Student agency, or a students’ ability to make key decisions about their learning experience, is an essential aspect of blended learning. Student agency requires that we design our lessons to offer students meaningful choices. These choices can help us universally design learning experiences that strive to remove barriers and invite students to decide how to engage with information, make meaning, and demonstrate their learning.
Choice boards fall within the umbrella of blended learning when we combine active, engaged learning online with active, engaged learning offline. Below is an overview of the benefits of using choice boards and the various types of boards you can design to meet a range of different objectives.
The Benefits of Choice Boards
- Choice is a powerful motivator.
- Learner variability means that not all students enjoy the same task.
- Students have more control over the pace at which they navigate the tasks.
- Teachers are freed from orchestrating a lesson and able to conference with learners about their progress, provide feedback on work in progress, or conduct side-by-side assessments.
Designing Choice Boards
You can design choice boards for a variety of purposes or learning objectives. It’s essential to identify the purpose of a board to ensure your design aligns with that objective.
- Standards-aligned boards
- Strategy-specific boards
- Thematic boards
- Review and practice boards
- Project or performance task boards
Standards-aligned Choice Boards
Standards-aligned choice boards provide students with multiple ways to engage with target standards. Each column focuses on a specific standard or skill. Then the various learning activities within each column allow students to engage with that standard or skill in a way that is appealing to them. Below is a deconstructed example that highlights the considerations you will want to make when designing your standards-aligned choice board.
Strategy-specific Choice Boards
Strategy-specific boards present learners with a variety of strategies to select from and can be used repeatedly. For example, a board can focus on presenting reading strategies as pictured below so that students can select a focus strategy each time they read a text. Similarly, you can create a vocabulary review board with activities students can choose from to practice and play with their new subject-specific or academic vocabulary.
Thematic Choice Boards
Thematic choice boards focus on a particular theme or topic. Elementary teachers may use their board to encourage a deep dive into a holiday, season, or weather pattern. Thematic choice boards can prioritize a topic we care about or value that does not appear in our standards. For example, teachers may want to create a well-being board to engage students in mindfulness activities or create a brain break board to provide “fast finishers” with activities to work on while other students finish a task.
Review and Practice Choice Boards
A review and practice board is an alternative to a traditional study guide. As students prepare for an assessment, create a board with activities that target key vocabulary, concepts, and skills. Then encourage students to select an item from each column to help them prepare for the assessment. This positions the learner to make key decisions about which activities would be most valuable as they work with vocabulary, concepts, and skills.
Project or Performance Task Choice Boards
Not all students express or communicate their learning effectively in the same way. Providing students with a project or performance task choice board allows them to select the project or task they want to work on to demonstrate their learning. This choice can translate into higher rates of completion and more robust finished products.
Subtly Differentiating a Choice Board
You can create three versions of the same choice board (advanced, regular, scaffolded) to ensure that the level of rigor and academic complexity is appropriate to different groups of learners in your class. If you create your choice boards using a digital document or slide deck, you can “make a copy” of your regular choice board and adjust them to challenge strong students or add additional supports and scaffolds for students who need them.
Alternatively, you could create a single choice board and color-code the squares to denote more challenging activities and tasks. For example, the choice board template below has blue and purple squares. The purple “stretch” squares are more challenging for students who are capable of academically rigorous work. These squares can be optional, or you can ask students who you think are ready for a stretch square to complete at least one activity or task from a purple square.
What will you do with your time while students work on a choice board?
Prioritizing student agency and removing barriers are significant benefits of a choice board. Still, the best aspect of using choice boards from a teacher’s perspective is the time and space they create for us in the classroom. As students self-pace through the items on a choice board, you are freed to spend your time working directly with individuals or small groups of learners.
- Conferencing about student progress
- Pulling students for real-time feedback sessions
- Conducting side-by-side assessments
The goal of this time from a teacher’s perspective should be to connect with learners and shift more time-consuming teacher tasks, like feedback and grading, into the classroom. When these tasks are done in the classroom with learners, they become an opportunity to engage learners in conversations about their progress and work.
