Classroom Strategies
Part 2 of The Power of Student Engagement

Aligning Curricular Decisions with Student Voice

The power of choice boards

The What, Why, and How of Choice Boards

Even though many have returned to in-person instruction, some virtual learning approaches can and should still be used. For instance, intentional creation of choice boards aligned to state standards is an effective strategy to keep and expand upon. Oftentimes, choice boards can be seen as “fillers” or “busy work,” but the reality is that with thoughtful design, high-quality choice boards can become an integral part of the curriculum. 

Using choice boards also supports John Hattie’s meta-analyses in effect sizes, specifically teacher clarity.  With an effect size of 0.84, teacher clarity has the potential to considerably accelerate student learning. Teachers demonstrate their clarity through the use of choice boards by intentionally selecting tasks that best align with the standard(s) being taught. Most importantly, choice boards communicate the learning intentions for students, which is part of teacher clarity and student efficacy (0.65 effect size). 

An easy way to create choice boards is through Google Slides. There are many tools embedded into Google that provide students with an active learning platform and enable educators to watch students engage in learning while providing them with on-the-spot feedback—another high-effect-size strategy. Teachers can also use Google Slides as a way to document and assess learning, allowing the slide deck to serve as a record of past learning and as a reflection tool for when conferencing with students and/or guardians.

What goes into the thoughtful design of high-quality, standards-aligned choice boards?

Grade-Level Standards Alignment

When designing choice boards, begin with the standards in mind. Think about what the chosen standard(s) require students to know and be able to do. The choice board tasks should culminate in the mastery of those standards’ intentions. Here are some questions centered around grade-level standards alignment that you can ask yourself when designing choice boards:

  • Do the tasks meet the demands of the entire standard(s)? 
  • Have I explicitly taught the standard(s) addressed in the tasks?
  • Do the tasks allow for students to show their understanding of the skills embedded within the standard(s)? 
  • Are the tasks clearly laid out and sequenced for student learning? 

Embedded Content

Especially when it comes to disciplinary literacy, students should be completing tasks that are embedded in the content that they are learning. This allows students to build background knowledge and advance their understanding of key concepts across disciplines. Here are some questions centered around embedded content to consider:

  • Do the tasks meet the demands of the standards taught? 
  • Do the tasks integrate other content areas?
  • Do the tasks build on students’ background knowledge?
  • Do the tasks advance students’ understanding of key concepts across disciplines?

Student Voice and Choice

When designing choice boards, ensure they are set up for self-directed learning. For example, there could be multiple tasks that address the same standard(s) so that students have the opportunity to self-select the tasks that are most engaging to them. Also, to give students a voice in their learning, be sure to provide choices that allow for multiple means of demonstrating learning. Choice boards can also include student-generated tasks as long as they understand what the intended outcome needs to include, which can be provided through a checklist or rubric. Consider these questions centered around student voice and choice:

  • Do the tasks meet the demands of the standards taught? 
  • Do the tasks allow for student choice?
  • Are the tasks based on students’ interests?
  • Are there multiple ways for students to demonstrate their learning of the content taught?

Authentic Tasks for Authentic Assessment 

Any time we can help students make connections between their new knowledge and the world around them and/or apply their learning, it helps them understand the “why” behind their learning and better retain content. Choice boards provide just the avenue for that when we provide students with tasks that are authentic and relevant. For example, asking students to read like a historian or write like an investigative reporter would be considered authentic. Consider these questions when designing authentic tasks:

  • Do the tasks meet the demands of the standards taught? 
  • Do the tasks provide rich opportunities for students to engage in meaningful learning opportunities? 
  • Will the tasks allow students to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding of the subject matter?
  • Do the tasks allow students to connect with the world around them in a meaningful way?

Finding open education resources and digital text that educators can link to and/or embed within their choice boards can hold teachers back from integrating choice boards into their curriculum. Don’t let it! Here are a few K-12 resources to get your creative juices flowing when designing meaningful standards-aligned choice boards:

Time for Kids
Storyline Online
Digital Textbook
Poetry 180

WOW in the World
Brains On
BookClub for Kids
PBS Kids
Fun Brain
National Geographic Kids
View Pure
Khan Academy

Slides Mania

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About the Author: Kelly Schultz entered the field of education in the Spring of 2008 as a secondary English Language Arts teacher. She has since progressed in the field serving as a curriculum coach, MTSS District Coordinator, and NCDPI Education Consultant. Kelly has taught in both Illinois and North Carolina. Prior to her work experience, she studied at Central Michigan University where she received her Bachelor of Science degree in English, Creative Writing in 2005; Kelly then completed her Master of Education degree in Secondary English Education at DePaul University in 2008.

About the Author: Mary Phillips is a graduate from the University of South Florida where she received her B.S. in Elementary Education and then her M.Ed. in Educational Leadership. She has 20 years of educational experience as a pre-K through 5th grade teacher, literacy specialist, administrator, district instructional coach, and consultant in both Florida and North Carolina. Mary is bilingual and has a deep passion for English Language Learners. Her deep passion for early literacy and desire to impact students’ lives is at the heart of everything she does. She enjoys collaborating with educators from all over the world, sharing her learnings, and empowering educators to be the best version of themselves!