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  • Writer's pictureAlison Hamacher

5 Reasons Why Student Choice is Important in Middle & High School

Education aims to provide a strong foundation for students, encompassing skills beyond the standard curriculum. Work ethic, responsibility, goal setting, and prioritization are among the many life skills fostered by schools. These non-curricular lessons guide students in making informed choices for their education and future beyond school.


Elementary schools often offer "Choice Boards," empowering students to decide which skills and strategies to develop. Although valuable at every stage of education, the opportunity for choice diminishes between elementary and secondary levels. By middle school, students have multiple teachers, each with limited time to cover extensive curriculum material. Incorporating choice becomes challenging, but it remains crucial to enable students to prioritize and take ownership of their learning. Here are five reasons why student choice remains essential at the middle and high school levels.


5 Reasons Why Student Choice is Important in Middle & High School


Agency

In giving students choice, we give them an opportunity, the ability, to take charge of their learning. We give students the power to act on their educational needs and goals, through agency. When middle and high school students can control outcomes in their learning their desire for success takes on a new form, and the effort they exude will look very different from times when they did not have the same opportunity. 


Many middle and high school students often feel they do not have a lot of control over their lives. By providing choice in school, students influence their learning and give back some of what they believe is missing, including a sense of accomplishment, which boosts their confidence. This age group is known for having a strong belief in themselves and what they can achieve. Therefore, it is significant for them, as individuals, to be allowed to act on that belief and handle situations and tasks, having the ability to control outcomes in their learning and know they made the choice and the outcome was their own is pivotal in their growth.


student choice and student engagement

Engagement

Have you ever found yourself doing something that you had no say in? It's likely that your level of engagement in that activity was low. The same can be said for students, particularly those in middle and high school. Providing students with choices is a powerful tool to encourage engagement. Given the overwhelming amount of tasks and responsibilities that students face, offering choices can make a world of difference. When students have the opportunity to choose how they learn, they become more invested in their education. They can explore their interests and individuality in a way that is uniquely their own, which leads to greater engagement and motivation. By empowering students with choice, teachers can support a more meaningful and relevant learning experience that inspires students to become active participants in their education.


Empowerment

When it comes to middle and high school students, we may feel hesitant about giving them choices. These years can be challenging, but by empowering students with the ability to choose in their education, they can take ownership of their learning and gain independence. This empowerment through choice allows students to develop essential skills and confidence. By providing this freedom, we help mold well-rounded, open-minded individuals who have the opportunity to explore their interests and take risks. Schools provide a secure environment where students can make choices and feel empowered. Over time, the scope of choices can expand, serving as a scaffold for students to learn how to make choices in a safe and guided setting.


Motivation

The correlation between effort, task performance, and completion is strong when coupled with the freedom of choice. Students display unparalleled motivation when presented with the opportunity to make their own decisions in the learning process. Personalization of education is achieved through empowering students to take charge of their learning journey, which cultivates their drive to succeed by engaging with content in ways that align with their unique needs and interests. The pursuit of a goal that is innately personal evokes a sense of proving oneself, and students share this sentiment as they strive to achieve academic excellence. 


Autonomy

When we think about autonomy, we often hear about how it is beneficial for students, but we may not fully understand what it means for them. In an article by Marcus Dyke, he defines autonomy as "freedom from external control or influence; independence.” It refers to having the freedom to choose what we do and how we do it. Students can demonstrate their autonomy when we provide choices in their learning pathways. Encouraging decision-making in the classroom leads to students choosing what matters. It gives them the autonomy to determine the route they want to take to learn skills, and which strategies they will employ along the way. Choice in schools fosters students' life skills. They can be autonomous in a safe environment, preparing them for the real world.  


 

Fitting in opportunities for students to make choices can be difficult with the multitude of demands on educators, such as curriculum, standards, and testing. However, there are ways to incorporate student choice in a manner that supports academic growth. One such way is through the implementation of flex periods, which provide regular opportunities for students to exercise their agency. By exploring the potential of flex periods, schools can offer interventions, enrichment, clubs, social-emotional learning, and more while empowering students to develop their sense of individuality, control, and self-efficacy. Ultimately, providing choices allows students to take charge of their learning and practice essential life skills in a safe and supportive environment, setting them up for success on their life journey.


If you are looking for more ways to incorporate student choice for your middle and high school students, check out the Ultimate Guide to Flex Periods for more information on what that could look like.

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