– George Couros
“Would you want to be a learner in your own classroom?”
When I first entered teaching, I had a million ideas for how to make an impact. The “what-ifs” and “I wonders” seemed to be endless. As a high school social studies teacher, it was my mission to pull in relevant topics to help students think.
I researched lesson plans, scoured books and even clipped out newspaper articles to try and capture the attention of my students. And hey, a physical newspaper WAS the technology of the time! That seemed to work for a while, until one year I realized that my students were disengaged. They seemed distant and distracted. Technology was on the rise, and I was finding it harder and harder to compete.
The reality hit me hard. Had I lost my ability to reach students? Did I not choose exciting topics? I did what most teachers dread…I asked for feedback from my students.
How do you give students voice and choice in your classroom? Share with us below!
Students Want Ownership
It turns out, what they wanted was not an article I picked out. The students wanted to make the decision for what we discussed in class. The students wanted choice in what they were learning. The students wanted learning to be fun and challenging at the same time. And most importantly, the students wanted variety.
The task of how to marry my mandated curriculum and the activities they were craving became my new mission. Maybe students should take ownership of their learning.
What Voice and Choice Can Look Like
“Voice and Choice” are buzzwords of the education world, but what does this phrase actually mean? It means providing students with a variety of tasks and projects. It means meeting the students where they are at in THEIR lives. We need to work on embedding the world that they actually live in our lessons.
Providing opportunities in the classroom to explore is critical. I have three options that can help embed voice and choice:
- Provide a variety of web tool options for the same assignment.
- Offer Choose your Own Adventure or Choice Board activities.
- Ask for feedback from your students on assignments and reflect year to year.
It’s a Win-Win with Web Tools
Gifted students appreciate multiple ways of getting to the same outcome. Adding a variety of web tools is a great way to spark interest and increase engagement. I always felt that in order to offer something, I had to be the master of that tool. This could not be farther from the truth!
Exploring a new tool and expanding their knowledge and practice is part of the learning process. This will only add to their digital toolbox. The best way to learn, is to do. And the secret sauce to this, is that it sparks collaboration between their peers. Students working together as they learn a new tool? Win-Win.
In the Duke TIP eStudies program where I teach the course Age of Empires: Rise of Ancient Kingdoms and Modern Corporations, I use tools such as Canva, Kahoot, Google Drawings, Padlet, ThingLink, and many more.
I have found the following three web tools to be my favorite go-tos for getting started: Google Slides,Google Drawing and Google Docs. When using Google Slide or Google Drawing, you have the ability to move images, text, add colors and insert media such as video clips or GIFs. Check out the image below to explore the similarities and differences between the tool. I find that the flexibility fuels my creativity! Google Docs provides the familiar feature of a document, but with the ability to hyperlink and serve as a linear way to package content for students.
Choose Your Own Adventure with Choice Boards
Students enjoy the challenge of something new and exciting. The choice board or adventure slide is a way to organize your content and differentiate for your students.
A great place to begin is to outline or brainstorm how you can organize each slide. You can link different slides to create your “story” that the students can play again and again. Once this concept is modeled to your gifted students, provide an opportunity to have the students create their own.
As an educator, you know the power of working smarter, not harder. There is a good chance that someone out there has already mastered how to create their own Choose Your Own Adventure or choice board options. So let’s look at some expert practitioners.
I attended a training at the Friday Institute at North Carolina State University in the summer of 2017, where Jennifer LaGarde was the presenter and media coordinator for her district. She shared her presentation of resources which included a template guide for how to map out a Choose Your Own Adventure using Google Slides by Sylvia Duckworth. Check out Duckworth’s image below for a break down for how to organize your adventure.
Lagarde shared that the best part is, “Agency. Readers have some control over their experience and what happens to the characters.” This powerful statement helped me transform the way that I looked at choice.
Another option is the idea of a Choice Board. This idea was born when I saw that my online students needed a variety of lessons and I needed to figure out how to best meet everyone’s needs. Several students were behind, while others were ready to go to something new. How could I blend a combination of classwork, review games, visuals and extra practice? Choice boards became my new go-to!
Another excellent resource template is from Tony Vincent, a 5th grade teacher at College View Elementary School. Take a look at his Choose Your Own Adventure template. This will help guide how to break down your lesson and where to put your content. It even includes the pre-linked buttons!
