[4-minute read] Our 2018-2019 calendar emphasizes developing an understanding & responding to the context of your classroom. We start with an inspirational quote, back it up with research, then provide you with classroom application ideas. Our July 2019 blog post, written by Instructional Designer Shih-Ting Lee, provides examples of how to give students learning options.


A key component of a culture of caring is the power of choice. The power of choice—where students have input regarding what and how they learn, coupled with individualized opportunities to demonstrate their understanding—begins the empowering transfer of the control of learning to the rightful owner. -Carl Draeger, a National Board-certified Teacher at Streamwood High School in Illinois. He has taught mathematics at both the high school and community college levels.

Giving students learning options is a very simple idea, but can have a big impact on students’ learning and motivation (Copper & others 2010). According to a meta study of empirical effects of students’ academic choices on academic performance between 1975-2004, students with significant cognitive or behavioral problems yielded better performance under student choices in 80% of those experiments and 12% for general education students (Mizner and Williams, 2009). When students are given learning choices, they feel empowered at the same time. Most importantly, they feel the agency to carry out their choices. This idea might sound scary at first, but think twice about it, you will find it makes a lot sense. "The power of choice-where students have input regarding what and how they learn-begins the empowering transfer of the control of learning to the rightful owner."

I have two young boys, six and eight years old. Doing homework is a boring chore for them when they see it as Mommy’s project. However, after I explain to them the importance of doing homework and invite them to choose when they want to do it, how quickly they want to do it, and where they do it, their attitude turns 180 degrees. Now they see doing homework as their project. I no longer have to remind them to get it done. They see that I trust them and trust their decisions. They now own it, and they step up to the plate to deliver. The point is that even students as young as 6 can be empowered by learning choices, not even mentioning our students. 

Three ways to implement learning options in your course:

Allocate time for students to ask questions. This is important because the questions come from students, not you. Students ask them because these questions are meaningful to them. To come up with a good question, the student first has to do their homework, figure out what’s missing, and then communicate the questions to you in a structured and organized matter. A lot of cognition is required to raise questions in class!

Give students the freedom to choose projects that interest them, but within the parameters of the learning objectives. For example, if you require students to deliver a persuasive speech, allow them to choose the topics, but make it clear what the parameters are. Or in a computer programming class, your students can create any type of computer game as long as the program demonstrates all of the required skills. 

Invite students to make course related decisions (e.g. due dates, attendance, or logistics of activities). The decision can be as small as a penalty for being late, to bigger decisions like what type of projects they should do. As the instructor of the course, it is your call to decide how many and at what level you want to engage your students in the decision making process. The bottom line is to at least offer some opportunities to get them involved in those decisions. 

To learn more about these ideas, a good starting point is the ACC library collection of teaching & learning books. If you prefer to learn these techniques in a learning community with your peers, keep an eye on opportunities offered from the Teaching & Learning Excellence Division (TLED). The opportunities range from online 1-hour sessions to year-long in depth programming. 

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References:

Terry Doyle, Learner-centered teaching, putting the research on learning into practice., Stylus Publishing, 2018.

Mizner, B., & Williams R (2009). The effects of student choices on academic performances. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 11, P 110-128.

Patall E., Cooper H., & Wynne S. (2010), The Effectiveness and Relative Importance of Choice in the Classroom. Journal of Educational Psychology,  102, No. 4, 896–915