One strategy teachers can use to engage students is to offer them a sense of choice. I learned this early on with parenting and teaching K-12. For example, as a parent I could offer a choice, “Would you rather vacuum or take out the garbage?” When I taught 4th grade, I would often teach units such as “Oceanography” and offer choices for how they would present their work…group poster, act out a news report, create a mini video, etc. Offering choices to our students offers them a sense of control. Students who believe they have control tend to be more motivated. By offering choice, students choose what they believe they can achieve. This will increase motivation.
Kevin Perks’ article Crafting Effective Choices to Motivate Students discusses the kinds of choices we should offer students such as choosing groups and how they will complete a given task. He also suggests to offer a minimal amount of choices. The list should be short, meet with your approval, and meet the intended learning goal.
Here is a screenshot from one of the courses I teach in the education department. Notice there is an assignment, then a menu of choices and an optional dessert. I realize not all students will “want” dessert – but dessert is usually really good, right? The “dinner menu” offers 3 choices for the assignment…one that involves sketchnoting , one that adds to their resource binder (a required project), and one that adds to their own professional development plus it will go in the resource binder. All three choices will help them explore reading and writing workshops. I am allowing them a choice how to complete the exploration. The student who likes to take notes on reading assignments and is a strong visual learner will enjoy the sketchnoting. The student that wants to get ahead on the final project will appreciate adding to the resource binder. These printouts can be used later on in the teaching career. The student that is tech-savvy and enjoys social media will enjoy the Pinterest assignment. It also helps them complete the final project and add to ideas for their future teaching career – thus adding validity of future value to the assignment.
As the instructor, have I added to my own work load by having to grade 3 different types of assignments? Perhaps. But to me it really doesn’t matter. What matters most is what will benefit the student and I believe that choice is an important aspect.
As an elementary teacher, I often used the “Tic-Tac-Toe” board assignment. I fill in the spots with choices, and students have to choose 3 to complete – in a row or diagonal.
Here are a few more resources you may enjoy regarding student choice:
Guidelines for Offering Choices
Supporting Autonomy in the Classroom
When Choice Motivates and When it Does Not
Motivating Students to Learn
Liven Up Your Lessons by Offering Choice