A key component for her was “choice”. Choice enables learners to adapt assignments to their own learning style, and helps teachers assess students’ knowledge and deep understanding about a subject, rather than getting potentially superficial snapshots that may be hampered by tools that do not allow some kinds of learners to “shine”.
As a recently-returned-to-the-classroom teacher, I find myself increasingly concerned with student motivation, and I have discovered that choice is an excellent motivator in a variety of contexts.
Take my literacy program, for example, based on the Daily Five structure, Ramesh (not his real name) chose – for a large portion of the year – to read car magazines like Auto Trader and the like. Although I had times when I wondered if I ought to be "making" him read "real" books, the truth is that allowing Ramesh, a grade 3 student, to select his own preferred reading material meant he stayed focused for up 30 minutes at a time rather than requiring constant redirection to read things he was not interested in and had not choosen. And he seemed to really enjoy "reading" the many pictures and captions Auto Trader had to offer. Cars are definitely an affinity for him, and he did struggle with reading, so these car magazines were a perfect match.
The proof is in the pudding: As of March, Ramesh began reading beginner chapter books! Of his own volition! He loves to read!
Another way I integrate choice into my classroom is in the way I allow my students to
So, how will we integrate “choice” into our math program next year in meaningful ways?
One opportunity is, of course, the design and inclusion of open questions and parallel tasks, which will allow students to access the math from different entry points. Students will also be permitted to use a variety of manipulatives (colour tiles, cuisinaire rods, etc.) of their choosing.
In addition, Dale and I are thinking about beginning the year with – as teachers of Literacy do with a mentor text – one rich question that can be revisited multiple times to achieve a number of instructional goals. Using one problem through which we can demonstrate a variety of problem solving strategies will, we hope, enable students to choose from several strategies whenever they come across a problem to solve in later math classes.
One concern we have as we embark on this project is the remediation of basic skills; a great many of our students in Grade 3 this year are already behind in their automaticity when it comes to adding and subtracting single digit numbers. This sort of gap holds them back, we feel, when it comes to higher order problem solving. They have already, in some cases, begun to develop a math phobia, an “I can’t do this” attitude towards math. We want to ensure that we address these gaps, but I’m wondering how we can do so in a way that allows for choice. Perhaps one solution could be to offer a weekly “options” class where students choose to play math games on the computer, participate in small group flash card or games classes, or engage in rich problem solving, if they are ready and want to do that. This will of course require some manpower, however, with support staff on board, a few parent volunteers, and several student teachers and others we can round up, such a weekly differentiated remediation class could be a possibility.