I have learned through conversations with teachers from various grade levels that the insights from my reflections are not limited to high school teachers. The pressures of curricular timelines and standardized testing reach down into the elementary grades, too.
Have we become so preoccupied with achievement that some of our practices have been squashing curiosity in the interest of standardization?
In his book, Drive, Daniel Pink (2009) explains that allowing people autonomy with clear goals increases intrinsic motivation. As children, we experience this feeling of satisfaction that causes us to work more intently. Remember the perfect sandcastle after the waves have pommelled multiple attempts, the days-long intricate LegoⓇ construction project, or the mightiest blanket fortress for your sleepover? As they get older, kids participate in sports where they attend practice and weekend games; the reward was not only the completion of the task or competition but the joy of working and the satisfaction of reaching a goal. As adults, we set goals for ourselves. For me, it is running a 10k race. Putting on those sneakers and heading out the door to run every day is not easy; it is the feeling that I have once the run is done that gets me motivated to do it and keep on doing it. If this goal was set for me by someone else I would not have the same determination.
Challenging work that is delivered in a meaningful context increases student performance (McTighe & Seif, 2011) and intrinsic motivation (Pink, 2009). This can translate to classrooms in a variety of ways; providing students with choices for how they obtain, transfer, and communicate their learning is one of the simpler ways to increase student agency and you can start by making some pretty easy swaps.
Choice boards and learning menus are reasonable starting points for teachers to increase student agency.
Providing the right choices is important. During the first week of school, I provide students with time to complete a “Tell Me About Yourself” survey. Prompts in the survey are designed to elucidate student preferences for learning without asking them directly. Answers to the following prompts have proven very useful to my practice:
I sleep ________ hours every night.
_________ makes me happy.
Knowing the end of a story helps me to focus on reading.
One thing I wish teachers knew about me is
Three words that describe me are:
Because I use music, videos, and lots of movement, I include items that will help me provide a comfortable atmosphere for each student in our classroom.
My favorite kind of music is…
I feel stressed when ___________.
I work best when ___________.
What I learn about their interests is used to create choice boards for the first curriculum unit of the school year.
My favorite subject in school is…
I am taking this class because…
What I hope to learn from this class is….
One problem I would like to solve is …
Choice boards typically give students a choice between three options to demonstrate their knowledge of a topic.
I make sure to include options for students who
- prefer reading
- prefer watching videos
- like to write
- would rather demonstrate their learning using technology
The one thing that every student must do is in the middle box. There are several options here to demonstrate knowledge and everyone is assessed by the same rubric.
The options are all things that I have used in the past but found did not work for all students. (The one size fits most mentality). This is the perfect opportunity to empower students to self-differentiate by choosing the option that works best for them rather than me using the one option that works for the majority of students.
This method has been very well-received by my students and did not take much more time than traditional planning would have. Students are more invested in the process and product because they have chosen it for themselves.
Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us. New York, NY: Riverhead Books.
McTighe, J. & Seif, E. (2011). Teaching for understanding. Retrieved from https://jaymctighe.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/Teaching-for-Understanding.pdf