A Nudge Toward Student Choice

I’m Caroline Wieland, a 1st Grade teacher & CIC at Brentwood Elementary. I love spending every day being inspired by the academic, technological, and social/emotional capabilities of my firsties!

On February 2nd I chose to attend the Blended Learning Summit, a place where teachers, speakers, guests, and instructors from around the district come together to learn and collaborate about building a positive classroom culture conducive to the transformative use of technology. As I went through my day listening, learning, and collaborating I noticed one topic popping up over and over— student choice. As a first grade teacher and control freak I never have any hesitations trying out new technology or explicit instructional strategies, but I DO have reservations when it comes to giving up my perfectly planned lessons I cling to so tightly. I love knowing what each student will learn, what mode they’ll be learning in, and even what specific location within my classroom that learning will take place. I always jump quickly aboard the “students LOVE structure, students NEED boundaries, students CRAVE predictability” bandwagon. Little did I know, they could still receive all those things while having a choice and say in their learning.

The following Monday I did away with my traditional center pocket chart that directed student pairs to a specific spot with a specific job and replaced it with a system where students choose how they’d learn that day. I started using the idea of a learner profile— a survey where students select if they prefer to work alone, with a buddy, in a quiet space, or in a space where talking and collaborating is encouraged. I also had them share their favorite way to learn (for example— in math do you like iPad fluency games, flash cards, partner games, or paper and pencil math puzzles? Do you like listening to reading, reading to yourself, or reading to a buddy? Do you like to do writing games or free write?). The next day, we started our free choice reading centers. While the structure has needed some tweaks here and there, I have been both shocked and thrilled by my students’ response. The room is calmer, more learning is happening, and students are empowered to take ownership of their educational choices.

I am so thankful for the opportunity the Blended Learning Summit gave me to collaborate with other educators. As a teacher with formerly very rigid plans that I loved to control, I am happy to say that the nudge to move toward a more student-centered classroom has been a huge win for both my students and me!

5 Comments

  1. Thank you for sharing your personal experiences with taking on this shift in classroom culture! You have really empowered your students by helping them recognize the ways they learn best and by providing them with the choice to learn in that manner.

  2. This is inspiring, Caroline! I would love to see your classroom in action. I can totally relate to the feelings off stress around giving up control over the lesson, but I’m so glad to hear that your students are responding positively. I will definitely be sharing your blog post with others who are looking to build in more student choice.

  3. It is definitely a scary feeling changing up what you are used to. It is also so rewarding when you see it working! I also began implementing student choice with my 5th graders via Personal Learning Paths. The students all have to complete the same work, however, how they complete it and how long it takes them is all up to them. It has definitely taken some trial and error like you mentioned!

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