Making Choices Work in Your Classroom
Below are suggestions about how to adapt Choices curricula to your classroom. They are drawn from the experiences of teachers who have used Choices successfully in their classrooms and from educational research on student-centered instruction.
Managing the Options Role Play
A central activity of every Choices unit is the role play in which students advocate different options and question each other’s views. Just as thoughtful preparation is necessary to set the stage for cooperative group learning, careful planning for the presentations can increase the effectiveness of the Options Role Play.
Time is the essential ingredient to keep in mind. A minimum of forty-five to fifty minutes is necessary for the presentations. Teachers who have been able to schedule a double period or extend the length of class to one hour report that the extra time is beneficial. When necessary, the Options Role Play can be run over two days, but this disrupts momentum. The best strategy for managing the role play is to establish and enforce strict time limits, such as five minutes for each option presentation, ten minutes for questions and challenges, and the final five minutes of class for wrapping up. It is crucial to make students aware of strict time limits as they prepare their presentations.
Adjusting the Options Role Play for Large and Small Classes
Choices curricula are designed for an average class of twenty-five students. In larger classes, additional roles, such as those of newspaper reporter or member of a special interest group, can be assigned to increase student participation in the Options Role Play. With larger groups, additional tasks might be to create a poster, political cartoon, or public service announcement that represents the viewpoint of an option. In smaller classes, the teacher can serve as the moderator of the debate, and administrators, parents, or faculty can be invited to play the roles of congressional leaders. Teachers can also combine two small classes.
Assessing Student Achievement
Grading Group Assignments
Students and teachers both know that group grades can be motivating for students, while at the same time they can create controversy. Telling students in advance that the group will receive one grade often motivates group members to hold each other accountable. This can foster group cohesion and lead to better group results. It is also important to give individual grades for group-work assignments in order to recognize an individual’s contribution to the group.
Having students complete self-evaluations is an effective way to encourage them to think about their own learning. Self-evaluations can take many forms and are useful in a variety of circumstances. They are particularly helpful in getting students to think constructively about group collaboration. In developing a self-evaluation tool for students, teachers need to pose clear and direct questions to students. Two key benefits of student self-evaluation are that it involves students in the assessment process and that it provides teachers with valuable insights into the contributions of individual students and the dynamics of different groups. These insights can help teachers organize groups for future cooperative assignments.
Evaluating Students’ Original Options
The original options developed and articulated by each student after the role play are an important outcome of a Choices unit. These will differ significantly from one another, as students identify different values and priorities that shape their viewpoints.
The students’ options should be evaluated on clarity of expression, logic, and thoroughness. Did students provide reasons for their recommendations along with supporting evidence? Were the values clear and consistent throughout the option? Did the students identify the risks involved? Did the students present their options in a convincing manner?
Research shows that students using the Choices approach learn the factual information presented as well as or better than from lecture-discussion format. Students using Choices curricula demonstrate a greater ability to think critically, analyze multiple perspectives, and articulate original views. Teachers should hold students accountable for learning historical information, concepts, and current events presented in Choices units. A variety of types of testing questions and assessments can help students to demonstrate critical thinking and historical understanding.
Adjusting for Students of Differing Abilities
Teachers of students at all levels—from middle school to AP—have used Choices materials successfully. Many teachers make adjustments to the materials for their students. Here are some suggestions:
- Do only some lessons and readings rather than all of them.
- Shorten reading assignments; cut and paste sections.
- Use the questions in the text to introduce students to the topic. Ask them to scan the reading for major headings, images, and questions so they can gain familiarity with the structure and organization of the text.
- Read some sections of the readings out loud.
- Preview the key terms list with students. Establish a system to help students find definitions for these key terms and others they do not know.
- Use the issues toolbox to introduce overarching themes and crucial ideas in the reading.
- Go over vocabulary and concepts with visual tools such as concept maps.
- Be sure that students understand the purpose of reading the text. For example, if they are going to do a role play, explain that the readings will help them to gather the information needed to formulate arguments.
- Create a Know/Want to Know/Learned (K-W-L) worksheet for students to record what they already know about the subject and what they want to know. As they read they can fill out the “learned” section of the worksheet.
- Brainstorm current knowledge and then create web diagrams in which students link the ideas they have about the topic.
- Ask students to create their own graphic organizers for sections of the reading or fill in ones you have partially completed.
- Supplement with different types of readings, such as literature, newspaper articles, or textbooks.
- Use Choices’ videos or other visual introductions to orient your students.
- Combine reading with political cartoon analysis, map analysis, or movie-watching.
Choices videos are designed to complement the printed Choices curricula. The playlists on each curriculum page on this site are consistent with the major headings in the corresponding printed student text. Videos used in lessons found in the Teacher Resource Book can also be found in their own playlist. Below are additional, general suggestions for how to incorporate the videos in your class or in professional development.
For more than 25 years, Choices curriculum units have helped students develop the competencies now required in the C3 Framework, Common Core, and state standards.
The Choices Program recently introduced our New Teacher Kit at the National Council for Social Studies conference. The Kit provides a sampler of resources for use with pre-service teachers.