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Student choice is one of the topics I covered in my video on how to increase student engagement in virtual learning. In today’s blog post, I want to cover a variety of possible approaches to giving students choices and empowering them in your classroom. A lot of these are inspired by the fact that I teaching writing and literature courses, but plenty can be tweaked for any course topic you are teaching.
What Choices Can You Give Students?
Let Students Choose What to Research/Focus On
When designing activities, let students pick what to focus their work on. For example, are they writing a paper? Let them pick what topic tied to your class to write about. Or, if you are teaching a writing class, let them write about any topic that interests them. If you went over various concepts in your first unit, let them pick which ones they want to focus on when completing the project tied to that unit.
Give Students Formal and Creative Assignment Options
In my literature classes, I have students complete a short autobiography project at the beginning of the semester. In one version of this assignment, I gave students two choices: write a narrative or create something that answers my assignment prompt in a creative way. Many wrote the narrative, but others chose to create a board game, write a poem, create a series of “Top 5” lists, etc. In your assignments, is there any room for offering a creative option alongside the usual formal writing option?
Give Them Genre Options for the Assignment
What does that mean? Rather than giving them the options of a formal or creative approach to fulfilling the assignment learning outcomes, give them a list of genres they can pick from when completing the assignment. For example, tell them they need to research a topic related to your class. But, rather than only having the option of writing a paper, they can choose to create a website, a poster presentation, or a newsletter. You can pick the genres that work best with your classes.
Let Students Pick the Format/Medium of the Assignment
Rather than only written genres, give students the option to create videos or podcast episodes or even live action role plays that they act out in class. I have a few different digital project ideas, but you might find that one medium works particularly well for the classes you teach or the concepts you are focusing on for a certain unit.
Have Students Facilitate Class Discussions
Rather than always leading class discussions, give students a chance to pick what they want to discuss and let them lead an activity tied to your class concepts. I have a group project that works really well for this idea. Students lead the discussions in groups of 3, which means 10 different classes involve student-led discussions.
Let Students Pick a Project Deadline
Since that group project mentioned above is scattered across multiple weeks of class, students can pick their deadlines for this unit. As a group, they can decide on when works best for them to lead their activity. Of course, as time slots are picked, the later groups have more limitations on their choices. But, there is still a level of flexibility here that appeals to students. And I use a random number generator when deciding the order in which groups pick their assigned day to lead the discussion.
Give Students More Options than Required
Students practice writing literary analysis in my literature courses. I give them more options than required of them to complete this practice. If we are reading 5 books in our class, then they have at least 10 days where they can submit a mini literary analysis (if each book is covered over one week). If they are only required to complete 3 of these activities, students can choose which ones to write. They can also complete more than is required and only the highest 3 grades will be used for their course grade.
Let Students Choose Their Groupmates
This is an obvious option, but still worth a mention. Rather than strategizing group compositions all the time, let students pick their group members as often as possible. This choice can increase their willingness to participate in the activity, and can help them gain friends, as well. This latter benefit is an important consideration when teaching freshman heavy courses.
Have Students Pick Their Feedback Format
Do they want comments in the margins? Just a few main points at the end of their work? An audio file of your feedback? A screen recorded video where you give feedback while reading over their work?
What format do students want to receive feedback in? This might be a question you only ask for one major unit, as it can be more work on your part. But, it’s a question worth asking, especially with this shift to online teaching. I just finished creating video feedback for my students, and it’s so easy with Loom. Grading was actually faster using this approach rather than writing in the margins of Canvas-submitted documents. Here are three strategies for creating video feedback!
Give Them Extra Credit Options
In each major assignment instruction sheet, I include an extra credit option. Up to 5 points depending on the work they do when completing the activity. Here are some examples of extra credit activities to offer, but the sky is the limit here. This semester, the three I’m using are: infographic, short narrative, and abstract (for their final research paper).
Let Students Choose 1-1 Appointment Times to Meet with You
With Zoom being used for office hours this semester, I’m emphasizing even more than usual that I’m happy to meet with students outside my usual office hour times. Almost every meeting so far has been scheduled outside my usual hours. In past semesters, this was still often the case. By giving them more options that just your office hours, students can know that they can get help from you during more than just class time and office hours.
These are 11 ways you can give students choices in your classroom. Help them feel more invested in your class by empowering them as often as possible. There are plenty of benefits for you and your students using this approach to course design. If you want more tips for designing class projects, check out my group project design blog post or major project types blog post.
Comment Below: What other ways can we give students choices in our classes?
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