Adding Choice Boards To Your Instruction
[00:00:00.570] - Erin
Hello, this is Erin Comninaki one of the ITRTS with Lynchburg City Schools. And today I have with me Lauren Austen, who's the ITRT at Perrymont and Sandusky elementary schools here in Lynchburg City, and Amy Wolk, the ITRT at Heritage High School and the other week at VSTE, which is our statewide Ed tech conference held here in Virginia Lauren and Amy presented on choice boards. And unfortunately, I was unable to attend their session, so I asked them to join me in this podcast so that I could learn more about what they presented on and have them talk to us about what a choice board is and why we should consider their use and classes. So thank you, Lauren and Amy, for participating in this conversation today.
[00:00:53.410] - Lauren
Yeah, thank you so much for having us today and letting us share our passion for choice.
[00:00:59.730] - Erin
So first, can you explain to us what a choice board is and how or why did you start using them?
[00:01:08.950] - Lauren
Yeah, so typically, choice boards are a way to organize materials, indirect instruction, tasks, formative assessments, and they allow students to work at a speed that's customized to their personal levels and abilities. We have choice boards, learning menus, tic tac toe boards. None of this stuff is really new to education, and it really doesn't matter what they're called, just as long as they're structured in a way that will give students an opportunity to take longer with concepts they might struggle with or skip topics they already know, or even revisit certain skills when needed.
[00:01:46.350] - Amy
Yeah. And so when Lauren and I were at different points in our own teaching, we both realized that the traditional one size fits all activities, they weren't really working in our classrooms anymore.
[00:01:57.590] - Lauren
Yeah, I think my earliest memory of choice boards, I was in my first few years of teaching, and it was like those spelling choice boards, everybody just slapped in the back of a marble composition notebook and my students would do an activity every night for homework and that was their choice for the week. But as I grew in my profession, I learned more about offering choice and giving that opportunity to my students. I realized I could be more purposeful and intentional with that. So I started introducing, a project based choice board for my third graders at the end of the unit, and it kind of grew from there.
[00:02:39.810] - Amy
For me, I think it was about in year eight. I was given a really challenging class that year, and I had just tried classroom management strategy after strategy, and nothing was really working. So I just completely transformed my classroom into flexible seating. Instantly the noise level was outrageous. And so I offered choice in one assignment. And then I quickly realized that that noise level wasn't a bad thing. I had to kind of let go of it being loud in my classroom because they were talking about what choice they were going to do or once they picked they were talking about how they were going to create it, or they were asking others for ideas. And so I saw that collaboration and that communication and I pretty much started offering choice in everything, whether it was something we were reading or a prompt that they were writing. I saw that critical thinking and that creativity increase so much just by making that one choice.
[00:03:37.030] - Erin
Yeah. So what I'm hearing is that a choice board is an easy way for teachers who may not be offering choice to get started offering one and then it can grow however big as a teacher gets more comfortable. So building on that idea, what does the choice board or learning menu offer that a teacher or student may not get out of a different activity?
[00:04:04.510] - Amy
Yes, so when we're offering choice of any kind, it's going to be beneficial for both students and teachers. But when we organize these opportunities in strategic ways, there's a noticeable increase in that student engagement. They're also motivated, there's the stronger collaboration and communication and there are also higher levels of thinking and creativity, like I was talking about earlier. But on the other side, we also have benefits for teachers or choice boards also have benefits for teachers. Even from the very beginning of that creation process, they're able to focus on what they want the students to know and understand. And with that end goal already in mind, they can intentionally design tasks that provide differentiation and they also have an equal content weight. So meaning we're choosing or creating tasks that have the same amount of brain work so that we don't get students who try to take that path of least resistance or who try to do the least amount of work like we've probably all seen before.
[00:05:03.010] - Lauren
Yeah, and I think too, on the teacher side of things, a lot of work does have to be done upfront, but that will make teachers more available to students. They're able to conference with students, assess in smaller groups, provide feedback, or even remediate. And these are things that may not be able to be done with a more traditional lesson.
[00:05:24.890] - Erin
So you guys have already touched on engagement and instruction a little bit, but can you elaborate a little more on how you feel choice impacts these two areas?
[00:05:36.010] - Lauren
Yeah, I think it's easy for a teacher to put a bunch of random options on the table and call it a choice board. But in order for all of those pieces of the puzzle to come together, for it to be something authentic and meaningful, those pieces have to be designed, created and delivered with the students in mind.
[00:05:54.770] - Amy
And when we're providing choices that are relevant to our students that are actually driven by what they're interested in and when we give them things that they're comfortable with but yet that still challenge them, it fosters this incredible sense of student agency that's often missed when we have a standard activity.
[00:06:13.110] - Lauren
And I think we've seen too, that students who are using choice are going to be more engaged when they're the ones making those decisions about their own learning. They can decide how they want to show mastery of a topic and that's really empowering for them. So higher engagement means that there's going to be a better understanding of the content.
[00:06:34.990] - Erin
Yeah, and I found that students, if they've never really been given a lot of choice, are uncomfortable with choice in the beginning. They have this fear of making a bad choice or a wrong choice--or it can feel overwhelming. So do you feel like there's a sweet spot in terms of the number of choices we give students?
[00:07:00.230] - Amy
It's definitely about knowing and understanding your students. You have to have that relationship, you have to have that rapport with them, you have to know their abilities and where they're starting. Then you also have to know where you want them to go and what you want them to get out of the lesson.
[00:07:17.050] - Lauren
And choice boards are great too, because they really do lend themselves to differentiation and they can be easily scaffolded. So when introducing choice, thinking about those options and how many numbers of choices that you want to provide, you could offer fewer choices to begin with and then add varying difficulty levels for those choices or even start off with a non academic choice board so that students become familiar with the process and expectations for completing the choice board activities before getting into something more instructional.
