When we talk about giving students ‘choice’ in the classroom what exactly does that mean? I was in a few Twitter chats yesterday and the idea of student choice came up several times. It made me think of this cartoon I saw when I started learning about gamification.

I think about this cartoon from time to time to remind myself about meaningful choice. Giving students the option of doing the odd or even number problems is not all that meaningful. The teacher might think it’s a choice but really it is the illusion of choice – like telling your kid they can have either carrots or peas for dinner. I need to remind myself about this or I fall into the trap of allowing g students to choose between writing a DBQ about The Constitution or a comparison essay about the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. 

Meaningful Choices allow the student to have a real impact on the content they learn, their physical environment, the product they make, or some other element. One science teacher told me that his students had avatars that began as single cells and evolve up the biological chain as they leveled up. The power of meaningful choices cannot be denied. In massively multiplayer online role playing games like World of Warcraft players sometimes spend hours of consecutive game time ‘crafting’. This involves repetitive actions in order to make items that can be sold in the game world. Crafting is tedious and mind numbing which is sometimes what is involved in any discipline; however the feeling that the player has chosen this path and that the choice will impact their game world in some positive way (XP, Gold, social connections, etc) keep the player performing the action. 

Choice can come in many many forms. I like to give students opportunities to select their own product format. They prepare by learning skills I require, like analyzing a primary source or comparing to articles, but can draw political cartoons, write poetry, design a monument, or create a viral marketing campaign. When students gain enough levels they can even ‘choose their own adventure’ with my approval. This is one way but their are many others – choose your own path!