Choice Gives Students Ownership in Differentiation

Today’s Contributor: Elise Baughman is a science teacher at McCallum High School where it is her 7th year teaching and her 6th year as Campus Innovation Connector.

I love giving students choice. Choice gives students ownership in differentiation to meet their own learning needs. However, this year, I found myself repeatedly running into obstacles as I worked to implement choice and individualized learning in my AP Chemistry class. One challenge is that tested subjects define their success criteria as a student’s ability to answer the multiple choice and free response questions on the test. This sets some limits on my ability to give students choice in how they demonstrate mastery in the end since this has been pre-determined by the nature of the class. Another challenge has been helping students make the best choices for their learning. Student A may need more practice with buffer problems while student B should really go back and spend more time on weak acid-base equilibria but more often than not students still weren’t choosing the options for practice that would support these needs.

I needed to create a clear way for students to see where they were struggling and create loops in their choices so that they could continue to learn, test their knowledge, reflect, and repeat. This felt like a tall order so I decided to go big and create a unit based entirely on choice. Here is the basic structure for my unit:

Topic Practice:

  • Topic practice assignments are the equivalent of daily work and students have access to practice problems/assignments that are aligned with each subtopic in their unit. Based on the size of the unit I make a minimum number of submissions required for full credit. (*Also if some assignments are much bigger or cover multiple topics I might make them worth more points.)

Topic Quizzes:

  • I created a selection of quizzes that were all about the same length but were specific to different sub topics that students could choose from and calculate their grade as the average of their highest 2 scores. (*I also tried to include multiple choice quizzes and free response options that covered similar topics so students could try again on the same content if they didn’t do as well as they hoped the first time after they had completed more topic practice.)

Progress Check & Analysis

  • A Progress Check is a test that students can take anywhere and at any time during the unit. The goal of these was not to grade students on correctness but to have them analyze their results and prompt them to cycle back through to their topic practice and then to the quizzes if needed.

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