We live in a world filled with options for everything from what we eat to what we wear. Do you want McDonalds, Burger King, or Wendy’s? Should I buy a Subaru or a Toyota? Do I want this job or that job? So many choices, but how do we know which one is best for us? Do we know? Which paint brand will be best for the walls in your house? Does it matter? Is one brand or type of something better than another? Are there too many options? Wouldn’t it be easier if there was only one of everything? Then we wouldn’t have to worry about choosing the right one.
As our students are faced with this same barrage of options on a daily basis, how can we help them determine which choices are best for them. How can we support our students as they grow and develop as learners, thinkers, and makers? Is there a way to teach our students how to effectively differentiate between the good and bad choices facing them every day?
What if we find a meaningful way to incorporate choice into the classroom? As our students are so used to having options, the freedom to choose will better engage and empower our students. Utilizing options in the classroom when it comes to instruction and assessment is an effective method for helping students genuinely learn the content and skills covered. Brain science tells us that providing students with options, allows them to better engage with the material, thus creating meaningful learning opportunities.
In STEM class this week, the first phase of our weather unit will come to a close. The boys have learned all about how air masses form and create weather on Earth. Now, to be sure they gained the relevant knowledge and skills associated with the content, I need to assess them. How should I do that, I thought. What is the best way to assess students? Could I create a whole-class assessment using Plickers? Would that be an effective way to assess all students? How would I know if each individual student fully mastered the skills and content if I assessed the group as a whole? Then I contemplated a written assessment. Would that be the best way to assess students? If so, how? What kind of written assessment? A standard test or quiz? Short answers? Diagram? Then it hit me, what about making use of the choices our students seem to enjoy? Perhaps providing students with a limited number of options would allow for engagement with the task while also creating an opportunity to educate students on to how to effectively choose the best option for them.
So, I created a test of sorts to assess students on their understanding of the two objectives covered this week. They will have three options for which to choose from in order to showcase their learning.
- Option 1: Create a diagram showing the causes of weather on Earth.
- Option 2: Write a paragraph explaining the causes of weather on Earth.
- Option 3: Complete a standard quiz with Fill in the Blanks questions as well as one Short Answer question.
I’m hopeful that this assessment will allow all students a meaningful way to demonstrate their mastery of the content and skills. We will begin the class discussing how to make the best choice for them. Do they see the concepts better visually? If so, the diagram would be the best choice. Those students who learned the material by reading lots of facts and information might be better served by the paragraph response choice. Those students who learned just the key vocabulary words and their meanings might find success with the standard quiz option. So, I feel as though this assessment will meet the needs of all of my students so that they can easily demonstrate their understanding of the skills and knowledge covered this week in class. While I wonder if all of the options and choices we are faced with regularly are really beneficial, I do think that making use of options in the classroom capitalizes on how are students learn best.