What does student choice mean to you? Does it mean that you give students a choice board with nine different options and they choose three options to show their understanding of a certain topic or standard? Or does it mean that you embed options throughout your lesson while you are teaching? Does student choice extend to decisions about classroom behavior?
My students have the choice to participate as part of the classroom learning or they have the choice to not participate and their choices have consequences that can be positive or negative. At the beginning of each school year, I let my students know that they should have choices when it comes to taking ownership of their learning. This year I am teaching students who are taking Core Connections I and Core Connections II, and we have explored how student choice is embedded within the textbook. I have also explored how students have choices with their behavior in the classroom.
While studying in chapter 5 of the Core Connections I (CC1) book, I noticed that there were student choices embedded within the textbook. In section three of this chapter, students are exploring the area of a rectangle and then applying what they know about the area of a rectangle to the area of a parallelogram, triangle, and trapezoid. When we entered the lesson with the area of a parallelogram, I gave students the shapes, a piece of colored computer paper, scissors, and tape to complete the assignment. The only instructions that I offered were that they wanted to cut the shapes and form a rectangle. This is where the fun began. Students wanted me to give them more instructions, but I explained to them they had the choice to cut the shapes anyway that they wanted to and to tape the newly formed rectangle on their paper to find the area. Many of them struggled at first, but after they made the first choice on where to cut the first shape, they became more confident. They looked to me for more directions and wanted to ask if they were right. But they got to cut the shape how they wanted and to explore how to find the area once they had a rectangle; this was powerful. They were taking ownership and pride in what they were learning. I had several students who already knew the formula for a parallelogram before this lesson took place, but they could not tell me why that formula worked. Prior to teaching CC1, I too could not explain why the area of a rectangle and parallelogram were the same when the shapes looked completely different. At the end of the lesson, I got feedback from my students and many of them mentioned that it was hard because I was not telling them what to do. Throughout the week in this section, students continued to have student choice in how the area of a rectangle could be used to help find the area of a triangle and trapezoid. By the end of the week students were proud of what they were coming up with, and their experiences changed the way they looked at the areas of different shapes. They also had more confidence in the choices they were making.
In the same week I worked with my students taking the Core Connections II (CC2) course with probability. This particular lesson is one of my all time favorites. The students even loved this lesson. We were beginning to look at compound probability where one event and another event occurs. This activity, which allowed for student choice, was the Ten-O’s Game. I explained to the students that they could place ten “O’s” on their number line, which was numbered from one to twelve. I let my students know that I was going to roll two number cubes and find the sum. If they had placed an “O” over the sum, then they would get to cross it out. The goal of the game was to be the first person to cross out all ten “O’s”. They looked at me and asked if I was going to give any more information than what I just gave them. I told them no and I gave them one minute to place their ten “O’s” on the game board. It was fun to watch and listen to the conversations they were having about making the choice of where the “O’s” should go on the game board. After students made their choices, we started playing the game. I would roll the standard number cubes and call out the sum and we kept playing through the game. After about five rolls with each sum being called out, some of the students realized at that moment that they would never win. I looked at them and said, “Why?” They responded, “Because I made the wrong choice and put an “O” over the number 1 on my number line.” I asked those students why their choice of placing an “O” over the 1 on the number line was not a good choice. The student responded with, “Ms. P, you are not going to call a sum of 1 because there is not a zero on the standard number cube.” This was so powerful to see how their choice in playing the game affected them winning or losing the game. We continued to play through that first round until someone had crossed all their “O’s” off the game board. We played a few rounds more before we analyzed the game. Since the students had a choice in how they were going to play the game, it helped when it came time to analyze the game because they were interested in learning how they could better their chances of winning.
I have observed that student choice is a powerful tool to utilize in the classroom. Through my research this year I have seen that the more my students have choices about their learning, the more engaged and ready to learn they are. Given choice, my students want to be a part of their educational journey and want to take ownership of their learning.