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3 Ways to Give Student Choice (With AI Help!)

Robot looking at a board and and point to a variety of choices

UDL Student Engagement Series Part 1

We would all agree that student engagement is a hot topic after the pandemic.  The kiddos in our classrooms are different and their attention spans are low.  Let’s talk a bit about student engagement through the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) lens and some ways student choice can help with student behaviors and motivation.

UDL

If you’re not familiar with UDL we define it in an earlier post here as a way of setting up education so that everyone, no matter how they learn best, can understand and enjoy it. It’s having different tools and methods in class so each student can pick what works best for them, whether it’s videos, hands-on activities, or group discussions. UDL makes sure no one is left out and everyone gets a chance to succeed in their way. Here are the UDL Guidelines from CAST. There are a lot of parts to these guidelines I hope this graphic can give you a big picture:

UDL Big Picture

Let’s Break it down

The CAST guidelines are fantastic AND they are a lot.  Breaking it down into smaller chunks can help. UDL’s main focus is to create expert learners and to do that CAST has three parts; the why, the what, and the how.  The three parts are broken down to define how to make learning more accessible, have students build on their learning, and then internalize learning. In this series, we are going to look at the why of learning and how to provide multiple means of engagement specifically part one is around choice. Here is the link to this part of the CAST guidelines.

Optimize Individual Choice and Autonomy

First things first… when we talk about choice it is often thought of as a free-for-all, and this does not have to be the case.  We know that the choice of learning objectives is not an option (both for students and teachers).  Instead, let’s provide structured choices within the learning objectives. 
There are many studies, including this one in 2009 which show providing choice can have more positive behaviors and motivation.  If you’re like me the “study” that I need is the one in my own classroom, so if you’re looking to provide more choice, start small, get comfortable with it, and then add more. Reflect on how giving that choice changes students’ behavior and motivation.

What choice can I provide to my students?

According to the CAST guidelines, it’s important to provide learners with as much discretion and autonomy as possible.  Again, as I said above if you’re new to this start small and keep building.  Here are the choices CAST suggests:

  • The level of perceived challenge
  • The type of rewards or recognition available
  • The context or content used for practicing and assessing skills
  • The tools used for information gathering or production
  • The color, design, or graphics of layouts, etc.
  • The sequence or timing for completion of subcomponents of tasks

Providing choices where and whenever possible is going to help with student engagement motivation and make the content more accessible for students.

Where does the AI fit in?

Next steps… now that you are aware of some of the choices you can give as options, it’s time to develop the resources.  If you’re in Maine or anywhere in the United States you probably have anywhere from 15 to 30 students in your classroom.  If you’re a middle school or high school teacher multiply that by 4 classes a day.  Thinking about optimizing individual choice and autonomy for that many students makes my brain want to explode.  Using the suggestions above we will look at three ways where AI can help.  Keep in mind this only scratches the surface of options for choice, there could be an entire book on UDL and AI, that’s why this is a series! 

#1 Choice Boards

Alice Keeler has a great blog entry on choice boards. Basically, the idea is you create a list of ideas that students can do to learn an objective or show what they know.  This description does box in the idea a little bit, so be aware you can make a choice board fit you and your students (throw out the rules) as long as it is a way to give some choices.  As a teacher, you get to structure the choices you put on the board. 

I’ve seen these choice boards as matrices, set up as tic-tac-toe boards, or even menus.  There are lots of instructions and templates for the structure here
How can AI help with this process?  We review both Almanack and Magic School and both of these tools have choice board creators.

Almanack

Check out this almanack-generated choice board.  This is the exact result it gave I didn’t modify it, You could export it as a PDF (then upload to Canva and edit) or you can edit right in Almanack.

Almanack Choice Board

Magic School

Then there is Magic School.  With both tools, you can specify the types of activities. I asked for hands-on and computer-based activities.

Magic School Choice Board

These examples give students a choice of context or content to practice and assess skills.  

You could give students a choice in how they show what they know, creating a choice board of projects to choose from.  Sometimes it’s student interest that helps students connect to content. Use Magic School’s “make it relevant” tool to get activities to add to your choice boards that connect to specific student interests.  Don’t like the format the AI tools give you? Export the information and format it the way you want using some of the ideas above.

#2 Text-To-Image and Badging

This week’s Tool Tuesday was Canva’s Magic Media.  This is a great way to get students engaged in badging. Kasey Bell’s Shake Up Learning blog has directions on digital badging.  Give students an option to earn badges, or take it a step further and have students create their own badges using text to image.  They could come up with their own prompts or you could provide a prompt like this one (This one is around photosynthesis, but you can modify it for your content):

“Detailed image of a badge with a hexagonal shape, bold border, and Central banner across the middle. Vibrant Green color with subtle gradient effects to give it depth. Glossy finish with plant in the middle”

Digital badges created with text to image

Based on DALL-E’s terms of service students would have to submit a description to you. Then you could put the prompt into the bot using your account.  You could also create a variety of badges for the same learning objective and have students pick which one they like.  

#3 Support

The last one for this blog post may be an unpopular opinion; provide choices around the supports that help students learn.  I justify this as a learner myself.  The example I like to use is around reading, and I bet many of you busy educators can are similar.  During the school year, the only way I access books is through audio.  I can’t keep up with everything and sit and read a book, and if I do sit down and read I’m likely to fall asleep.  Thankfully in the summer, I can slow down enough to devour several books.  I love that I have this option to listen to books, I still get the information and can use it, versus the alternative which is to just not consume books (I don’t like this option at all).  Using this same example, if a student is not learning to read, but reading to learn what would it hurt if they access the information via audio?

No Stigma

If this option is available to every student, the child who really needs it can use it without feeling signaled out.  The pushback I usually hear with this opinion is “What if every kid uses audio?”  I respond with What if, but really, probably the first time you offer it many students are going to use it.  This is part of their process to test it out and see if it’s for them.  Then as time goes on the ones that need it will continue, and the ones who don’t won’t.  We need to empower students with the choice to choose and give them time to reflect on why they make their choices.

What AI Supports Can You Provide Students?

This is where you can use some of those AI features that have been around for a while (and some that haven’t).  There are many tools here that could be options for students:

Introducing Tools and Reflecting

When introducing tools talk with students about why we use tools, and that as expert learners they need to figure out what works for them to learn best.  Model how to use the tool and give students time to reflect on what support tools they use and if they helped.  We often skim over this last part, but reflection is the most important part of creating expert learners. 

Expert Learners

To sum it all up, choice is one way to help create expert learners.  You can provide choice in a variety of ways, including using choice boards, text-to-image, and badging, as well as a choice in supports students use.  With all choices, students must take the time and reflect on the choices they make and how they contribute to their learning.  

Have you or will you try some of these options for student choice?  Join in the conversation on Facebook or Twitter

-Stay Curious, Stay Innovative!

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