In the last 10 years, we have harnessed the research on and witnessed for ourselves the powerful connection between student agency and motivation. When students are given the ability to make even small choices around how and what they learn, their engagement with the course changes in a range of positive ways. We see students work more efficiently, be driven to perform to the best of their abilities, and find space for creative exploration or time to foster a tangential curiosity. Quite simply, when students have choice, they do better across a range of success metrics. Armed with this awareness, how do we leverage choice to inspire learning and growth? There are two primary ways that we work to increase choice for students: within the class itself, as Brad wrote about earlier this month, and within the curriculum as a whole.
One Schoolhouse builds courses and programs based on the needs of consortium schools. Increasingly, this has meant schools asking us to extend their course catalog via advanced semester electives, in order to give students more choices in what they can pursue, including topics like business and economics, civics and politics, computer science, engineering, gender identity, global health, neuroscience, psychology, social entrepreneurship.
As we build more elective options, we wanted to go an additional step further in relation to choice, and to make courses even lower risk on the all-precious “time-consumption” meter. Our fall semester courses are interactive survey courses where students get a sense of the subject by exploring via project-based learning and case studies. For some students, this is all they want - an engaging single semester experience with a college-level topic; for others, they then want to do something with what they’ve learned in the fall. Enter a second level of choice: to stay for the second semester or to ease into spring with a lighter load (a choice we are happy to encourage for some seniors!). If they choose to stay on, they enter seminar tracks where they get to research a challenging question or design and build something that solves a real world problem. The structured deadlines of the spring seminar, combined with the flexibility pathways for deep learning, create a learning environment borne of the intersection between student agency and motivation.
Students and families get more from your school when they feel like you have the choices that they want; and we’re working hard to respond to your requests for more choice in advanced electives.
Beth Teske, Assistant Head for Academics at Linden Hall, on how One Schoolhouse's pedagogical model has been a helpful resource in transforming teaching and learning at her school.
Over the course of this year, I’ve written about ten lessons that we’ve learned in ten years of online education at One Schoolhouse. This tenth lesson is perhaps the most relevant for classroom teachers, because it is directly transferable to the face-to-face classroom and is easy to implement starting on a very small scale (it can be tried in a single class period). We learned that when students have choice in what, how, and when they learn, they are more engaged in their course work.
Honestly, we had a hunch about the “when” part even before we started in online learning. We knew that student schedules were crazy… and that it was unrealistic for us adults in the school community to ask our students to go from 45 minutes of calculus to 45 minutes of discussing Shakespeare to doing a chemistry lab for the next 90 minutes. How could our students concentrate the way they needed to and engage fully with that type of expectation?
What we didn’t know was the "how" or "what"… nor did we know that there was good research about giving students choice in “how” and “what.”
Larry Ferlazzo identifies four qualities as critical to helping students motivate themselves: autonomy, competence, relatedness, and relevance. These are central to engendering student agency because they build a culture of choice in your classroom. By empowering students to manage themselves, we invite them to the table as partners in their learning, rather than as recipients of our teaching. As a result, students feel respected and safe, which promotes a growth mindset of risk-taking and learning. Daniel Goldman describes this internal motivation as, “a passion to work for internal reasons that go beyond money and status - which are external rewards, - such as an inner vision of what is important in life, a joy in doing something, curiosity in learning, a flow that comes with being immersed in an activity. A propensity to pursue goals with energy and persistence. Hallmarks include a strong drive to achieve, optimism even in the face of failure, and organizational commitment.”
This research helped us ask questions about how we could enable student choice within our classrooms — and whether we had more opportunity to do so in an online space with extensive resources abounding.
Our first foray into this work was in developing content pathway choice for students… that’s the example you see below. When a student first explores content in a class with us, they are given choice in how to begin… Here the options include a number of online resources, video resources,
and textbook resources. Many students find that they have to complete multiple pathways in order to fully grasp the content.
Moreover, we were asking these questions at a time when the field of personalized learning was just starting to take shape. We embarked on a long term project on transforming our online classroom to be learner-driven and personalized.
Teachers used what they learned over the years about differentiation, creating pathways for students to choose how to access new content, assess their understanding, and apply learning to the real world. This gives students agency — and, importantly, it also gives students relevance, another key factor for engagement that we learned from Ferlazzo.
Brad Rathgeber, Head of School & CEO