Imagine this, a classroom where the teacher and student are equally getting exactly what they want. This seems like a dream right? Someone is always “unhappy” with something going on in the classroom, right? In most cases, the person upset is a student. A teacher-controlled classroom is common place in our society today for a variety of reasons. Typically, these reasons revolve around keeping control of the classroom and ensuring learning is taking place and not just pleasurable activities. However, giving students choices in math and literacy centers can have major benefits.
When Should Choices Be Implemented in Math and Literacy Centers
Math and literacy centers are great tools to use in your classroom for review and enrichment. In addition, because they are so “normal” and “routine” in your classroom, they are also a great place to introduce student choice. However, there is a time and a place for student choice to be a part of anything in the classroom including centers. Before you allow students to be doing self-decided activities, you need to make sure your expectations are clear and are effective in the classroom. In addition, you want to make sure your groupings are going to work together and not argue about which activity they are going to work on in their center. Once your centers are running smoothly, you can start reaping the benefits of student choice.
1: Create Student Buy-In
One thing that is great about choices is it give students an automatic buy-in because they are choosing what they want to do. Therefore, in a perfect world, students will be more engaged in the activity because it is something they chose to do. While this is important, you want to be mindful of how your centers are set up because if you are using groups, there might be some hostility. To help with this potential issue, make sure you create a system that allows all students in the group to choose a desired activity and have an action plan for what to do when students disagree.
2: Enhance Learning with Choices in Math and Literacy Centers
Whenever you are giving students a choice they are going to be more apt to learn. Whether they are working in digital centers or utilizing a game for review, they are going to be learning more because it was their choice. Students, like any other person in the world, are more apt to be all in when it comes to things they WANT to do. Because the student wants to do the activity in front of them, they are more likely to be engaged which, overall, enhances learning in the classroom. Again, you want to ensure you have expectations for choosing activities in place so students all get the benefit of an enhanced learning environment.
3: Put Ownership on Students with Choices
In our world today, we see several people pushing blame onto others. When you give students a choice in math and literacy centers you are putting the ownership for their learning on them. For example, if you are working in math center and your student knows they concentrate better using a digital method, the student can choose this method of reviewing or enhancing a math skill. On the other hand, if the student does not understand how he/she learns best and just goes for what is fun, that can be problematic. If this happens and you don’t see growth in your students, you have the power to take away the choice or to vary the choices the students have.
4: Eliminate “Weak” Activities
No matter what we do, there is no way to “get” every single student the first try every time. What worked last year might be a total flop this year and vice versa. Therefore, having choices in math and literacy centers helps you weed out “weak” activities. Activities that are weak might be activities students are not gaining anything from or cause more confusion than they help. While this activity should not be shredded, it might be best to alter the activity to be stronger and more useful. When looking at different activities, you should incorporate digital as well as print activities. If you have never tried out digital activities, check out this option for a perfect preview!
Knowing what works and what doesn't can help you with future activities that might have the same issue. Along with knowing what activities just aren’t working, you might find a skill students are lacking. Sometimes an activity is just a bust. Other times, however, the activity is using a skill students are not yet confident in. When this happens, it’s important you go back and reteach this skill. Once the skill has been re-taught, you can re-introduce that activity back into the center rotations.
5: Develop a Student-Centered Classroom with Choices
The fifth reason student choice is important in a classroom is the type of environment it creates. Having a student-centered classroom that allows students to make choices and be an active part of their own learning has more buy in than those who only focus on what the teacher wants. While you are the ring-leader and completely in charge, the littles in your room have voices too and they should be heard. By listening to students, you are creating opportunities for dynamic learning that is different from year to year based on the personality of the class.
Giving students choices in math and literacy centers (or anywhere) can be scary. However, if you take the time to get to know your students and familiarize them with centers and center procedures, you can create magic in the classroom! Anytime we can get students moving and thinking it’s a total win. A great way to start getting students to be a bigger part of your classroom is to give them choices and centers are a wonderful jumping off point for that.
Until Next Time…
Keep Being Educational Rock Stars