We all know that special educators know about choice boards-they have been an integral part of positive behavior support plans in cluster classrooms for years. Our school is starting to take on the Personalized Learning imitative, and choice is a main component of this initiative. Choice makes me nervous as a teacher, especially when it comes to students making choices about their academic work. What if they choose wrong? What if I don’t teach all the components of their IEP goals? However, like anything new, it just takes time to adapt and figure out how to make it work for you, your classroom and your students. Here are five suggestions to starting academic choice in your classroom…
1. Teach the Procedures
If you want to attempt to make a choice board for a more academic or work task (as opposed to a break or food preference choice board), choose a station or activity that you do consistently-everyday or every week. I chose my task box system because we do that everyday. It is important to teach the procedures of an activity before you give them choices, so students understand the expectations. I created mini-schedules for all my students for the first couple of weeks, so I could observe students and get a better sense of who would be ready to transition into using a choice board for this activity.
2. Use Choice to Motivate
I explained to my students that they could start to choose their tasks if they could demonstrate that they could do the task boxes correctly and quietly. I offered feedback and specific verbal praise so that they clearly understood the expectations and what they needed to do to level up. This seemed to help motivate, as I felt many students “stepped up” and appeared to take pride in their work.
3. Offer Minor Choices
Offer small choices before allowing students to choose their own work or tasks. If students are showing that they can follow their task schedule, I allow them to choose a seat in another part of the classroom where they can work. This gives them something to work for and offers a choice progression so that they can learn to make choices that are good for them in a variety of contexts. Offering a choice of where to sit is an easy first step in teaching students to make academic choices for themselves.
4. Have Students on Different Levels
First, we know that the students in our classrooms function and perform at different levels, so it makes sense to offer different levels of choice based on individual student needs. When using choice for task boxes, I can have some students choose their seat, but not their tasks; I can have students choose one or two of their tasks or I can have students choose their tasks from a fixed menu. I also think there is value for students to see other students at a different level because it can provide a real life example of something to aspire to.
4. Allow Students to Make Mistakes
This is probably the hardest thing for special education teachers to do! The Personalized Learning professional developments I attended emphasized that students and teachers will inevitably make mistakes when incorporating academic choice in the classroom. These mistakes can provide opportunities to improve. If you see that something isn’t working out how you envisioned it, you have the power to change it to work for your students. Also, teaching students to learn from their mistakes when making choices helps them to learn to make better decisions. Mistakes are a great opportunity to teach students how to make better choices for themselves in the future.
I hope you are inspired to try creating academic choice boards in your classroom. Visit The Autism Helper Store on Teachers Pay Teachers for more choice related materials and resources. Share ways you use choice in academics in your classroom!