Saturday, May 17, 2014


    CHOICE is something that has not been a traditional part of education.  Essentially, education operated top down.  Educators gave out information and learners took in the information.  Officials and institutions created curriculum and dictated the instructional model, while students complied. It was primarily one way and students did not have much opportunity to choose anything related to what they learned, how they learned, where they learned and more.
      If students made it as far as college, and survived their first two years of requirements, they were allowed to then pursue their major, their primary interest area or their career.
      But in the first 13 years of education, there have been very few choices for students.  In middle school and high school, we are offered a handful of electives.  And in the previous 20 years, our country almost completely decimated many elective programs with an over-the-top focus on core academics and testing.

      But why is choice important in learning? Well first, when one chooses something to learn or study, there is a psychological difference.  It implies that if one chose to be there, the automatic buy-in is usually higher. 
     The American Psychological Association has studied this phenomenon of the impact of choice in learning and how it affects student motivation, student ownership and autonomy – all increasing student learning success. 
     Barbara McCombs, PhD at the University of Denver, wrote an academic article entitled Developing Responsible and Autonomous Learners:  A Key to Motivating Students.  McCombs proposes that allowing for choice allows students to feel that they have control or ownership over their own learning.
      “Choice helps them develop a sense of responsibility and self-motivation. When students feel a sense of ownership, they want to engage in academic tasks and persist in learning,” said McCombs.
       McCombs and her area of study appear to be essential to the future of learning in a 21st century society.  This is that our motivation to learn increases when we are part of that learning through choices we make.  And therefore, choice leads to more and higher levels of learning.  To see more of this article, go to the following: 
      Choice creates empowerment and learning is about empowerment. The more a student takes ownership and becomes involved in their learning, the further and deeper they will go.       Why does post-secondary education like college have so much staying power?  Well, because one does not have to go.  One is choosing it, paying for it and making a conscious choice.
     The charter school movement has created a whole new avenue for choice.   Allowing students to choose the best school for them is a huge step in the right direction.  College is like this, so why shouldn’t elementary, middle and high school be like this?  Again, the beginning of real learning is when the student owns their learning and is bought in as well.      

      And this comes from choosing what one learns, how one learns and where one learns. In high school, we have embraced the comprehensive high school that functions as one size fits all.  Other nations figure out long ago that one high school won’t fit everyone.  They set up systems of different types of schools with different focus areas, skill sets and more in order to address the need for choice.
      We had Magnet Schools for years and they are all about choice.
      And what are teachers and schools doing now?  Well, they are continuing to expand and implement choice into their programs in order to increase student ownership and eventually learning. 
     Teachers at my school have developed project menus whereby students choose from a list of projects and approaches in order to meet an expectation.  And they can always suggest a project not on the menu to the teacher.   Check out an example of project menus from an English class at the following link:
     Many schools have looked at schedules and programs as a way to create more choice.  Our school has the eight-period schedule in order to give students many more elective offerings over their four-year career.   See the current course catalog at my school that is an example of their ever-expanding diverse electives one can offer:
     Many schools are developing pathways now where students can meet requirements to graduate, but through a specialized or theme-based approach allowing for their specific career interests areas and passions to be utilized throughout the core curriculum.
     With the integration of technology, as well as educators seeing the learning power of choice, students can now use personalized tools and devices, skills, interests and methodologies in order to not only complete school work, but hopefully at a much more deeper and higher level.

      Choice has not been part of our educational mindset.  But as the need for higher levels of creativity, critical thinking, collaboration and communication increase; we will need students who take on more ownership and autonomy.  This will allow for all students to achieve and be connected to their learning.
    Educators will need to continue to approach learning from the learner’s needs and interests and develop appropriate choices around that.   We all need to choose CHOICE.  LET’S ALL BE PRO-CHOICE TOWARDS EDUCATION!!!

(photos courtesy of Foter)

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