Sunday 17 January 2016

The Power Of Choice in Learning

"You choose"

The phrase has so much more power than is first anticipated by the two short words.  By default, there is nothing prescribed for you but you take things into your own hands.  You have the power.  And that, alone, is powerful. 

I hadn't considered how important 'choice' is in learning until I started at my current school.  We have a 'Core Offer' which consists of things that we consider to be important elements and strategies to use in each lesson.  It is featured in our Teacher Handbook and is something which is referred to in planning and observing lessons.  I remember first reading through the Core Offer and recognising many of the elements as things I plan into lessons anyway: learning objectives matching activities, personalised learning and questioning, among others.  Every part of the Core Offer was something I did everyday, except for one. 

"Pupils will have an element of choice within their learning."

This really stuck with me and made me rethink a lot of what I do.  I have previously mentioned how early in my teaching career I was obsessed with grouping children by ability.  Thus I was prescribing what they did and how they did it.  Without meaning to, I was putting a glass ceiling on their learning; clearly this was before I'd heard of the idea of a Growth Mindset.

I started by including quite trivial choices for children to make so they felt they had some control over their learning: different colours of paper, a variety of context options or different writing implements.  Ultimately, these didn't have a great impact in their learning but I saw very quickly an increase in engagement.  They were buying into the lesson through a simple decision-making process.  This, along with reading about Growth Mindset, led to me completely changing how I managed differentiation, personalisation and challenge in lessons.

Rather than providing certain groups with prescribed activities at their level, I started explaining some different options of support to my class for the one activity they were completing and letting them choose if they needed support and how much.  Quickly, I realised this worked better if they sat in mixed-ability groups.  That way, they could learn from each other, keep their confidence as there's no "top" or "bottom" table and there was an enhanced team-spirit feel in the classroom.  With some guidance and conversations, children were choosing appropriate activities and challenging themselves.  I had never experienced a class so focused on their learning before and, without any evidence to back this up, I credited the element of choice for their enhanced positive attitudes.

It wasn't until the following year that I started to realise the difference choice can make for some children who struggle to behave in school.  I was teaching a child who had a tendency to cause problems during lessons.  Many teachers use "the choice" when managing behaviour in and out of the classroom.  For this child, the choice had always been whether to do the work in the lesson or not.  Teachers had previously said, "You can choose to do this work now or choose to do this work during your breaktime with *SLT member*".  Early on, I had taken a similar tactic but once the child was settled in my class, I started saying, "You can choose whether you do X, Y or Z" and the expectation was that the work was done in the lesson; the choice was about how the work was completed rather than whether it was completed.  This made a real difference and meant that they completed more work in the classroom and there wasn't the need for break time intervention.

Since then, I've been experimenting with different ways that children can have an element of choice in their learning.  Sometimes, the choice is about presentation format or use of practical resources; other times it is about the subject of a piece of writing or question to research, answer or investigate.  Each time, it amazes me how the children engage in their choice and produce some brilliant work, and reminds me how different the lesson would be if I had prescribed these elements.  

Related Links
Alison has used a writing project called You Choose which you can read about here.
You can read more about challenge is organised in my classroom here

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, this was very interesting and definitely something I need to ingratiate into my lessons


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