I’ve been talking about student voice in the last few posts. If you haven’t already read up on the value of student voice, how to measure student voice opportunities in schools, and part 1 on offering choice in the classroom (what & how), I encourage you to check out those posts!
To briefly summarize, amplifying student voice and choice in schools is incredibly beneficial for student learning and student engagement. When we think about what this means for our practice as educators, we want students to have a voice in what, how, where, and/or when they learn. In the first of this two-part post on student choice in the classroom, I discussed how you can use choice boards to offer student choice in what they learn, how they learn, and how they demonstrate their learning. I also shared a free Google Doc choice board template!
Maybe you’ve heard all about choice boards, but they seem a bit too overwhelming to start with. While you’re not quite ready for choice boards, you are ready to offer a bit more choice in your classroom. Or maybe you have bought into choice boards, and you’re looking for even more ways to offer choice to your students. Let’s dive into how you can offer students choice in where and when they learn.
CHOICE IN WHERE TO LEARN
To support choice in where students learn, try setting up different types of learning spaces in the room. For collaborative students who are auditory learners or students who need to tap into the “hive mind,” have tables or groups of desks as an option. Invite students to sit on the floor by themselves if that’s their style. Have a designated section for students who want a quiet area to work independently. Maybe provide some cardboard dividers or cheap ear plugs/big headphones to block out the extra noise. My students who wanted quiet used to love sitting in the hallway when the hive minded students would be chatting in the room.
Researchers have found that when students are able to engage in co-constructing their learning spaces, they are more likely to engage in self-directed learning, so this is a great opportunity to improve student independence and help them take more ownership of their learning. Parnell and Procter (2011) define this idea of “placemaking” as “‘personalisation’ of space” in which the “built environment [serves] as a vehicle for and also a subject of learning activities,” (p. 79). To do this effectively, they identified 5 principles of the placemaking process: active involvement of students as co-researchers; time for students to explore their ideas through reflection, asking questions, and hearing others’ perspectives; partnership between teachers and students with a shared responsibility for student learning; collaboration in which teachers and students learn from one another through respectful dialogue; and responsiveness, or adapting as students discover what helps them learn best.
If you think your students are too young for this, the study above was conducted with students as young as 6 years old!
CHOICE IN WHEN TO LEARN
To support choice in when students learn, self-paced station rotation is one way to offer choice during class time. You could set up stations, but instead of having students rotate at the same time and in a pre-selected order, invite students to rotate at their own pace over a designated period of time (e.g., one class period, one week). You may even want to offer students the choice in whether they engage in all of the stations. This way, students also have a choice in the WHAT and HOW of learning (if stations cover different content or involve different ways of learning or demonstrating learning) as well as the WHEN.
Beyond class time itself, you could ask the class if they are interested in trying a flipped classroom experience. A flipped classroom asks students to watch a recorded mini lesson (or YouTube video presenting new information) at home, and then use class time to discuss and apply the information they learned. Some students may process new information better at home away from the distractions of the classroom and may benefit from having access to others during class to help them further process and apply information.
Whether you decide to offer student choice in when they learn or where they learn (or both!) I’m excited for you to think more about these elements of choice as you plan, as increased student engagement often follows a meaningful invitation to choose what, how, when, or where students learn.
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Lindsay Lyons (she/her) is an educational justice coach who works with teachers and school leaders to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice, design curricula grounded in student voice, and build capacity for shared leadership. Lindsay taught in NYC public schools, holds a PhD in Leadership and Change, and is the founder of the educational blog and podcast, Time for Teachership.