In My Classroom: Giving Students Choices

Over the past few weeks my World History students have been hard at work on research projects in class class, it was a project I had designed with concepts like Genius Hour and 20% Time in mind but I also knew that I was too far behind in the year to allow my students to just study anything they wanted as both those concepts promote.

So I took the things I love about Genius Hour and I applied them to a content specific research project: 

  • Students would reflect daily on their work. 
  • Students would have choice on what they researched (as long as it fell into the realm of World War II).
  • Students would work on this only in class and would get ample time devoted to this task alone. 
  • Students would have total choice in the final product they created from their research.
Even knowing that I was limiting their area of study to anything World War II was daunting, part of me worried there wasn't enough buy in, that students would not be able to find something they had a true interest in and the weeks spent on this project would be seen as a waste by my students or would truly be a waste with only superficial learning. 

Their daily reflections indicated they were learning, students were gathering a wide range of information on various aspects of the war. Some focused on radar technology, another student completed a psychological study of Hitler, one student looked at the environmental impact of the atomic bomb, and yet another looked at the social and emotional impact of the atomic bomb. 

The day the projects were due, students presented what they learned. The expectation was they would be prepared to present a 2-4 minute talk on their project answering four questions: what was their research question, what did they learned, what would they do differently if they could do it again, and what do they want to know now. They were not allowed to have a Powerpoint to show but they were encouraged to bring note cards with them to help them with their talk. 

The Power Of Choice
While I had monitored and given feedback on their research throughout the weeks we had spent on this project, I was still blown away by how much students had to share during their talks. Students learned more than I had anticipated and their reflections on what they would do differently were thoughtful and honest. But the most exciting part for me was reading their final reflections because it became clear that their success on the project, their weeks of hard work, was all tied to the fact I let them make real choices. 

When asked what students liked about the project, almost every single student stated they liked having freedom and choice not only in what they were researching but in what they would turn that research into. Here is what some of them had to say:

I liked being able to be creative in the means of conveying the information I learned, and having several options of what I could do as opposed to having no choice in how I decide to have my information.

I liked how this project had a wide variety of how we could've presented our research. It gave us the ability to choose what would work best for us. It also allowed us to enjoy what we were doing. 

I liked being able to research with a partner. I also liked being able to choose what kind of project we did. I liked these things because it gave us the ability to be creative.

I liked that we could look up what interests us and choose how we displayed our newly learned information. I liked learning new stories and information about the attach of pearl harbor.

What I liked about this project was the ability to be able to pick my own topic to study. I liked this because I got to do what interested me instead of something i wouldn't of been excited about. I found it cool to see what others chose for their projects as well for ideas in the future.

And my favorite part of all is seeing how much students owned their learning and felt proud in their work. I had a student design and bake a cake based on what she had learned, which is something I never would have thought of but is something that makes perfect sense for her since she is on track to attend culinary school. Students created beautiful paintings, one student wrote and performed a rap, another built a website, and yet another created a storybook. 

Almost every student displayed pride in their work, and the few who did not stated in their presentations that they had played it safe with their choices and wished they had created something they were more interested in as others had. 

You're probably wondering how I graded all these different projects on different subjects and that is what I plan to cover in my next post. But for now, what are your thoughts on Project Based Learning? Share them in the comments!

- Mrs. Byars 


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