By the time we make it to the dairy section, he is starting eye-level with a cardboard showcase of $0.88 Hot Wheels cars. Super! Seeing as my husband and I are currently in over our heads with potty training though, I thought, "C'mon, Sarah... just let him pick one out and use it as a reward for pooping in the little potty this week." So, I caved.
"Ok, Owen. Do you want to pick out a toy car? You can open it when you go potty this week!!" He leaped out of the car cart all Dukes of Hazzard style, carefully selected a green road racer and held onto it tightly until we paid for it.
The whole drive home, I thought about the way his legs catapulted over that "car door" to go pick a toy car. And in that moment, I trusted him entirely to choose one that he would play with after we left the store... one that would motivate him to use the toilet and also fuel his play time. So why didn't I let him pick out his own veggies from the produce department? Or his own yogurt from the dairy section? It's the same concept, right!?!? Lots of colorful things on shelves organized in rows... why was I comfortable with him choosing a toy car (that he didn't NEED) but not produce (that he DOES need) to fuel his body?!?
Then it dawned on me....we do this all the time as educators (of our kids at home and of our students in class), especially in a Project and/or Problem Based Learning Classroom setting. Why do we let students choose the format of their final product (a video, slide deck, etc.) but we aren't as comfortable with them choosing their learning pathway (viewing a video, having a convo with you, reading an article + a convo, etc.)!?
I love how a similar conversation regarding student voice and choice unfolded in this Buck Institute for Education (BIE) google hangout conversation among some of the BIE National Faculty members. Specifically, here are some of the best practices and tips they share on their PBL blog:
- Consider the purpose of giving students voice and choice; why are you offering it? Would it be done in a comparable real-world project? Don’t offer it just because they ask or it’s what you think you’re “supposed to do” in PBL.
- Voice and choice should be limited at times, just like in the real world, where we often work under constraints. For example, adults can’t always choose their own work groups. Or think of an architect who is constrained by budgets, building codes, location, and client preferences.
- Too much choice can be paralyzing for students, so provide scaffolding. Especially for students who are new to PBL, some structure is needed, and you can always given them more freedom. For example, instead of allowing totally wide-open choice of products in a project, have them pick from a list.
- Create a list of product options with students, so they won’t feel like they’re being over-directed by the teacher. And as Jennifer Klein notes, the divergent thinkers in your class will come up with 15 options you had not thought of! (Mike said he sometimes tells students what they can’t do – e.g., “no slide presentations” if they’ve become too common.)
- Find out what your students are interested in; conduct a survey or inventory at the beginning of the year.
- If you’re new to PBL, create opportunities for voice and choice before you launch projects, too. This allows students to understand what it means to have voice and choice and learn how to exercise it – and helps build a culture conducive to PBL. These “practice runs” also allow teachers to experience what it’s like (if they haven’t done so in the past) to give up some control over the classroom.
Peace, love, and produce,