Finally, I wanted to share my own personal Google Drawing Menu Template. This option can serve as a hyperdoc presentation to help with differentiation. Feel free to make a copy and change out the colors, text and hyperlinks.
If you are looking for other choice board options, visit the Hyperdocs website. Check out one of my favorite getting started lessons here! It will outline how you can organize your content and activities so that the students have the choice in what they complete throughout your class period. You can act as the facilitator of the lesson, helping small groups of students at time.
In this example I created a “Menu” using Google Drawing. If you are interested in using Google Drawings in your lesson, but not sure where to get started, check out my screencast. I also have a supportive doc that outlines Google Drawing basics.
Feedback Forms Great Future Lessons
There are multiple ways to gather feedback from students. This could include a simple “exit ticket” before they leave for the day. You could also create a Google Form that the students complete online, which offers anonymous feedback features.
I’ve found success in asking students to complete open-ended questions. Students enjoy having the freedom to express their point of view. Here are some examples of questions that can spark great feedback:
- Evaluate today’s lesson and share your thoughts on how we could incorporate additional opportunities to increase engagement.
- Analyze the successful moments or setbacks you had during this lesson. Provide one example to support your statement.
- Describe what would you like to see in the next lesson or unit and how this will help you grow in your own learning.
The key is keeping the survey short and quick (4-5 questions). This is best used as a formative assessment and not counted for a grade.
Once you receive your data, read their answers and keep in mind that students may vary in their opinion or personal preference, so look for overall patterns and trends. Create a short list of improvements and suggestions. If you have multiple classes and using the same digital form, I would sort by class period. That way, you can keep a record on how to specifically support the students in each of your classes. For example, one class might be interested in using more web tools, while another class enjoys group activities.
Now this might be the most important part with student feedback: Share the data with your students! They will appreciate that their voices have been heard and taken into consideration. Over time, they will improve on the feedback that they provide because they know you are using it to improve your class.
If you allow students to guide you in how they want to grow in their learning, the reward is exponential!
Where to Start? Google Slide Design!
Instead of jumping right into adding voice and choice into every single lesson, consider these tips.
- Start small. Pick one lesson that you would like to revamp or spark engagement.
- Take a look at your data based on the feedback that your students submitted. Listen to their needs.
- Ask yourself, “Where could I integrate a Choose Your Own Adventure or Choice Board option?”
- If you are not sure about building an entire lesson around this concept, try a bell activity or bell ringer to start your class. This would provide an opportunity to create a quick 15-minute formative assessment and/or extension activity using voice and choice.
- Reflect on how you could scale this to a full lesson.
- Organize your goal. Critical thinking skills and concepts are key, so identify those key skills and concepts you want students to be able to do and understand by the end of this lesson.
- Once the key skills are identified, use this as your guide to build out the choice options for your students.
- A few examples might include adding in a current event, online discussion post, creation project or video clip. If you are looking for more of a linear lesson plan, check out this sample doc. It will outline the following: engage, explore, explain, apply, reflect, share and extend.
- The great part about choice boards is the fact that students don’t necessarily HAVE to go in order. It can be self-guided and paced to their level. This is personalized instruction!
- Cross-check your framework. If you are interested in learning more about teaching frameworks, take a look at TPACK.
- This framework includes a combination of technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge and how these blend to support students’ learning. Note the sweet spot in the middle where all three overlap.
- When creating a lesson, make sure you have a mixture of all three options. This framework will help keep your teaching fresh, appealing and relevant for students.
Shift that Mindset
Adding choice in my classroom lit the hearts of my students. I see it in their smiles. I see it in their determination. And I see it in their perseverance. This mindset shift allows our gifted students to test their limits, without the typical boundaries of a traditional lesson.
Try it out. Reflect. Try it again. Repeat.
Wishing you many “adventures” ahead!
TPACK Explained for Teachers. (2019). Educational Technology and Mobile Learning. Retrieved 27 April 2019.
Choose Your Own Adventure – Google Tools for Personalized Learning. (2019). Google Docs. Retrieved 28 April 2019.
Google Slides – create and edit presentations online, for free. (2019). Docs.google.com. Retrieved 30 April 2019.