Friday, June 12, 2015

The Evolution of Giving Students Choice

Since starting out on this adventure to offer students choice in how they learn and proceed through a course, I've tried to adapt how the material is presented based on feedback from the students themselves. People taking an interest in BYOD have asked me how I format the "content lists" that I provide my students, so here is a summary of the evolution to date.

The Basic Outline

For the first year or so, in each course, I had a whole unit on one document. It was nice to have ALL the information for the unit on one page, but it was very clunky-looking, especially when accessed on phones.

I have all but abandoned this format, precisely because of the clunkiness, but I do miss having the "on-task" bar - this is a graphic I would move down the document as we progressed through the unit, indicating where the students should be time-wise. This bar really kept students on task, and helped them better manage their time.

Making it Prettier

When I started trying this with my Physics class last semester, I kept the same idea of Learn It/Practice It/Know It, but I put each learning goal on its own page. That allowed me to make it prettier overall, but also allowed me to distinguish between the different types of resources.

It wasn't as easy to see the whole unit at a glance, but I like the cleaner layout. Links to all the learning goals for the unit were found on a master page that the students had access to through the course website. I found this worked very well for my grade 11 students. 

Ideally, each learning goal (hence, each page like this) could be completed in one class, but of course that didn't always happen. Regardless of how quickly the learning goal was mastered, I found that students would tend to stop for the day when they got to the end of the page. With the previous layout, students would just roll from one learning goal to the next. Possibly because of this, I did find that the overall pace of progressing through the material slowed noticeably.

Senior Courses

For my grade 12 Data Management course, I wanted to give a little less direction when it came to looking at resources, so I changed the above format to the following:

It's a bit of a return to the original design, but I kept each learning goal on its own page. I also put what they had to hand in at the top of the page instead of at the bottom. The students would almost always start with my note to see what to focus on, and then move to other resources depending on their preference for learning, before starting the assignment or practice questions.

The Bigger Concepts

In grade 9 general science, I found it wasn't as easy to break the content down into stand-alone learning goals, so I sorted the learning goals into lessons, each designed to take more than one class to master. 

I provided MUCH more structure for the younger students, who tended to always jump right to "what-needs-to-be-handed-in" before even watching videos or reading up on the material. This class also struggled with documenting any of their learning, so more instructions were included on how to approach a new topic, take "notes," etc.

While I love the more visual layout the tables provide (that idea came from @MrHoggsClass), I dislike how cluttered the page is becoming again with the extra instructions and support. 

It doesn't help that this is a large class, and it feels like the best way to get information/instructions out to the students is to put everything on the page everyone will read. Or hopefully read. I think they tend to gloss over most of it, and they still try and jump right to the assignments.


As I'm turning my thoughts to a new school year, I'm looking to improve on what I've experimented with so far. 
What do you think? 
Which of these appeals to you? 
Which would appeal to your students? 
Is there another format I can consider? 
If you do something like this in your class, how do you set things up? 
I'd love to hear your feedback!


  1. Hi Heather,
    I love that you are thinking critically about how you assess students! Kyle Pearce have designed a system we think works great! Check out Kyle's post here

    1. Thanks, Jon! Thanks for the link, too - I looked at this a while back (and loved it!) but tucked it into a corner of my brain until summer when I could go back and look at it in more detail and imagine how it might work for my classes next year. So thanks for the reminder! I only have senior level maths next year (MCF3M and MDM4U), but I think badges might work well for the 3M. Also thinking of spiralling... have you or Alex tried that for the 3M course?

    2. I haven't tried the 3M course yet. I am teaching it too next year (second semester) maybe we can collaborate!!?

    3. Alas! I have it semester 1 :( Would be happy to share anything we do, though!

    4. I came across this blog post, have you done spiralling for MCF3M this semester?

    5. Sadly, no, I didn't get around to it this year. Going through the course this semester, though, I've been making mental notes - it's definitely something I want to try the next time I teach it!

  2. Heather, our documents look very similar. I agree that students tend to gloss over them. I spend a lot of time teaching to revisiting lessons and instructions during and after the learning. In English class, the choices include what to read, which critical lens to view the text, and eventually, what organizational structure and what medium to use to demonstrate what you have learned. It's a fine balance though. Students need to know a variety of text forms and structures, critical literary theories, and modes of expression (the various essay structures as well as blogging, remixing, and more visual presentation options like Prezi or Zaption) to be able to truly make their own choices.

    I am looking forward to seeing my seniors' final showcase portfolios and reflections to decide if I managed the right balance of choice and direct instruction.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Julie! I would love to see how you set all that up for your students! I find it tough to find the balance between giving students plenty of choice, but not overwhelming them with so much that they gloss over. I would be very interested in hearing how you feel the balance of choice and direct instruction ended up! Though I imagine it would change with each group of students ;)

  3. Hi Heather,

    While I like the layout I created, it does have its flaws. As you mentioned, students struggle with pacing. This is something I have also discovered. How do you prevent students from just "rushing" through the learning goals? How do you keep students moving through the material at a reasonable pace? What is a reasonable pace for a particular student?

    When I tested this on my 11C students, I found a lot of them didn't know how much work they needed to do to master each learning goal (compared to the style of a teacher-directed lesson and accompanying practice problems). Some students also saw that the test wasnt for 2 weeks and completed very little work until the day or two before the test when they tried to "cram" the material in before the summative.

    It is definitely something I need to think about over the summer. Would it be better to organize my BYOD by lesson (just as I would have taught it in a traditional way) where each class is a new lesson? Do I need to embed dates within the learning goals (you should be here by May...)?


    1. Hi Chris! Thanks so much for reading and commenting. I found that students were better able to manage shorter units (say, only 4 or 5 learning goals) rather than longer units - my MAP4C students really struggled with time management in a unit that was a whole month in length. Otherwise, I found a lot of checking in with students on a daily basis, and that "progress bar," helped students stay more or less on top of things. I will definitely keep fixed test dates as otherwise some students would *never* make any progress. It also gives students a chance to "reset."

      I know what you mean about each day being a new lesson - while that would help some students with their pacing, I find one of the big strengths of keeping it open is that students who NEED the extra time to master something, get that extra time, reducing their stress/anxiety. Maybe it's worthwhile to do the first unit like that, and then open it up for students to pace themselves? As to what a reasonable pace is, I guess that falls to our professional judgement... but it's a tricky question to answer.

      It's definitely not a perfect system, but I'm hoping little tweaks will continue to improve it!


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