Hi, Teachers!!

I'm writing today about a concept that I feel strongly about. Something I think is not present in instruction enough these days: giving students academic choice. I'm not going to lie to you--giving students choice can feel frightening sometimes, and I believe most teachers find it so difficult because they don't want their students to fail. I think we tend to feel a little bit like this:

We sometimes think that if our students experience failure, we are the ones failing them. However, I challenge you to feel more like this:

The truth is, our kids need to fail. I know that is hard to accept at times, especially when you love your students and want them to do well, but part of being successful is experiencing setbacks. Success is all about how you solve problems in an innovative way. Some of the most powerful lessons we learn are through failure. We use those lessons to ultimately succeed, and our final product and the process it took to get there were both way more meaningful to us when we worked hard to get to that point. By sheltering kids from failure, we rob them of important problem-solving skills and honor the product rather than the process. We do not teach them the important life-skills and perseverance they need when they face future challenges. We also teach our kids that failure is bad or embarrassing and that mistakes should be avoided. 

But WHY???? 

If we want our kids to take academic risks in our classroom, we have to embrace the mistakes. Now, I'm not saying that we can't guide our kids... but I am saying that I think there is something fundamentally wrong with that perspective. If we make a big deal out of failures instead of recognizing them for what they are--positive learning experiences--we do our students a huge disservice. Making mistakes a natural part of the learning process and honoring them for the growth they provide us make our students so much more likely to participate in discussions and reach out of their own comfort zones. Allowing students to make mistakes and, in turn, apply that knowledge, creates a self-directed and confident learner, ready to tackle the challenges in their futures.

Okay, so now that you're saying, "Hey! You're right! Mistakes aren't that bad!" let's go back to my original idea. I think it is SO. IMPORTANT. to give students choice in the classroom. It really doesn't take that much work at all. First, I teach what making thoughtful choices means to my students. 

The planning stage
This can take one minute for kids, or it can take half an hour for students. It depends on what you're working on! Talk about making thoughtful choices. After you finish a choice activity, you can address how the planning process went in the reflecting stage so that future planning processes can be more effective. When students are working in groups, make sure groups plan together.

The working stage
This is where the bulk of the academic choice activity is. The kids are working on the task you've assigned (or they've chosen), and you are circulating and guiding students as necessary. You will see kids trying to solve problems. Instead of solving them, ask them questions like, "What might you do to solve this problem?"

The reflecting stage
After planning, think about what went well and what didn't go well. Figure out potential solutions to problems that might be useful for future choice activities. When students are working in groups, make sure groups reflect together.

Once you've gotten that down, you can start small. Kids can either choose what they will learn or they can choose how they will learn.  I find that when teachers are starting out with incorporating choice into their classrooms, the how part is easier to do. If you are willing to do a little bit of work before a unit in math really starts up, you can do some really cool things. I love to rely on choice boards and choice menus. This is what I just created for my most recent unit on addition with my students:

Now, I do not sell this in my store because most of the resources I put on this choice board are not mine. I do sell a great pack for a student-created "I Have, Who Has?" product though! Click the picture below to check it out.

Are there a few things you love to do during a math unit? Great! Add them to your choice board. Put your favorite Teachers Pay Teachers purchases on there! Put your tried and true games on there. They belong on here!! All you need to do is create a table in Word and list the activity and the point value. Include directions so kids know how to complete activities. This really pushes kids to read directions and become more self-directed! 

Managing this can be tricky. I like to have students put their choice board and their assignments all inside of a math folder and hand it all in at the end. They have all of their completed work right at their fingertips and they can track their progress. I also meet with kids regularly to see how they are doing in terms of completing everything. I ask them what is tricky for them (instead of asking "Is anything tricky for you?"), and then follow that question by asking how they will choose to solve that problem. I find this to be really useful. 

Here's some choice in action in my classroom!

Here's a student working on a number tile puzzle. I love these! You can find some here. Students are given digits 0-9 and can only use each digit one time to make all the facts on a task card true. They need to make mistakes in order to solve this and adjust as necessary. They find these really challenging and tend to really love them!

Above you can see my Math Enrichment Activities Pack: Student-Created "I Have, Who Has?" in action! Read more about how to use it here. This is really challenging, so I make sure it is worth more points on the choice board.

Here are my students solving some addition task cards with QR codes to look up the answers afterwards to check. Any time you can get some technology into your lessons, the kids are SOOOOO excited! When introducing this to the kids, one of the kids said, "But, Miss Savage, can't you cheat if you look up the answer!?" It led to a really good conversation. Of course we talked about the fact that the student who looks up the answer first really is only hurting themselves because they don't get a chance to learn. However, we talked about something even more cool! Just because you know the answer doesn't really mean anything. You need to know how to get there. The assignment does require kids to show their work, so if they can't show how to get to that answer, it would not be considered completed. This is a really fun thing to do with math sometimes. Give your kids the answers... have them figure out how to get there! That's just a fun math tidbit for you. I like to show a math problem on my morning messages sometimes during morning meeting, and I like to ask my students how they would solve it. We talk about several different solutions and how they all work in a different way.

Are you still feeling a bit nervous to use choice in your classroom? You can even try it by teaching one lesson and having two possible activities during independent practice. You don't have to jump right into a choice board! For example, during word study, kids might have a choice to practice spelling words by rainbow writing or by writing on a dry-erase board. Simple, but effective. Kids buy into learning when they have a choice.

So, that's all for now, Teachers! How do you incorporate choice into your classroom? Which one of these tips are you excited to try? And Halloween is right around the corner! Are you ready? What are you doing on Halloween in school and at home? Make sure to comment below!
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