Over the last several years, I’ve been doing a lot of work in the areas of student engagement and differentiated instruction. Once aspect that stands out in both areas is the power of student choice. According to Kanevsky and Keighley, in their article entitled “To Produce or Not to Produce: Understanding Boredom and the Honor of Underachievement” (2003), choice ranks among the 5 characteristics of an optimal learning environment that students seek along with the aspects of control, challenge, complexity and caring. Choices are motivating to most people and we often make choices based on our personal preferences.
In the world of differentiation, choice also plays center stage and no other strategy illustrates this more than Choice Boards (also called Learning Menus, Think-Tac-Toes). Choice boards offer a menu of options for students that can vary in content, process, or product. They are most often constructed with varied learning styles and interests in mind. Choice boards can even be tiered so that advanced learners are steered toward more challenging choices and struggling learners toward more scaffolded choices.
Here is a link to my wiki called Dare to Differentiate where you will find a plethora of examples of choice boards in various formats (one of my favorites is the dinner menu) for various subject areas and levels. Also check out a new type of choice board I’ve recently found called the 2-5-8. On the wikipage, I have also linked to or uploaded examples of rubrics for choice boards along with multimedia examples of ways to deepen your knowledge on the topic.
Teachers like to be in control. And because of that character trait, we like to talk a lot. We have so much to share. But, are we making sure that students are having multiple opportunities to talk about the content they are learning? There is a quote that I’ve heard many times in the world of education, “The person doing the most talking is doing the most learning.”
So, how do we step back and allow students to take control? One way is through flexible groupings. Pairs, triads, random and assigned. Based on readiness, mixed readiness, interest, or learning preference.
21st century skills highlight collaboration, critical thinking, communication, and problem solving. What better way to practice those skills than in groups?
In the 1990’s, Spencer Kagan came up with a vast array of structures for cooperative learning in small groups. These structures are just as powerful today as they were almost 20 years ago.
Some of my favorites are:
- inside-outside circles
- four corners
- talking chips
As far as grouping strategies, some of my favorites are clock buddies and grouping cards. Here’s a set of 36 cards that have a multitude of uses:
For more resources on the topic of flexible grouping and grouping strategies, go to:
It seems everywhere you look, student engagement is a hot topic. Engaging students in learning in the 21st century is very different from the way we engaged students in the past. We know that many students are “cooperating” and “complying” in our classrooms, and some are downright angry about how disengaged they are.
If you are interested in exploring the topic of Student Engagement, I would like to direct you to a wiki I created called “Let’s Get Engaged.” On that wiki, I have accumulated a considerable amount of resources on topics relating to student engagement, originally based on a multi-session workshop series.
On the page called “What is student engagement?,” I include a variety of resources in multimedia on the topic. One of my “go-to” resources on the topic is the Schlechty Center. You may know Phil Schlechty from his popular book, Working on the Work. Schlechty describes several levels of engagement:
- strategic compliance
- ritual compliance
For a pdf description of the levels of engagement, click here.
I have created a tool I call the “Engage-O-Meter” for teachers to use when reflecting on activities they plan for their students. No one activity is likely to meet all of the qualities of engagement. When teachers try out a new activity with a class that students do not seem to engage in, the Engage-O-Meter can give some direction to the teacher as to how the activity might be re-engineered to increase student engagement. Here is that tool:
An important point of discussion is the difference between engagement and entertainment. Do I have to wear a clown nose and juggle to get my students to engage? Not at all. Quite simply put, entertainment is what the teacher is doing, engagement is what the students are doing. Engaging with each other, engaging with the content, engaging in discussions with the teacher. How do your lessons measure up on the “Engage-O-Meter?”