Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Choice 3.0

A common learning tool that's part of the teaching craft is student choices. Here's a look at the levels that choices are used for student engagement and empowerment.

Choice 1.0
When students are working on artifacts, options is an obvious strategy that is commonly used. Choices encourages student buy-in. When they select an option they're saying, "This is what I want to do."

Choice 2.0
One way to deepen options for students is to incorporate learning profiles, such as
multiple intelligences (Howard Gardner and/or Robert Sternberg, Thomas Armstrong), brain-based (Jensen), or other approaches (4-Mat, Meyers Brigs(test), True Colors (test), etc.). If we know how our students think and process problems, learning can be structured to suit those needs. For example, when the objective is to contrast diet programs (Adkins or Weight Watchers) in terms of effectiveness, students could demonstrate understanding through an essay, podcast, video, or presentation using posters or digital slides.

Another example, during a lesson, students need time set aside to process the blocks of instruction as a transition to the next activity. This can be accomplished by summarization--journaling, talk to a partner, outlining or webbing ideas or think-pair-share. We use a strategy or combination that suits the ways our students digest comprehension.

Choice 3.0
Have one option be "Student Created." The ultimate buy-in approach is to have students help structure their learning experience. I call it: Doing the Heavy Lifting. It can be too much to ask teachers to develop a customized version of a product for a small groups of students and individuals. There is lots to plan and keep track of. Time becomes a nemisis. When done, the investment of time can be well spent as student engagement rises, along with a belief that "I can do this."

These requirements need to be filled for success of Choice 3.0.
1. Establish clear criteria for a successful outcome.
2. Provide 1-2 options.
3. Allow students opportunity to revise proposals with a deadline for student proposals.

Clear criteria is important for the teacher as to what are the critical learning points that lessons must address, and assessments need to track for student growth. For example in building understanding of persuasive communication, criteria might include:

  • Main focal point
  • Word choice
  • Details, examples, and/or anecdotes
  • Counter arguement
  • Tone
  • Illustrations/Visuals

Clearly articulated criteria can be turned into an effective rubric, and used as part of a coaching conversation with students to guide their reflection on their learning. Students use the criteria as sign posts to keep them on a good path, without getting lost. There's nothing wrong with students wandering off the paved roads to trailblaze a new or innovative direction. The criteria allows for this, but also gives them guidance for how to get back on the main road if learning runs into a dead-end. Perhaps most important is that criteria allows for consistency with evaluation for the teacher and other judges to make effective assessments regardless of the product. Using the criteria for persuasive communication, students could explore use of media in governmental politics, product/services advertisements, or social issues. The final product might be an op-ed article, commercial (video or podcast), photo essay, protest music, or graphic novel. The teacher developed option might be the article. Students could propose alternatives that include ideas from this list or something else.

Teacher develop options provides students with choices that the resources are available in the classroom. Students may want to go along with these fixed choices ready-made for immediate use. These options also provide a model or template for students who want to create their own proposal. Criteria is tightly aligned with the models so that students can understand how their proposal must fit the requirements. A student proposal should be based on the resources that she has access to, which may or may not be available at the school.

When students develop their own proposals, teachers evaluate the pitch to accept, revise, or send back to start over. This development and revision process is an effective learning experience for students. The deadline helps students manage their time, and by when a proposal is approved. Otherwise they must choose from one of the teacher options to ensure enough time to complete the work.