[00:07:52.870] - Erin
So not only may students be overwhelmed with the choice and you've gone over those strategies, but a teacher may feel like I want to do this, but this seems like a lot. So how do you respond if a teacher asks, I want a step by step guide to creating a choice board, or if they ask when in the learning process is a good time to start this? How do you communicate with teachers or answer those questions?
[00:08:28.930] - Lauren
I think teachers have to consider what information they want their students to walk away with, which impacts when to offer choice. So because of this, backwards design is really going to play a big part here, thinking about the end goal in mind and being intentional about the options that they're providing their students. Creating a choice board is also a really great opportunity for teachers to reflect on their own curriculum assessments that they've given in the past and the needs of their students too.
[00:09:00.520] - Amy
Whether a teacher is creating a choice board from scratch or they're incorporating the activities that they've already used before, Lauren and I working together and talking about this topic quite a bit, we found that there are four questions that have helped us and that we think really help teachers and students be successful, whether they're creating this process or completing a choice for themselves.
[00:09:22.770] - Lauren
So I think the first question that really comes to mind is 'what am I trying to teach my students and what do I want them to walk away with knowing?'
[00:09:31.630] - Amy
Yeah, so like Lauren mentioned earlier, it's about that backwards design and it's a really great opportunity for teachers to be able to reflect and practice that in their planning. Also, I think that when I am looking at choice board, I think it's important to think about asking or reflect on how do I want them to show me what they've mastered, what interests them, and how are they going to show me through their interests?
[00:10:00.710] - Lauren
I think that connects back to that relevance piece. We always want to make their learning relevant and have students be able to make those connections and connect it to things that they like and know and be able to kind of give the control a little bit back to the students. And so after that, I think you have to consider how are you going to grade your options?
[00:10:23.410] - Amy
We get a lot of questions about rubrics and what that looks like for grading. And again, it's knowing your content, your students, your pacing. You can decide whether you want to do a generic rubric that covers all the projects or whether you want to look at giving deadlines for each part of whatever choice that they've chosen. But I think having a rubric, letting the kids see what is expected of them ahead of time and then providing deadlines helps with that student agency, and it also provides accountability for them. In the last part of our process, we also try to think with that fourth question, like, how much choice do I offer? So similar to what we were just talking about, where do you find that fine line of the number of choices? So we think about how much choice do I offer and what does that pacing look like?
[00:11:10.710] - Lauren
Yeah. And so that will, again, tying back into knowing your students and their needs and providing them with enough time to work on their choices.
[00:11:32.700] - Speaker 3
Interruption from School Intercom.
[00:11:34.190] - Erin
We are all in schools. It happens.
[00:11:37.390] - Lauren
Yeah. And then also thinking about where does this play a part in my pacing of my content in my classroom as well. We don't want students to feel rushed, and we want them to be able to spend that good quality time on completing these tasks.
[00:11:55.330] - Amy
And with those questions in mind, there are several types of choice boards that could fit into lessons or units at different points. Choice boards that are meant to help students review a topic or project based boards, you're likely going to try to fit that in towards the end of a unit where you can assess them. Whereas, like, getting to know you a thematic style board is going to be better for something at the beginning of the year.
[00:12:22.270] - Erin
These are all great tips, and I was just wondering, do you guys have some examples of choice boards or situations where you would encourage teachers to use a choice board?
[00:12:36.930] - Amy
Yeah. So recently, we came across a style that we think is perfect for that beginner choice boarder, the amazing Stephanie Howell she has a model that has "Can do, must do aspire to do" that combines more of traditional application opportunities with choice. Teachers might also have heard or seen this where it's a must do, should do, or aspire to do, but this model is a really good way for teachers to get their feet wet. It can easily be adapted for really any skill. It can also be modified to include a limited number of choices. So maybe the teacher only offers two choices per section, or maybe they offer a digital and a non digital option. This style can also be easily scaffolded to include a range of difficulty. So a teacher might start that first section a little easier and then progressively get more challenging in the rest of the sections.
[00:13:28.210] - Lauren
And we know choices can be overwhelming for students, but the same is true for teachers. There are so many resources and ideas out there that sometimes it can feel like it's too much. We also encourage other ITRTS and instructional coaches to think about offering choices with their teachers. Last year, Amy and I created a professional development opportunity for our teachers right after winter break. Because we knew our teachers, we knew that they didn't have a lot of time for anything extra, that they loved a good theme, that they liked getting specific ideas from others. And we knew that everyone loves a good prize. That all ended in the creation of the Try-athon with tasks that only took about, like, ten minutes and that had both elementary and secondary options. And we offered prizes depending on how many of the technology tools that the teachers tried. Afterwards, they were able to share their ideas. We got a lot more buy in then we knew what to do with, all because they didn't have to do one more thing. They wanted to do it because of the choices that were offered. We know that choice is a really powerful motivator.
[00:14:38.010] - Erin
Yeah, I like how you're tying this into even how coaches can use choice boards and sneak PD in, right? Which we're always trying to do in those little moments in time. Thank you for sharing all of this. And I'm wondering if in our show notes, you wouldn't mind if I link your VSTE presentation that you shared. Is that okay
[00:15:03.940] - Lauren
[00:15:05.330] - Erin
Okay, so we'll do that, and we'll put it on the blog. So thank you again, Amy and Lauren, for taking the time out of your day and all those announcements that just show us that we're just part of life rolling with the punches. So thank you both and enjoy your break that's coming up.