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Benefits of Giving Students Choices

We already do give students some choices. We let them choose paper topics, decide what to do for group projects, select subjects for artwork—and we’ve seen them struggle to make those choices. Most students don’t see selecting content as an opportunity to explore an area of interest, but rather an added burden of now trying to figure out what the teacher wants.

The bulk of what students must learn in a course can’t be their choice. In most fields, they don’t know what they need learn, but are there reasons to give them some choices about content?

Here’s a few things to consider.

What other decisions about what to learn could we give our students? How about these possibilities?

And what about when they don’t make good choices?
Herein lies the main reason teachers are hesitant to let student make choices, not just about what they learn but about any part of the learning process. And that creates a vicious cycle. Without many opportunities to make choices and without much experience doing so, students are ever more likely to make bad choices and teachers are ever more motivated to keep them from making those mistakes that are so common among novice learners.

This dilemma has two possible solutions. Let students make choices about learning where the consequences aren’t so dire, like short essays or in-class group projects. From there move on incrementally to choices that are more challenging. Secondly, a poor choice is an opportunity to learn. Students learn from mistakes when they realize they’ve made one and when they confront alternatives that are better options.

Please be welcome to share below any decisions you let students make about content and how doing so affects their learning.