Probably one of the most famous quotes about choices, or the lack of, there has ever been. Choice is important, very much so. We want to have choice in our lives; we don’t want to be told what we’re having; we want to choose. That is one of my approaches to learning. I like to give children the choice about how and how much they learn. When I mentioned the theme of this article to two pals, @ICTMagic and @pwallen1985, they both said jokingly: pupils learning – don’t give them a choice! And they’re right, sort of – children, and adults, need to learn, but how can we give them ownership of it?
One of the ways in which I give children the choice or ownership of their learning is during maths – we may be looking at a particular operation: addition; I’d have taught the skills needed and the method, the children will have attempted them on whiteboards or in books then they will choose which level they want to work at. Red if they find it tricky and they want support; amber if they are more secure but aren’t confident enough to try the challenge, and green if they are confident in the method and could even explain it to someone else. The beauty of giving children this choice is that they set themselves on a colour they think they can handle and are more willing to push themselves for a challenge once they feel secure in it. They don’t have to stay in the same colour for the whole lesson. The danger of boxing children into a particular colour is that they may find it too hard and confidence in the method is lost or, worse, a child may underachieve:
“Mr Waldram, can I try the amber questions?”
“No, of course not! You’re in the circles group.”
Straight away, I’ve capped that child’s learning. If children are to truly excel and make progress, we can’t give them a ceiling.
I often finish with a star question too; a question that will normally involve a word problem. I have a secure and an extension – for those that need to, the secure that has to be completed to secure understanding of the objective and an extension for those that worked on green and have achieved beyond the expectations for the lesson. A simple idea, a simple choice, but one which gives children genuine ownership of their learning. They feel more empowered by the fact they have chosen their questions and I believe that a greater understanding comes because of it. This idea is not revolutionary. It’s just simple, yet clever and often missed. Scrap the workbooks and give it a try.
Another area where choice works well is through homework. Mark Creasy (@EP3577) is a massive advocate of unhomework – getting the children to be so enthused about learning that they bring in work from home despite nothing being set. I still set homework, but with a twist – a choice. The children are given a grid at the start of the term and they have to choose one piece a week from the maths, English or other column. They also have to choose one piece of digital learning a week. The children really like this, they love the fact that they can decide which piece of work to do first; they love that they can choose which of the pieces they can avoid; they love, once again, that they have ownership of their work. Many of them bring in extra pieces and often complete some of the tasks beyond the expected.
So, are you a teacher that gives your children a choice? If so, I’d love to hear what you do. If not, try one of these ideas, give your children some ownership of their learning. Step back and watch the learning take place.
This article originally appeared in the June 2015 Edition of UKEdMagazine.
Ben Waldram – Dad and Deputy – two incredibly hard, but incredibly rewarding jobs. Ben teaches in the heart of Derbyshire and has had 14 years at the chalkface. Read his blog at benwaldram.wordpress.com and on Twitter at @mrwaldram