The Continuum of Choice original content by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey (2015) has been redesigned with a new derivative and content by Barbara Bray (2018) using 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 the continuum of choice. 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.
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. Choice at this level is about the teacher or a computer program providing a menu of options for students. These options for students can be in the form of choices to learn content through 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. At this level, the teacher can meet with students to determine how they learn best and help them choose the best options for their learning.
At the Designer level, students are starting to make some meaningful choices about their learning. The teacher provides learning possibilities 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 how to give more choice 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 now “learners” who believe they can own and drive their learning. This is where 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 are using the power of democracy and begin to understand their part in how they can make change happen.
At the Innovator level, learners use their strengths and interests to find 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 may change often throughout their lives. They may want to learn a new language, create a product, solve a problem, or design something new. An Innovator means someone who creates new ideas or ways of doing things.
Learners, individually or with peers, brainstorm and choose ideas using the design thinking process to create change or design new products:
- Empathize is where they talk to people and reflect on what they see.
- Define is where learners become aware of needs and how to make changes to meet needs.
- Ideate is where learners brainstorm ideas and questions around changes.
- Prototype can be a sketch or model that conveys the product or idea for change.
- Test is to determine what works, what doesn’t work and then modifies the prototype.
Learners can be part of a pathways program using the design thinking process 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.
The goal for providing more choice is to move from being participants to 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 move to learner-centered and eventually learn-driven environments, learners 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 from Toronto, Canada for designing the graphics for the Continuum of Choice!
Other Continuums Moving to Agency
- Continuum of Voice
- Continuum of Engagement
- Continuum of Motivation
- Continuum of Ownership
- Continuum of Purpose
CompetencyWorks. iNACOL. “Meeting All Students Where They Are Report. 2018