Tuesday Teacher Tips

November 10, 2015

The Power of Student Choice in the Classroom, Plickers for Formative Assessment, and New Professional Readings in the Library

Engaging Students through Student Choice

In the last few years, especially, I have noticed a growing number of educators talking about cultivating a system that allows for greater student choice and voice in learning. Through implementation of student driven passion based research like Genius Hour or 20 Percent Time, teachers across the nation have reported a rise in student engagement and productivity. You can even follow hashtags like #stuchoice and #stuvoice to see a growing number of examples of how teachers are empowering their students to take ownership for their learning.

Benefits of Student Choice

Alfie Kohn, in "Choices for Children: Why and How to Let Students Decide" cites research that suggests there are many benefits to providing students with more choice can reduce burnout and have an overall effect on a student's "general well-being" by giving them control and helping to improve self-esteem. Students who are given choice also display better behavior and greater "buy in" to the content, because as Kohn points out "... if we want children to take responsibility for their own behavior, we must first give them responsibility, and plenty of it. The way a child learns how to make decisions is by making decisions, not by following directions". There are also numerous studies that point to the idea that students who are given choice perform better than counterparts who are not given choice.

In the article "Student Choice Leads to Student Voice" by Joshua Block for Edutopia, claims that: "Learning that incorporates student choice provides a pathway for students to fully, genuinely invest themselves in quality work that matters. Participating in learning design allows students to make meaning of content on their own terms."

How can you Incorporate Student Choice?

Student choice can range from decisions like seating assignment or class job to something a little more complex like choice in summative projects. One thing that can be uncomfortable for teachers is giving up some of the "control" and giving students room to be a little messy.

The Edudemic article "7 Ways to Hack your Classroom to Include Student Choice" by Amanda Ronan suggests giving students choice when it comes to homework. Perhaps allowing students to choose 5 math problems out of 10 would improve their likelihood of completing the assignment, or offering students an assignment contract where they choose to do 6 out of 10 assignments for entire unit might make them more accountable. You can also incorporate "choice boards" and unstructured "innovation time".

How I've Been Using Student Choice

You also might try giving students open ended choice on the kind of project they would like to do to "show what they know". Instead of giving students a list of projects they could choose from to do for a unit, talk to them about what makes a good project that demonstrates learning and ask them to come up with ideas for what they would like to do. You could use something like a single point rubric to help generate discussion. You can see an example of a project rubric here. For example, when working with first graders last year, I asked them to come up with some ways to show what they learned about character, setting and problem/solution in an author study we did. Students proposed projects like puppet shows, Lego models of settings, and stuffed animals of characters. See how we did that in my post "Using Super 3 Research Model and our Makerspace to Inspire 1st Grade PBL"

Most recently in the library, students across all grade levels have been learning about how to be a good digital citizen. Kindergarten and 1st graders were given the choice to show what they learned about staying safe online through building with legos, using apps like Tellagami and Chatterpix, creating murals, and performing puppet shows. Students built computer labs with the Legos that showed students being accompanied by an adult and behaving nicely, they created puppet shows that explored the idea that students should always ask a trusted adult before using an iPad or computer and should only use safe apps and websites like PebbleGO and PBS kids. Students in 5th grade are currently working on multimedia projects that show what they learned about a research question they developed. The projects range from creating collaborative Powerpoints to news style public service announcements to Lego stop action movies. This very approach to teaching digital citizenship will be explored in an ISTE sponsored webinar - find out more here.

How to Start?

If you would like to get started with including more student choice in your classroom, you don't have to start big. Start with small things like letting students pick their class jobs or letting them choose a reward a project from a list and in time build towards giving students more freedom to dream up and choose research focus or entire project design.

Plickers: A Second Look

Last year I wrote about Plickers in Tuesday Teacher Tips, and although I had planned to really make use of it for a formative assessment tool, it just didn't happen.

A few weeks ago I began to give it a second look with my 2nd grade classes as a way to assess what they know and don't know about features of nonfiction books.

Plickers is a teacher tool that makes use of a website in coordination with an augmented reality based application that is downloaded either on the teacher's smartphone or tablet. Teachers use the website to build multiple choice questions and assign those questions to a question queue for a particular class. You can organize questions you create by topic or unit and use them year after year.

To administer the questions to the class, each student is assigned a number and gets a Plickers card, that can be printed from the website. It's easiest to pull Plickers up on your interactive white board and show students the question in Live view. Students respond to the question by holding their Plickers card with their answer choice facing up, and the teacher uses his or her device to scan the cards.

As answers are scanned with the device, the teacher can see immediately who has answered correctly, and it displays a bar graph with percentage. This would be a great way to quickly assess whether a topic needs review.

When it's time to give an assessment my 2nd graders have been cheering, and I overhead one of them saying "This is the only way to take a test!"

The only downfall in my mind is that the reports generated in Plickers is a class overview report per question. You have to individually click on each question to see a student's response, so it won't really give you a "grade" on an assessment for an individual student. But this is an excellent tool that you can use for an exit or entry slip or after introducing a concept that may need some additional review.

Check out the quick overview below to see how it works.

How to Use Plickers in the Classroom

Professional Readings - New in the Library

Johnson Library

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