One of my most popular posts ever – and most popular conference topics – is about giving students choice in their homework assignments. After a while I thought, well, if giving students more choice in homework is so motivating, why not in other assessments? Why not in their final exam? And so I moved my final exam to a very open-ended, choice-filled project. Recently, this line of thinking has permeated all my assessments. I find myself asking how I can include more choice in every assessment and assignment. And the results have been good.
Last year, I had an assessment with a goal of respectfully defending a contrary opinion to authority. Students were supposed to [pretend to] give a 2-minute oral presentation to our dean of students (who speaks Spanish), respectfully disagreeing with the school’s rule banning cell phones for any reason anywhere on campus during school hours. They were supposed to propose what classes would benefit from the rule being changed and which ones perhaps didn’t need the rule changed, and why. To my great suprise as such a fan of technology integration, several of my juniors either didn’t disagree with the rule or just didn’t care about it. I came away from the assessment having learned two things: 1) I needed to help my students see the learning possibilities of the technology in their pockets, and 2) I shouldn’t assign one of my opinions as the topic of an assessment.
This year, I did the same assessment, but tweaked it to have them choose whatever school rule they disagreed with. The assessment went so much better – it’s amazing what happens when students care about the topic. I would never have guessed a couple of my uniform-clad quiet girls wished they could dye their hair a crazy color!
Student choice is revolutionizing my classroom by accessing more intrinsic motivation. Here are some tips as you include more choice in your classroom:
1) Stick with your goals.
Some things are non-negotiable. With my homework options, my only goal is that students interact with the language outside of the classroom and reflect on that interaction. Everything else is up to them. With the assessment mentioned above, I needed my students to add a debate element to their opinion defense, because I knew that would push their language use. Therefore, they had to choose a rule they disagreed with. Whatever your goal is, make sure adding student choice doesn’t sabatoge it.
2) Ask what your students could choose to do while still meeting the goal.
While you’re still working toward your objectives, what could vary? What could students choose? Often they can choose the topic (or some element of it). If it’s planning a trip, let students pick the place and the activities. For projects and large assessments, the tool is also something that can easily vary. I never would have thought students would choose to do a poster over a technology tool, but I had a student who was artistic and liked to work with her hands and loved designing her poster on Frida Kahlo more than anything she would have enjoyed on, for example, Glogster. For my final exams in level 3 last year I had a couple of Glogsters, a Powerpoint, a couple of Prezis, a regular poster – you get the idea.
3) Ask for student input.
Sometimes, coming up with your own ideas is overwhelming. What do your students want to do? What would make things more motivating for them? With you guiding them to assess the objectives, of course, they may astound you with creative ideas for their own assessments.
4) Consider letting student choice help guide your curriculum.
Perhaps you’re stuck with a certain curriculum and you can’t vary it. But I find that teachers often have a much stronger perception of this than the reality actually dictates. My students choose to take advanced Spanish overwhelmingly because they plan to do service (mission) trips in Latin America. Therefore, many of our assessments and activities are guided by that goal – their goal, not mine. When you let students’ choices guide your entire direction, you’ll be astounded at the proficiency their motivation fosters.
Find a way to give students more choice in your classroom this semester. Then, let us all know how it goes.
Photo credit: Almudena