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Choice: The Key to Reaching Every Student

Lead Features September / September 18, 2018

-by Terra Graves-

The Power of Choice

Who doesn’t like to have a choice?  This seems like a no-brainer to me. Whenever teachers can give their students choices in their learning process, everyone wins. When we have options, we tend to have more ownership of that experience. It also provides us with a sense of control, which most students do not experience in school. In her article on facultyfocus.com, Elizabeth Betsy Lasley EdD writes, “When students are asked to interpret, construct, and demonstrate their concepts or ideas regarding specific course concepts from a selection of product or performance options, content retention, commitment, motivation, and creativity increase.” Flipped Learning environments are ripe for offering choices to students in how they consume content and how they express their learning outcomes. Giving students choice allows us to reach every student, every day because it honors their individuality. Cassie Shoemaker explains it simply in her article Let it go: Giving students choices, “When teachers give students choices as to how they will show what they have learned, students become better problems solvers, more creative, and more engaged.” Problem-solving: It’s not just for math! Students NEED to have opportunities to make decisions in school to learn to make decisions in life. If we continue to spoonfeed and micromanage our students, they won’t learn to figure things out on their own.  Teachers by nature tend to be control freaks (including me). However, when we allow our students to try/fail/try again, we support their growth and confidence.

The Problem  

The only thing worse than assigning our students the same assessment of learning is grading 30 (or more) identical assessments of learning. Well-meaning teachers who provide a template or a sample of a finished product are teaching students to create replicas, not to show what they know. Creativity is nonexistent in this model. Students aren’t motivated to do the project; we aren’t motivated to grade it.

The Solution

As FL practitioners, we are uniquely poised to provide students with a personalized learning experience. That doesn’t mean we must do away with PowerPoint! PowerPoint itself is not entirely horrible. I prefer Google Slides when I am creating a slide deck, but to be fair, now that Office 365 exists, Microsoft is catching up to the collaborative documents idea that pushed many of us to Google Docs over ten years ago. Regardless of that, PowerPoint is typically the first technology tool teachers go to when assigning what they think is an “innovative” student project, and while students can innovate with PowerPoint, they rarely do.

The Challenge

I’m hoping that you have explored more than just PowerPoint as a presentation tool for students. The good news is, tons of amazing free (and some paid) tools exist, giving students more creative ways to show what they know. I’m just guessing here, but I think that most FL practitioners are somewhat tech savvy. Am I right? Even if you’re unfamiliar with new tools, I’m betting that you’ll be able to play around with them and learn just enough to be dangerous.  

Here are a couple of my absolute favorites to check out.

Glogster EDU

This tool is an interactive digital version of a poster collage. You and your students can create amazing posters with text, images, web links, embedded videos, audio recordings, and attachments. These creations are easily shared with a web link, through social media, or by email. Each flipped lesson could be ONE glog. Students can create a glog as a final project. Super fun to create and super fun to consume! This is not a free tool, but I believe it is worth EVERY penny at any level of license you select. At this time, there isn’t any other tool that has the same functionality as Glogster.

Canva

Canva is my favorite tool for creating infographics. It is a freemium tool (basic stuff is free, cooler stuff costs money). There are many ready-made templates (infographics, cards, flyers, social media posts, documents, etc.) with amazing images and cool fonts. You can also start from scratch.

Canva Resources:

What is an infographic you say? Dave Gray posted this explanation on Communication Nation http://communicationnation.blogspot.com/2007/04/what-is-infographic.html

  1. It’s a visual explanation that helps you more easily understand, find or do something.
  2. It’s visual, and when necessary, integrates words and pictures in a fluid, dynamic way.
  3. It stands alone and is completely self-explanatory.
  4. It reveals information that was formerly hidden or submerged.
  5. It makes possible faster with more consistent understanding.
  6. It’s universally understandable.

You may recall from our inaugural issue, I created this infographic The Evolution of Flipped Learning.  Infographics are just more inviting to look at than a page full of text. When done correctly, they convey a much stronger message than text alone.

A BONUS outcome of having students create infographics as a project or an assessment is that they must consider what the most crucial information is and decide how to adequately represent it with images or graphs (decisions, remember?). This qualifies as nonlinguistic representation, one of Robert Marzano’s instructional strategies. Being able to communicate an abstract concept without using language requires students to really understand what they are learning. This supports a high level of knowledge construction. (Click HERE to read more about Knowledge Construction, one of six 21st-century dimensions used in Washoe County School District’s lesson design framework.) For more on nonlinguistic representation, read this great post on Cult of Pedagogy.  

More Infographic Resources

So, ditch PowerPoint (at least a little bit), and let your students unleash their innate creativity. Show them these tools, let them decide which ones to use, and ask them to simply explain content to you and each other in their own way, in their own voice, through their own understanding. They will have fun, and you will have fun — because gone will be the days of grading 30 identical slide decks that all look the same as yours! Ultimately, the choice is yours.






Terra Graves
Terra Graves
Terra has been an educator for over twenty years. She is a Program Specialist in the 21st Century Learning Division in Washoe County School District, NV. Prior to this position, she taught elementary and middle school for over ten years, and supported novice teachers as a full-time mentor for three years. Terra is Flipped Learning 3.0 Level -II Certified and a founding member of the FLGI International Faculty.




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2 Comments

on October 3, 2018

Hi Terra – I’m a masters student in EdTech coming back to school with 20 years in corporate IT. I’m enrolled in my first “flipped” class so I’m coming up the curve on the new mentality (and liking it). I’m also the father of an 8 and 10 year old. I really like concept you present of letting the students’ creativity drive the presentation. Beyond opening options for the students (and reducing boredom for the teachers), it’s definitely building some key life skills. Often there will be rules or expectations from employers about tools to use or templates to follow, but most employers are actually looking for self-starters. They want people with the confidence and ability to go find a solution, to adapt to or drive change.

Thank you for building these skills in your classroom and bringing this concept to the broader audience.

on October 9, 2018

As I continue my evolution of becoming the best teacher I can be, I often look back at my early days of teaching and how I spoon fed information to students and then expected them to feed that same information back to me during a test or project. Now, as a veteran teacher, I can read this article and agree with you whole heartedly about challenging the students to do their own research on a subject and present their findings back to me through a palatable medium. Running into road blocks and learning to overcome them by researching, creating, and constructing new ways to present information is an important part of student development. By allowing students the opportunity to explore new topics and create using new programs and technology, students become more engaged in the learning process while learning valuable life skills along the way. When I assign group work in the future I will always encourage students to find a new way to present that information to the class.



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