The Opportunities for Choice by Barbara Bray (2018) is a derivative adapted from the original content around the continuums by Bray and Kathleen McClaskey (2015). Graphics by Sylvia Duckworth. Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Changing teaching and learning can be daunting. The idea of meeting all students where they are means redesigning the system and how we teach. That also means understanding and meeting our students where they are. It is about changing the concept of being a “teacher” to becoming more of a researcher, designer, diagnostician, and expert facilitator of constructive learning experiences. [CompetencyWorks 2018]
After reading the paper from iNACOL, “Meeting All Students Where They Are,” I realized I needed to bring in new concepts to address choice. It is not a continuum of choice. It is about providing opportunities for choice at different levels. It depends on where the learners are around tackling a task if the environment provides multiple opportunities, and how empowered students are to take responsibility for the choices they make.
Teachers may only know what they know or learned as students themselves. Many teachers believe that providing a set of pre-planned choices from a computer program or a list of options was enough to give students opportunities for choice. I see so many teachers working way too hard to create opportunities for students to choose the best way to learn. The idea of developing opportunities for choice is to start turning over the learning so students learn best by being the ones working harder than the teachers.
I believe that any learner at any age can have opportunities for choice inside and outside of school. Educators reached out to me to let me know they were concerned about choice being on a continuum. They mentioned that some learners were ready to advocate around something they were passionate about, and, at the same time, we’re also at the participant level when preparing for a test or taking notes.
At the Participant level, learners of any age may be more comfortable following instructions, step-by-step directions, or a pacing guide. Students as participants comply with what is required to pass assignments, get grades, or prepare for graduation. Yet, learners of any age can be at the participant level when they may be uncomfortable or not confident in what they know, how they feel about themselves, or what they can or cannot do in some situations.
This is where teachers can refer to Lev Vygotsky’s Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) as the More Knowledgeable Other (MKO). Vygotsky believed that mental tools extend our mental abilities enabling us to solve problems and create solutions in the real world. This means that to successfully function in school and beyond, children need to learn more than a set of facts and skills. They need to master a set of mental tools—tools of the mind to be able to choose the most appropriate tools, resources, and strategies that support their learning.
Teachers can do this by providing a menu of options for students and empathy as students take risks and make mistakes with the choices they make. These opportunities for choice can be in the form of images, videos, text-based resources, audio, hands-on activities, or interactions with peers. The choices available can also provide opportunities to showcase what they know from writing a paper to creating a performance.
“The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill;
the willingness to learn is a choice.” ~ Brian Herbert
At the Designer level, students are starting to make some meaningful choices about their learning. The teacher provides learning opportunities and then gets out of the way for students to go on their own journey (via Jackie Gerstein). The teacher invites input from students to decide on topics based on interests or questions around content areas they are studying. The teacher collaborates with students to brainstorm ideas for lesson design, assessment strategies, and types of tools and resources to use with the activities. The teacher and students as co-designers review and collaborate on how to give more choices as they learn. The teacher is also inviting their input on the redesign of the learning environment so they can select seating based on the activity. Students then choose and demonstrate evidence of learning with the teacher.
“Design is the intermediary between information and understanding.”
At the Advocate level, students are validated as “learners” who believe they can own and drive their learning. This is where students as learners identify challenges or problems that they want to address, research, and tackle. When they identify and take on a challenge or problem, they then own an authentic voice with a clear purpose for the choices they will make to advocate for what they believe. They are empowered to develop strategies to solve the problem and may even build a network with others who want to solve the challenge or problem with them. Learners choose different spaces for learning and collaborating. They reach out to experts and others in and outside of school to support their research. Learners may work strategically individually or with a group to develop an action plan to shape the change. They do the research and find the appropriate evidence to support the action plan. When learners experience advocacy working toward something they believe in, they begin to understand their part in how they can make change happen.
“I learned a long time ago the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side,
be an advocate for myself and others like me.” ~ Maya Angelou
At the Innovator level, learners use their strengths and interests to explore what could be their passion for learning. When they find their passion, they can then discover their purpose for learning and life. Learners can then choose their learning path based on that purpose. Being at the Innovator level can happen at any age and learners can realize that their passion and purpose may change often throughout their lives. They may want to learn a new language, create a product, solve a problem, or design something new.
Learners can be part of a pathways program to guide the design of their learning. They can find an advisor or mentor who can guide them as they explore their interests, talents, and passions to discover their purpose. They can choose extended learning opportunities such as internships or apprenticeships to take their aspirations to another level. Learners can also be innovators by doing a “Capstone” or “Passion” Project that they work on throughout the year and then present as a culminating activity. As part of the project, they select evidence of learning for their portfolio and final presentation. Being an innovator includes attributes of an entrepreneur as someone who creates new ideas or ways of doing things.
“The spark of passion ignites the fuel of innovation.” ~Craig Groeschel
The goal of providing more choice is to move from being participants of learning to become self-directed, independent learners with agency. It is about teachers and learners changing mindsets and having “can do” attitudes. This takes time and a process for both teachers and learners. When you acquire the skills needed for advocacy and innovation, learners automatically take more responsibility for their learning. The more choices learners make on their own will give them the skills to advocate for what they are passionate about and become more innovative about how they discover their purpose for learning.
A big Thank You to Sylvia Duckworth @sylviaduckworth (www.sylviaduckworth.com) from Toronto, Canada for designing the graphics for the Opportunities for Choice!
Websites about Moving to Agency
- Spectrum of Voice
- Levels of Engagement
- Development of Ownership
- Continuum of Motivation (to be updated)
- Continuum of Purpose (to be updated)
CompetencyWorks. iNACOL. “Meeting All Students Where They Are Report. 2018
Vygotsky, L. Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) https://www.instructionaldesign.org/theories/social-development/
For all of the Rethinking Learning podcasts with Barbara Bray, click on the podcast tab at the top, the logo below, or go to https://barbarabray.net/podcasts/
Go to this page for resources, questions, and more information about Barbara’s new book, Define Your WHY.