How to Use Student Choice Boards to Increase Student Engagement

Updated: May 7

The basic principle behind personalized learning is that students have the ultimate choice in what they learn. This doesn’t mean they get to do whatever they want in class, but, that they get to refine their assignments in some way. At the end of a personalized lesson they will feel as if they had control over what they did, what they learned, and how well they demonstrated that learning. Student Choice Boards are one of the more complicated ways to incorporate personalized instruction in the classroom.


This can be complex or very simple in the classroom. At the most basic level, this can mean that students choose whether they complete the odd or the even numbers of problems in a math book. Or they choose which text out of a short list they will read. While the teacher still has most of the control over the material the students will consume or complete, students do get a sense of power in the class.


Can Personalized Learning Be More?


But should personalized learning stop there? It doesn’t have to. There are many other ways to allow students freedom and choice in their learning. The more power they get in the classroom, the more students will connect with the material. Kids at any age, find learning enjoyable. However, many do not enjoy school. This happens due to schools not allowing students to make their own choices. Teachers can revers this in the classroom by being more creative in the choices students make in every lesson.

student choice boards

How Can Teachers Give Choices in the Classroom?


The answer is YES! Teachers can always give more choices in the classroom. Some teachers have gone as far as to create “menus” in the classroom. With these menus students get options between a list of class starters, main “courses”, and “deserts”. For examples students may choose between a series of simple starter activities such as journal prompts, vlog entries, or short readings and reflections. Then for the “main course” they may choose between a series of readings or video lessons, and then for desert they may get to choose between writing a song, making a video, or drawing a picture.


For these styles of lessons students get most of the control in what they do, but teachers still remain in control of what students learn. This where student choice boards offer even more empowerment to students.


Can Students Choose Their Own Curriculum?


But what if we separated the curriculum from the students choices. Most Curriculums can be broken down into standards that are actionable, not content. Allow students to view the requirements. Once they understand what the teacher and school system is looking for, Students can demonstrate mastery more easily. School shouldn’t be a mystery.


Relevancy is one of the most crucial aspects of students engagement. Students today will not engage with lessons that seem outdated and unrelatable and ultimately useless to them. However, show them that the lesson can aid them in their YouTube stardom, or gain them points in their basketball game, and they will study those books for hours.


An ELA Example


Once you have demonstrated the standards to your students, give them the power to manipulate their own curriculum to incorporate the subjects they find most interesting. This may sound far fetched or even impossible, however, if you tell students that by the end of the semester they need to know how to calculate polynomials, but you don’t care how they get there, you will be surprised at the students offer up in regards to materials to learn.


Some of your more business savvy students might want to design a fictional business and demonstrate their mathematical principles through financial accounts. Other students may be interested in fashion and therefore can calculate product shipments and orders to demonstrate mathematical standards. Still others may be more musically inclined. Allow these to write out the mathematical elements in music. They might just be more engaged with the material as well.


Personalized Student Choice Boards

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A personalized student choice board is a template you offer to students to organize their own interests with the standards they must demonstrate mastery over by the end of the unit.


What is a Student Choice Board?


Students will obviously over simplify the idea behind learning what they want. It remains the teachers job to facilitate the students learning. Therefor, you give the students a google doc, full of optional links and resources that all pertain to their interest. You get them started with a few. Then the students get to research and hunt for more. (Save a copy of what they find for your next semester!)


Then set up a series of standards based questions and activities that can be reused with multiple articles, texts, or medias. These can be repeated for each week or unit. Each ultimately demonstrates the students understanding and mastery of the standard. If the content exploration and reports are “classwork” than the standards based assignments would be quizzes.


Let students know what their own success in the class, and the assignment lie in their ability’s to demonstrate their knowledge. Students work though the standards as they continue to learn and research about their own favorite topics.


Finally, they get to create something spectacular. These final projects will cultivate their interests and creativity into a product they will be proud of. Either a story, video, podcast, or even music.


Why Are Choice Boards So Great?


The hardest part of using student choice boards in the classroom is creating them. Once created, they can be reused for multiple classes, every year. The content should be updated; links checked and such, but overall, these collections of resources are usable indefinitely. However, if you find that students no longer have that interest, you may find that it is not used. The point is to make one (or have students make them) for each and every interest they wish to explore.


These assignments are really collections of interests. Each interest is a link to a new collection of resources, such as texts to read, videos to watch, podcasts to listen too and more.


While the choice boards allow students to take a larger responsibility for their own learning, there is another perk to these types of assignments. This is work that CANNOT be done in a whole class setting. Students need to work independently or in small groups, mainly because everyone’s interests are different.


What Do Teachers do NOW?


So what does this mean for the teacher? It means that you get to walk around the room, not stand in the front. Additionally, it means that when a student has a question, you are right there, able to work with them one on one, without any student being embarrassed for asking a questions. It also means that when students are ready to move on, they are not sitting there bored out of their mind waiting on you. They can simply move on to the next standard or research more of their content.


There will never be another time when a student says, “I’m done with my work, can I watch Netflix?” Because at the end of the day, this assignment does not end. They keep working, moving forward until the end of the semester. These boards can be simplified to one week assignments or stretched out to the entire semester. Give your advanced students the ability to move forward without waiting on you and you can focus more time on your struggling students.



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