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Student Choice as a Motivational Tool

Instructor: Sharon Linde
Giving students choices in their own learning can have a positive impact on student motivation. This lesson will explain organizational, procedural, and cognitive choices and identify ways to give students these choices in the classroom.

Motivation and Student Choice in Education

Kelly has been a teacher for a long time. She's a few years from retirement and established in her ways. This year, her co-teacher, Michael, has all sorts of ideas of ways to use student choices as motivational tools, or methods to get students more engaged in learning. In Kelly's opinion, students are either motivated or not. Why is it her job to motivate students? Her job is to teach, and their job is to learn. What else can she do?

Kelly can actually do many things to motivate her students. When students are given autonomy, or the freedom to make choices and self-govern, they are often more motivated in the classroom. They feel empowered to make choices and have ownership in their education. For example, if students are allowed to make a choice about where to sit before a math lesson, they may be more engaged in learning. Classroom choices can be divided into three groups - organizational, procedural, and cognitive. Let's take a look at each of these.

Organizational Choices

One method of choice to use for motivating students is organizational. Organizational choices are those in which students get to choose methods of forming or shaping their learning experiences. The example above of students choosing their own seating can be an organizational choice. Teachers can also allow organizational choices such as:

  • Choosing work partners or groupings
  • Choosing where to work in a classroom, such as in a quiet area or at a busy work table
  • Choosing where to stand in line, like quietly next to a buddy or near someone less tempting to talk to
  • Choosing which materials to put in a desk basket, like number of pencils or sticky notes
  • Choosing jobs for the classroom and procedures for getting work finished

Organizational choices in education focus on how the classroom and learning experiences are formatted. Instead of having a line order, or way students always walk in line, Kelly can allow autonomy in choosing, helping students see the role they play in behavioral choices. Or when creating a seating arrangement, she can allow students to choose their own seats.

When students are allowed to make organizational choices, they may be more motivated participants in the learning community. Think of how it feels to be told what to do and to be given choices. If your lesson plans need to follow a specific format you find lacking, you may be less motivated to complete them. However, if you're given autonomy and allowed to create and turn in lesson plans that make sense to you, you're more likely to complete and use them.

Procedural Choices

Procedural choices in a classroom are those that involve how things are done. Instead of giving all students a list of 20 spelling words, Kelly could allow students to choose words from a preapproved list. She could let them decide methods of practicing the spelling words instead of assigning the same procedures each week. Instead of writing sentences on Monday and definitions on Tuesday, she could create a list of possible exercises and allow students to choose the method they think will most benefit them.

Students may be more motivated and excited about learning when they have control over some of the content. Remember what it was like to take courses in high school or college you had no interest in compared to those you did? When students are allowed to make choices, even small ones like what type of project they'll choose to show their understanding, they feel more connected to their work.

Cognitive Choices

Finally, teachers like Kelly can give her students cognitive choices, or those in which students actively think about aspects of learning and make choices. Let's imagine Kelly is teaching her students about the Civil War. She could create an activity in which students brainstorm options that may have solved the problems that led up to the war and debate them with one another. Or she could allow them to design their own project work to show their understanding of the causes of the war.

Cognitive choices require high-level thinking on the part of students as they need to be able to use skills like analyzing and evaluating. By being allowed to create assessments or imagine historical scenarios in a different way, students feel a deeper connection to learning experiences and may be motivated to work harder.

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