Bringing Choice to Government: Yes You Can!

Bringing student choice to the secondary classroom can be scary and overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. I mean controlled chaos with a purpose sounds nice, but chaotic 18 year olds don’t.

So when I was approached by the two government teachers at my high school looking to increase engagement, student authenticity, student choice, and of course technology integration — I proceeded with cautious excitement.

“What instructional coach doesn’t want to hear that?” I knew it had to be good. And it had to work.

In the spirit of “Show Your Work” by Austin Kleon, I’m exploring showing more of my thinking process through projects. Here is my process:


We started with what they had.

Original project teacher wanted to make engaging and provide options for student choice along with my planning notes.
Page two of the original project + planning notes and calendaring.

The original project wasn’t bad — it just wasn’t engaging.

After conferring with @kteachcampbell and having some personalized PD over choice boards, I decided to go with a 2-5-8 choice board.

Here are the examples I drew inspiration from:

These came from Differentiating Instruction with Menus: Math, Grades 3-5


A 2-5-8 Choice Board gives students choice in how they show their knowledge. Each activity is worth either 2, 5, or 8 points, and every student must complete enough activities to equal 10 points. Any combination of activities totally 10 is a correct way to finish the project. Students cannot “redo” an activity if they didn’t earn full credit — they must complete an additional activity. Brilliant I thought.

We decided to put a spin on the 2-5-8 and have students in groups of 3. Each student was still responsible for their own 10 points and group totals were set at 30. Students in the same group could do the same activity — but they had to justify how it was going to be different.

All the finished products were then put into one container for the groups to present their learning to their classmates.

I took information required from the old project and looked for ways students could create something that demonstrated their understanding of concepts.

Here is the choice board and guidelines we went with:

A few ideas from the original project weren’t explicitly spelled out on the new choice board so the teacher could use them as suggestions for students to include. Secondary students seem to be encouraged by suggestions. They use them as a jumping off point with room to make the final decision.

The classroom teacher and I co-taught the first day and the students had about six days to complete their finished group projects.

We did hit some snafus:

  • Students aren’t used to having choice: They felt weird having to think of what they wanted to do with the options. Some seemed paralyzed by choice. Some couldn’t manage the time well.
  • Students aren’t used to being allowed to be creative: Many kept asking for a sample of some of the activities. I kept telling them to close their eyes and use their imagination. They would’ve preferred being told exactly how to do the activities.
  • BELIEVE THIS: Not all students are as tech savvy as we might think they are. Many classes that teach basic technology concepts in lower levers (like keyboarding and BCIS here in Texas) have been gutted and sprinkled here and there in English and language arts courses. I was shocked when seniors weren’t sure how to save images to their desktop for example. So we needed to scaffold instructions for some and have mini lessons on technology concepts.

But we had many more successes:

  • Actual student engagement: Seniors talking about the project in the halls, showing off finished activities to other teachers, and comparing products with other groups in other sections.
  • Better classroom behavior: It was kind of amazing to see how calm and quiet the classes of 34 students were when they were working. We put on music. They sang along.
  • Build positive relationships between with students: Because they had choice and were encouraged to talk through their thinking, they seemed to open up more in general. More students say “hi” in the halls to me.
  • Build content connections: The classroom teacher has mentioned several times that his students refer back to political parties and special interest groups, along with their products, as a frame of reference for some new material.
  • Build content interest: When learning about different political parties and special interest groups in other parts of the world, students compared them to those they learned about in the project JUST BECAUSE THEY WERE CURIOUS. How awesome if that?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s