Using Choice Boards to Boost Student Engagement
Giving students options for how they demonstrate their learning is a good way to ignite their curiosity.
How do you make learning effective, engaging, and student driven when students aren’t physically in the classroom? That’s been the question on our minds for quite some time now. One team of education leaders in North Carolina found a solution that drastically changed instruction throughout the state, and it’s something you might already be familiar with.
As teachers and students transitioned to fully remote instruction, the English language arts (ELA) team created choice boards that teachers could copy and adjust to meet the needs of their students. The boards—which could be assigned virtually or printed out in packets—were organized by grade band and filled with standards-aligned activities as well as scaffolds that enabled children to be able to complete the work alone. Check out the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction’s ELA choice boards here.
Choice boards improved remote learning in our virtual classrooms, increasing student engagement and ownership, and even making our students more eager to dig into their assessments and homework.
Here are some tips to get started with implementing choice boards—whether students are in person, learning remotely, or a mixture of both—as well as some lessons learned along the way.
Choice boards add a new dimension to your classroom, offering an alternative to standard assessments and empowering students to choose how they show their mastery of a topic. Additionally, they provide educators with a variety of ways to check for student understanding. If you’ve ever had your eyes glaze over as you regarded the night’s looming stack of 120 freshmen essays to grade, this could be the refreshing twist you’re looking for.
Imagine that you’re working with your middle school English class on analyzing complex characters in The House on Mango Street. You can unpack the standard with your students and create a rubric with them (or we love this idea of success criteria), then brainstorm ideas for activities.
Try incorporating your students into the process and get their input on how they’d like to demonstrate what they’ve learned. For example, students might suggest developing a movie trailer to illustrate their mastery of the standard, drafting a series of diary entries from the main character, or creating a series of podcast episodes. Allowing for student involvement in the creation of the choice boards increases their ownership and follow-through.
A few pointers:
- Keep in mind, some learners do prefer traditional assessments, so leave those as an option in the choice board.
- You don’t have to start from scratch; there are free choice board templates available online.
Choice boards can be used in place of a homework packet—giving students the autonomy to choose how they practice skills they learned during the school day.
But choice boards can also serve as a way to engage with parents and caregivers. A family homework choice board can encourage education-centered family time at home, while simultaneously informing caregivers about topics and skills their child is learning at school.
What might this look like? Let’s say you are teaching a third-grade class and a parent has asked you for the homework. Share the optional homework choice board—activities might include finding three examples of this week’s syllable type in books from their book bin, reading high-frequency words to a family member, or practicing the high-frequency words on an online app.
A few pointers:
- Before sending home a homework choice board, allot time to guide your students through the process—practicing it in the classroom first. Think of it as a mini-lesson.
- Evaluate limitations or access issues that may arise for some students when working at home. Things to consider include access to technology, access to materials, and time asked of the parents/caregivers in assisting.
Remote learning days are far from a thing of the past. Whether these days are scheduled ahead of time in the school’s calendar or utilized as an alternative to closing the building for severe weather or recurring outbreaks of Covid, schools can be proactively prepared by creating district or schoolwide choice boards that teachers can easily access.
Ideally, these can be tweaked by teachers themselves easily so that students can complete them over and over again. Educators can switch out the text and activities at their discretion to update them.
A few pointers:
- Move from fluff to rigor by being intentional with learning outcomes and alignment to state standards. (Find tips at Aligning Curricular Decisions with Student Voice). Make sure that you aren’t just creating busywork but are truly creating assignments that are standards aligned.
- Get a team involved to make the lift lighter. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction had teams of educators work together to create a universal set of choice boards that could be accessed by teachers statewide—many hands make short work.
- We’ve used choice boards not only with K–12 students but with our teachers in training as well. Offering people choice in assignments does equate to a lot more emails to answer from our graduate students. But that’s something we were more than happy to take on.