Making good choices seems to come naturally for some students while others need some coaching in order to become successful learners and be able to navigate with more ease within the educational systems. By allowing choices we also communicate our confidence in our students as learners – it is about letting them know we believe they can do it, without necessarily saying it aloud.
There are things in the classroom that must be done without getting into negotiations about how and why, and we truly cannot let students rule and do whatever they please in the classroom. However, allowing certain amount of choosing makes it emotionally easier for students to agree with the mandatory things. But this is not the only benefit of teaching how to choose. Only through our own choices we create accountability for our own learning and also train our executive functioning. Learning to make good choices is a skill to learn and it highly contributes to our higher level thinking. We should not deny that opportunity from our students by having too rigid rules that allow no choices.
How to add more choices into your classroom? During a regular day we have many opportunities to allow choices, starting from choosing whom to work with. By asking students to choose a partner who can help them in this assignment you are also encouraging students to recognize the good study habits of others. Giving younger students a package of content to be learned by the end of this week communicates your trust in their ability to choose the best pace for their own learning, and providing a timeline about how big fraction of the content should be finished by each day helps them understand the percentages, too. By letting students choose which assignment they want to start with helps them understand their personal preferences. Also, having a strong structure in the assignments allows the content to be more individualized. I think the ways of introducing more choices in learning environments are virtually infinite, if there is the will to make the change to happen.
My personal credo about best teacher being the one who makes herself unnecessary by empowering students become autonomous learners carries my values within it. I believe, that only by allowing students practice making good choices in an emotionally safe learning environment where their opinions or beliefs are never ridiculed, we can help the next generation reach their full potential and become critical thinkers. There is no shortcut to wisdom.