Choice and Voice in the Classroom

This post is written by guest blogger Melissa Motes, Director of Instructional Technology from DeKalb, Texas.  

“If we teach today’s students as we taught yesterday’s, we rob them of tomorrow.” – John Dewey

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We all like choices. Choices about what to wear, what to eat, how to spend our time. But the need for choice doesn’t stop when students (and teachers) arrive on school campuses each day.

My journey into the power of choices began in 2005. I attended a Gifted and Talented workshop with Carolyn Coil, author of Standards-Based Activities and Assessments for the Differentiated Classroom. The book was written with an emphasis on teaching gifted students – but the truth is it was a great manual for EACH student and the underlying principle was that “One size does not fit all”!

So in 2005 I saw the light. Ok maybe that’s a little dramatic.

But I did discover the concept of student-centered learning.

Student choice became the norm. My classroom was transformed from rows of neatly aligned desks and rows into a busy, alive, sometimes messy room of LEARNING!

Teachers’ roles are changing….and it’s a good change. Gone are the days of needing to be the “imparter of knowledge”. Choice and Voice is essential to learners – and we are all learners! Our school has a strong focus on technology as a learning tool – yet it is only a tool. While technology is indeed a great motivator, the ability to choose what we learn about and how we do it is essential. Our focus must be on the learning – not on the path that we take to get it!

What does it look like to allow choice and voice? Mrs. Tracy Triplett, technology teacher at DeKalb Elementary uses “Genius Hour” with 3rd and 4th graders. Students choose their research question based upon their interests and passion. After they research and reflect, they will create a presentation of their information to share with their peers. These students are excited about LEARNING.

Mrs. Donna Hunt, DeKalb High School Biology teacher, utilizes Choice Boards with Dual Credit Biology students, offering a choice of research topics and student products each grading period. Students choose a driving question within the field that they are studying, and then choose how to present the information to their peers in a meaningful way. They are free to explore a new presentation tool, create a video, build a visual representation, etc. The CHOICES are endless.

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Now after 24 years in Education my recognition of the importance of choice and voice in the classroom has evolved into the understanding that it is just as important with adult learners.

What about teacher-centered learning? Teachers want relevant information they can use now. One size Professional Development for the masses is never effective. Want to see the power of choice? Go to a conference with a group of teachers and let them attend a session that’s not relevant. Do they suffer through and try to learn? No! They vote with their feet. They get up, move on. It’s not what they want to learn, not relevant, not applicable now. Students don’t have the authority to check out with their feet, but they definitely check out in their attention and motivation. Teachers are just grown up students who pay bills and buy groceries. The concept is the same: teachers want a choice!!

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Give teachers a CHOICE in what they want to learn and how they learn it by offering online learning, face Picture6to face learning, blended learning, or peer teaching.

Consider offering a digital badge program at your district that allows teachers to be rewarded for their learning – and reinforce the idea that we are all learners!

Digital Badges offer teachers and administrators the opportunity to pave their own learning pathways. You can earn badges for skills you have acquired ….like being a Google Classroom Genius or a Mimio Power User

You can earn new badges by training on new techniques …maybe an Atomic Learning video about how to use Glogster as a learning tool, or how to have students collaborate using Google Docs. It’s not about the badge…it’s about the learning and allowing teachers to take ownership of that learning.

Another idea school districts can use to facilitate choice among faculties is to offer a mini “Teacher Conference” in August. Teachers present to other teachers about tools, strategies, and technologies that are working for them. Each teacher chooses a number of sessions to attend. My District has implemented this and the positive response has been overwhelming, all because they have a CHOICE and a VOICE in what they are learning!

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