The Power of Student Choice in the Classroom

Linda Valloor, M.Ed., is an experienced high school teacher teacher, education consultant, and writer.

Read on as Linda shares the benefits of offering students choices in the classroom and strategies for incorporating opportunities for students to make choices in their learning.

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The power of student choice in the classroom

There is something appealing about power. We can all admit that the desire to change things is a normal and healthy one. Now think about what it means to be a middle school or high school-aged kid. It may come as no surprise to a teacher, but some kids don’t like school. They don’t like their schedule, they feel detached from the curriculum and they may not even enjoy your teaching (that last one seems impossible, I know).

Many children dislike school because they feel they have no control over their learning experience. Incorporating student choice into the learning environment can help student engagement and prevent learners from feeling powerless.

Benefits of offering students choices in the classroom

Providing options promotes student ownership

When you offer students choices, they feel that their opinions matter. They feel accepted within the classroom. When children are given the power to make decisions, they receive a clear message that their thoughts are valued and that their choices matter. This will, in turn, create a learning environment in which each student knows they play a vital role. Students feel empowered, and empowering every individual in our class is one goal every educator has, regardless of grade level or course subject.

Incorporating student choice helps classroom management

Instructional choice can proactively address potential behavior issues. For example, allowing students to choose transitional activities will help keep them focused and on-task. They will be less likely to get out of their seat, start a random conversation with a peer, or get frustrated when they are confused about the next step. Avoiding these scenarios will enable your lesson plans to run more efficiently.

Some students may present challenging behaviors when they feel they have no control over tasks they would prefer not to complete. Providing options increases student interests and learning outcomes by allowing individual students ownership over the tasks they wish to complete. After the task is completed, you can then praise them for choosing their task wisely and for transitioning well.

Student compliance increases when children are granted some autonomy in the classroom. Students who struggle in the traditional classroom setting may do so because they feel overlooked and misunderstood. By prioritizing choice in your instructional strategies, you can offer students power healthily and beneficially. Not only will your students be happier and have increased motivation, but your classroom management and learning outcomes will improve.

Centering choice in the classroom boosts confidence and emotional learning

Providing students with choices in the learning environment helps boost their confidence by highlighting their competence. Students feel capable when they know that they can accomplish a specific task that is set before them. Offering students varied “knowledge checks” or review activities can help them gauge where they are at with their learning process.

Prioritizing student choice increases learning outcomes

Instructional choice in the classroom centers on students’ voices. When learners feel their opinion matters in terms of the assignments they are completing, the topics they are discussing, or the resources they are engaging with, we see increased student motivation. Students are more ambitious in their academic endeavors when they are invested in the content. They retain more information when they are connected to the content.

Adolescents also learn better when they can create their own learning goals. Research has even shown that offering choices to students results in higher test results than when options are absent. Why would that be? When students are given choices about their learning, they find that Ithe assignments they choose are more valuable to their learning process. They find these types of opportunities important and therefore put more time and effort into the learning and preparation that goes along with participating. 

Tips to incorporate student choice in the classroom

Invite students to help create classroom rules

One way of fostering a shared ownership culture within the learning environment is to invite students to take part in the creation of classroom guidelines and expectations. Going over rules may be many students’ least favorite part of the year, but it can be incredibly meaningful when the class partakes in the creation of such an important part of the classroom.

At the start of the school year, ask your class to help come up with a set of classroom rules. By listening to student voices in this manner, you will show your class that you are an attentive and understanding leader, not a scary authoritarian who ignores their needs and input.

Having students share their ideas and then discuss or vote on rules will not only help their critical thinking skills in the classroom, but it will distribute control. This type of control does not need to be strictly held by the teacher alone; allowing students to choose empowers them in different ways. 

Consider differentiation in the classroom

The key to instructional choice promoting competence in students is making sure that each activity is appropriately challenging for individual students. Make use of differentiated instruction to help each student succeed. One way you can do this is by creating choice boards.

For example, if a student has not completed the second chapter of a book, they complete activity A or B on the board. If a student has completed the second chapter but feels they would benefit from reinforcement, they can choose between activity C or D. Lastly, if the second chapter is read and the individual feels they have comprehended well, then the student can complete activity E or move on to the third chapter. Remember, these activities do not have to be vastly different in their formatting, they can just address different scaffolds of learning.

When a student can assess their learning and engage in an assignment that builds on their knowledge, they will feel competent and confident in their learning. This type of choice board activity will also help the teacher get a better understanding of where each student is at.

Final thoughts

In a world where students often struggle with being seen and valued, teachers must provide opportunities to affirm them. Offering student choice in the classroom not only empowers learners, but it also improves their learning outcomes.

About the author

Linda K. Valloor


About Linda

Linda Valloor, M.Ed., is a teacher, education consultant, and writer. She was a high school teacher for eighteen years, mainly teaching World Literature and Poetry. She also… Read more

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