Teachers tend to fall into one of two camps: we love student choice or we shy away from it. Choice can either be a fantastic classroom management tool, or a way to create chaos in our classrooms.
I tend to feel that choice is a great way to manage our classrooms. It also can greatly increase student engagement. How can we use choice to benefit our students?
Why is choice important?
I tend to think of choice as a progression of events for our students. Here’s how it tends to go:
Choice creates investment. Even offering choice in tiny ways can make students feel empowered. Feeling empowered can lead to students feeling invested in their work.
Investment becomes determination. Once a student is invested in an assignment, then they become a little bit more determined to finish it. They are less likely to decide that something is too difficult, or too boring, because they chose it!
Determination results in growth! Anything that a student commits to finishing will result in growth in some way. More often than not, you see growth both emotionally and academically.
What are simple ways to incorporate more choice?
I love morning tubs, because they give students something purposeful to do first thing in the morning. Letting students choose what morning tubs they go to is a great way to start your day off with a little bit of choice.
This requires parameters. For example, the numbers of students at a tub may be limited. You might also limit students to one choice a day. But within the parameters that you set, you can allow your students to move freely.
I don’t necessarily mean full on flexibility seating. I usually recommend giving students a “home base” to lessen anxiety. However, it is reasonable to let students choose a new place to sit for an occasional activity, such as centers or writing time.
With kindergartners, this obviously takes a lot of discussion at the front end. How can students know where they will be most successful? What will happen if they choose poorly and they work with friends and don’t get any work done? Choice is a responsibility after all, and the more students feel that the opportunity to choose is a privilege the more seriously they take it.
But, for those students who really do better on a stool that allows them to wiggle a little bit, or sprawled out on the floor, it’s important that every once in a while we give them the opportunity to get up from their desk!
Writers workshop is the perfect time to allow choice. While students may be asked to write a specific type of writing, I usually give them full control of what they write about. This motivates them because they’re telling the story that they want to tell.
Of course, there is a time and place for writing prompts. However, I try to allow student choice for almost every writing workshop.
You may find that this is difficult at first if your students have never been given choice before. That’s okay! You can support them by brainstorming topics to write about as a class and modeling how to choose one.
During centers, I also love a writing center that allows students to choose from several different authentic writing activities.
For example, making lists, writing thank you notes, writing letters, writing a story, etc. are all examples of writing center activities. The more choices you give, the more excited your students will be to write. The more we can do in kindergarten to build that love of writing, the better prepared they will be for upper grades.
Free Flow Centers
Another option is to allow students to move from center to center as they finish at their own pace. So many of us stick to the routine of giving students 20 minutes to finish center and move on, but we all know that not every student works at that pace. Some work a little faster and then end up being the student stuck in a center with nothing to do and creating behavioral problems. Some work slower, and consistently feel like they aren’t successful because they aren’t finishing their centers.
Free flow centers allow students to move onto their next station when they are done with the current one. This, like anything else, requires organization and lots of discussion on the front end. But, if you can set up the routine well, you end up having a lot of responsibility taken off your plate and put on the students plate instead. And that is a beautiful thing!
Start using these tips for incorporating more choice into your classroom today, and watch your student engagement soar!