choice, the teacher can add a “Free Choice” square to the board that lets a student come up with his/her own activity. The choice must be cleared with the teacher first, however, to ensure that it meets the required standards.
This multiplication Think Tac Toe for elementary students is another example. And to find more ways to incorporate student choice, take a look at the Dare to Differentiate website on choice boards. It has numerous resources, including videos.
While students shouldn’t have a choice about every single assignment they have to complete, they should be allowed some choices based on their particular needs and interests. Begin with just a few choices and then, once they are better at making these choices, allow them more. You’ll both be glad you did.