Choice and challenges go hand in hand

Last week my students wrapped up our investigation of World War II. They’ve been reading historical fiction about the time period and learning about the general timeline through class discussions. It was finally time to assess what they had gained from our study. I debated what I wanted them to do to demonstrate their knowledge and finally decided to give them some choice.

There is a lot of buzz around student choice in education right now, but choice isn’t always easy. Too many choices, and it can be overwhelming. Students can spend a whole class period spinning in circles trying to decide on what to do. Giving students limited choices can be stifling and lead to canned responses. I wanted my scholars to have options but still complete their task. To do this I added some challenges to the project, obstacles that would offer guiding limitations. The kids loved the idea of trying to beat the game.

First, I had each guild (table team) come up with an interesting word, any word. I wrote those on the board on a T-chart. The words ranged from flatulence to flabbergasted. It was quite the list. Then each guild came up with a word connected to WWII. They had a lot of the important names and topics we have been studying. I wrote those on the board on the other side of the T-chart.

Next, I explained their goal, the guilds had 45 minutes to create a project that creatively demonstrated their understanding of the the history of WWII. They could use any of the materials I had available in the supply cabinet or any technology resources on their iPads. The time limit forced them to make a choice and run with it. They couldn’t spend a lot of time overthinking their project. They also quickly discovered that they would need to delegate tasks if they wanted to finish on time.

Then I explained the twist. Each group would get two dice rolls. The first one would indicate how many words from the first list of interesting words they had to include in their project. The second roll would indicate how many words from the second lister were banned from their project. It was great.  The most challenging was a group that had to explain WWII without using the words Germany, Hitler, Nazis, and Soldiers.

As the scholars worked, I went around and checked in with each group. Sometimes I would give them suggestions or ask them questions about what they were including. I had to remind a few groups that the info on the project was the main point, i.e. a creative idea is great, but if it doesn’t explain anything about the war then it wasn’t meeting the project criteria.

When the time was up I had each guild share what their project was and why they chose that project type. We also talked about other projects they had worked on in the past. It was interesting because the projects I received were almost as good as projects they had previously spent multiple class periods working on. They had a lot of insight into why that was.

Some projects were better than others. There were a few that were typical posters. But overall I was extremely impressed in what they were able to come up with. They had a lot of choice but the challenges I paired with the choices gave them direction and helped them complete the task. There were posters with flip tabs, a newspaper page, a 3D model, a video news broadcast, a video skit, a comic book, and some other more common posters. 

Kids love choice. I encourage choice as much as I can, but too much choice is overwhelming. Challenges give the task just enough direction to create amazing work.

 

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