Student voice and choice is a powerful motivator. It is one of the Motivation Focus Five, it can make extrinsic motivation as powerful as intrinsic motivation, and it is one of the foundational pieces of the Classroom Culture Phase of implementing Customized Learning.
But it is also a pedagogical element that many teachers don't understand as well as they understand others (mostly because we weren't likely to experience it much when we were students, nor were we likely to be taught how to implement it in our teacher preparation programs – hopefully both will change for our next generation of incoming teachers).
Surprisingly, it was working with adults that helped me understand an important nuance about “Student” Voice and Choice.
In the weeks before school started, I was involved with various teams in the design and delivery of 7 or 8 days of professional development for all manner of district projects. All of the sessions would be considered successful, and received positive feedback from teachers. But some were even more successful than others. And it is in contrasting the sessions that a pattern emerged.
At opposite ends of the success spectrum (recall that in this case the spectrum is from “successful” to “REALLY successful”) were a day designed to help deepen teachers' understanding of Customized Learning (CL) and 2 half days designed to deepen teachers' thinking about technology integration (especially in light of teachers and students replacing their laptops with iPads).
Both professional development opportunities provided participants with 3-5 sets of breakout sessions, each with 5-7 sessions to choose from. Both had sessions taught by peers. Both collected feedback from participants.
So what was different about the two events?
The technology PD had been designed by the district technology integrators, who brainstormed topics that they thought teachers would benefit from. The Customized Learning PD had also included the Learning Coaches brainstorming sessions they thought teachers would benefit from.
But the CL planning team also sent out a survey (Google Forms or Survey Monkey make this quite easy) to find out what topics teachers might want. Planners looked through the responses for patterns – topics requested repeatedly. They then sent out a survey with the compiled list of brainstormed and requested sessions to see how many participants wanted to see each session. This helped planners decide whether they would address a topic as a whole group session, or how many times to offer a topic as a break out session. By contrast, the technology planners used educated guessing. They were good, but not as good as getting the input from participants.
Another contrast was in what feedback was collected and how it was used. The technology group had participants provide feedback on the sessions after each half day of the PD. Their's focused primarily on asking participants what session they attended and general feedback on that session. There was also a general question about what other training and support they would like. The technology planners did meet between the two half day sessions and talked about how things had gone and if we were reach for the second half day.
By contrast, in addition to the feedback on individual sessions, the CL planners collected specific feedback on questions participants had, sessions they would like to have in the afternoon (including new topics that arose out of the morning sessions), and OFIs (opportunities for improvement). The planners then responded at the beginning of the afternoon session, answering questions, and describing how they adapted the afternoon schedule and program based on participants' OFIs and suggested session topics.
Notice that Voice and Choice is most importantly about the learners having voice and choice directly related to the learning (as opposed to all the other things they could have voice and choice about in the classroom).
Further, notice that choice alone was a help, but learner input & feedback and teachers being deliberate and explicit about using that input to adjust what and how things were taught had a more significant impact than choice alone.