Power of Choice

There is a lot of talk about best practice in education right now and the changes that need to be made. First and foremost, the fact that we are at least thinking and talking about change this is a positive sign. In an effort to increase motivation and learning in my class we have been harnessing the power of choice. While this may seem like such a simple concept, the outcomes are simply amazing.


Many people are aware of Sugata Mitra’s work and his “Hole in the Wall” programs in India and his work in London. One of the basic premises behind his ideas is choice. Students are choosing what they researched based on what they were interested in and/or wanted to learn. This appears to be a very basic principle but with great impact.

Recently, a colleague of mine, Rob Hunt, and I have been letting go of control a bit in our classes. We have been giving students more freedom in their learning and it is largely based on choice. I have used this analogy before; we are giving kids the destination but not the turn by turn directions. Instead of lecturing to students or organizing a step-by-step project on a given topic, we are giving the students a topic and telling them to determine how they want to find, organize, and present their information. This is a concept that is being used in certain professional developments (@L_Hilt) and is the backbone of twitter (@PB_H).

With only a few times of this idea being used in our classroom, the results are amazing. Students are engaged throughout the entire time period we set for them to work and are often taking the work outside of the classroom. In one instance, I had students staying two hours after school while I held a basketball practice because they want to keep working. Many are choosing to work collaboratively and deepen their learning through constructive conversation. They are finding information and then synthesizing that information into a final product to serve of learning evidence. At the heart of it all is choice.

Next time you are writing a lesson plan, creating a project, or planning a staff development, ask yourself what role choice plays…the results are astounding.

4 comments:

Patrick Larkin, Principal said...

Josh - Great post. Choice is such a big factor in ensuring student engagement. It is amazing what can happen when we get our students engaged! There are certainly other things to consider to increase engagement such as:
authenticity, learning with others, personal response, emotional/intellectual safety, etc. but I cannot think of one more important than choice! I will be sharing this post with my staff.

Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, Josh. Having spent 2 hours discussing Mitra WEDS night, there is so much to be learned from his research, but you've helped me quickly get to the core.

Learners are more motivated when they have an emotional stake.

Your examples are both profound and intuitive. And what's even more important, so easy to try. Thanks so much for sharing them.

As a parent (not a teacher) I am thrilled to see educators moving toward radical new thinking to approach old problems like student engagement. I think these are precisely the kinds of ideas - giving students a choice - that are going to make a fundamental difference in our education system, making learning both fun and important again.

Anonymous said...

Nice Post Josh. I hope this will resonate well with some of my staff as well. We're trying to bring in more "differentiation" and I believe student choice could help drive this.

Josh Stumpenhorst said...

Thanks for the comments everyone. Yes, I firmly beleive that of all the things I do in my classroom to help engage students, choice is the most important. It helps give kids ownership and makes them want to learn simply because they are choosing what it is they are learning. On top of that, if you give them the choice of how their learning is shown, it helps remove test and performance anxiety that often comes with standardized whole class projects/assessments.