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 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 turn over the learning so students learn best by being the ones working harder than the teachers.
At the Participant level, the teacher is directing the learning. Students learn by participating and following instructions, step-by-step directions, or a pacing guide. Students as participants comply with what is required to pass assignments, get grades, or to prepare for graduation. A choice at this level is about the teacher or a computer program providing a menu of options for students. These opportunities for students can be in the form of images, videos, text-based resources, audio, hands-on activities, or interactions with peers. The choices offered can also provide opportunities to showcase what they know from writing a paper to creating a performance. As a participant, students are usually assigned seating and the teacher makes most of the choices for the students.
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 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.
At the Advocate level, students are beginning to be 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.
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 apprenticeship 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 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
- Continuum of Voice
- Levels of Engagement
- Continuum of Motivation
- Continuum of Ownership
- Continuum of Purpose
CompetencyWorks. iNACOL. “Meeting All Students Where They Are Report. 2018