Choice boards are versatile and can effectively shift students to the center of the learning experience by inviting them to decide how to spend their time and energy. This increased student agency also frees you to invest your time and energy in tasks that free you from the front of the room and allow you to work alongside students.
This looks like a great tool to use!
I will be interested to see how I can use the suggestions from this newsletter within my classroom
This seems awesome!
What great options to engage students in and out of the classroom! There is so much dignity and power in choice….
I appreciate the examples.
You’re welcome! I’m glad they were helpful.
This looks great and I can modify for my classroom.
This is a fantastic tool to engage learners of different kinds and achieve maximum participation and hopefully soaring productivity.
I love choice boards – with choices, student engagement improves.
I love the idea of choice boards because its something that everyone can do and students have the ability to be creative by choosing the task they feel more comfortable completing.
Absolutely! I’m planning to use the review choice board to prepare for final exams.
It is a great tool to improve student engagement.
The samples shared get me in the reflection mode.
Should teachers do a choice for every unit?
Choice boards are versatile, so you can design a variety of choice boards for different purposes (review and practice, assessment, skill development, standard-aligned). Because you can create so many different types of boards, you can use them as much as you would like. They are a wonderful way to remove barriers and allow students agency.
Choice boards are great! They help foster student autonomy and motivation by having the flexibility to choose!
I love the choice boards. Especially important for teenagers! I really like the idea of aligning it to standards for kids to see so they can know where they are and even make decisions based on what they may need or not need.
I love the choice boards as well. It is important that we give the learners some ownership over their education.
Choice is power! I typically get a high level of participation when I utilize choice boards. Students tend to own the task and excel because they have the power to demonstrate their personal strengths. Some of my most expressive art pieces have come from students who struggle with writing. They get a thrill when I display their work on the classroom and hallway walls.
Absolutely! Choice feeds our human desire for autonomy and agency. It can be incredibly motivating. I love that you give your students meaningful choices so they can leverage their strengths to demonstrate their learning.
Catlin, thanks for sharing so many versions of choice boards.
May we use this board in our book EMPOWERING LEARNERS: Teaching Different Genres and Texts to Diverse Student Bodies due out this Fall and published by Rowman and Littlefield. https://docs.google.com/document/d/14HgizzNSRH-NJd4vc4K6cVAknOKNVkIe1P5UxOziJ2g/edit
It is our book designed for graduate teaching assistants and community college teachers working with adults, but as teachers have come with little or not pre-service training or coursework in pedagogy.
I cannot access the link you shared. Which board were you hoping to feature?
Thank you for sharing this information! I just made a choice board for a Spanish novel. Let’s see how it goes with the students.
Wonderful! I hope your students enjoy it!
I am an art teacher and I have always felt when a classroom teacher made a choice board for that days lesson, it was because they wanted a day to catch up on grading, maybe they did not feel well and did not want to teach or it was for a substitute. After reading this blog I realize how wrong I was. I also see how I could utilize choice boards in the art room. I could use them to compare and contrast styles of art, or use them to teach students about different artist. I could use them to introduce key art vocabulary or I could use them to give my students a brain break. I went away with many new ideas for choice boards because I was not familiar with them as a learning tool. Now I intend to use them in my art room in different grade levels. That is the other great thing about choice boards you can use them with any grade level. With the extra time i will have I plane to pull students so I can talk to them about their progress or if they need any help. I want to really do assessments on them and their work and I would like to be able to spend some time talking to them about what they would like to learn next. Thank you Dr. Catlin Tucker .
You are so welcome, Theresa! I love that you are reimagining what a choice board could free you to do with students! I always encourage teachers to lean on the time and space created using strategies that blend online and offline learning. It frees teachers to conference with learners, provide feedback as they work, and pull assessments into the classroom! All of these help us build relationships with learners!