Would you go to a restaurant that only had one item on the menu? No, you go to a restaurant that has choices that fulfill the requirements of your friends and family.
Students are the same way. If they are told what to do and how to do it, they tend to resist and say they are bored. Give them a choice and the same activity, will be more engaging. Just like the restaurant with one item on the menu, that one item may be something you really want, but because it is the only choice you might not go there. Instead, you go to a different restaurant and order the same thing, not because it is better, but because you had a choice.
As educators we hesitate to give students a choice because we know if they do it “our” way, they will have success. We lay it out in front of them and they put it together to get a tried-and-true finished product. We are afraid the choices students make will not work out and they might fail. And failure is considered a bad thing. However, we need to let them experience failure every now and then so they have an opportunity learn from their choices. That is when real learning happens.
Teachers tend to micromanage students’ decision and choices. We do this because we have been in the classroom and know how things tend to work out. We need to remember, we know how things work out because we learned from doing it and seeing what happens after choices are made. Students need to be given those same opportunities to learn from their choices.
Giving students choice can be easy. Start small. For example let students choose to do their math on lined paper or plain paper. Does it really matter to you what kind of paper they use? Then take it a step further and give them a choice of color paper to use. You will find that most will still choose white after a while, but it is their choice and that is what matters.
Choice can work its way into every part of the classroom from room design, to assignments in class. Another example where choice can make a big impact is the seating arrangement. Have you ever considered letting your students choose where they sit? Not for a period of time, but everyday could be different? No assigned seats at all. It sounds scary, but it actually isn’t. Students will choose a place that best fits their learning style. Let them change their seat every day allowing for open seating. You will be amazed with the choices they make. Gone are the complaints from students about who they sit next to. If they didn’t work well with someone near them, the next day they chose to sit somewhere else. They just come in to class and choose a seat, just like you would if you walked into a meeting.
At times do their choices get them into trouble? Yes. That is how learning can be even more powerful.