Choice in the Curriculum
The importance of developing the skills, concepts and dispositions related to choice in literacy and language learning is apparent in its inclusion in the learning outcome ‘Motivation and Choice’. This features across all three strands of the Primary Language (PLC), Béarla agus Gaeilge.
As part of these learning outcomes, children learn the skills of how to choose across the language strands. Building on this, children should be encouraged to explore and reflect on their choices.
This e-bulletin will explore the provision of meaningful choice in the classroom. It offers research based information and practical suggestions that teachers could utilise to support children in making choices in language learning.
Choice in the Classroom
Take a moment to consider the choices currently afforded to your class in language learning (English agus Gaeilge).
We can view choice in the classroom through two lenses:
The first is when choice, or more specifically the skills, concepts and dispositions related to choice are the explicit focus. Here the teacher is honing in on the learning outcome 'Motivation and Choice' to explicitly teach and assess children’s ability to choose across the language strands. This is complemented by the 'Making Decisions' strand unit of the SPHE curriculum.
The second lens is much broader. It refers to the incidental and implicit use of choice throughout the school day. The teacher may use choice as part of a learning experience perhaps to motivate or differentiate (or both). For example, in a writing lesson the teacher may offer choice of writing topic. The difference here is that the choice is not the explicit focus.
Children will have encountered plenty of choice in their daily lives both inside and outside of school e.g. who will I play with today? Over time, their understanding of how they make choices should develop through both the explicit and incidental use of choice at school.
This development is reflected in the learning outcome ‘Motivation and Choice’ across the strands of the PLC. For example, under writing in stages 1 & 2, children ‘choose’ and in stages 3 & 4, this is extended to ‘evaluate and critically choose’.
One thread that runs through the outcome ‘Motivation and Choice’ is the centrality of familiarisation and exposure.
Children can’t be expected to choose or be motivated by options that they have limited or no knowledge of. Therefore, it is vital that teachers expose children to a wide variety of texts and language experiences in order to support them in making effective choices.
Tá sé tábhachtach é seo a dhéanamh sa Ghaeilge freisin. Tugann sé deis taithí a fháil trí theanga eile, daingniú agus tógáil ar eolas agus scileanna a aistriú ó theanga go teanga.
Familiarisation and exposure of aspects of language will be complemented by other strands and across the curriculum.
For example, genres are an aspect of literacy that span the breadth of the three strands in all languages and are evident across the disciplines. Experience of the genres in oral language will strengthen skills and understanding of the genres in reading and writing and vice versa.
Consider the language experiences you provide for you class:
- What books do I read aloud to my class? (Leabhair Ghaeilge chomh maith)
- Do children have access to a wide variety of texts? (Leabhair Ghaeilge san áireamh)
- Are there books in other languages in my classroom/library?
- Do I use a variety of multi-modal texts (videos, podcasts, pictures) in my teaching?
- Are different modes of presentation explored with the class?
We have already noted that one of the main roles of the teacher is to ensure children are exposed to a breadth and depth of literacy and language experiences. We will explore how choices can be created in the classroom but let’s first consider how teachers can support children to make choices.
Narrowing or Generating the Choices
At times, this process of narrowing will be teacher-led. It may involve the teacher creating a limited number of options or reducing the amount of options available. ‘Bounded choice’ is a term that is used when the teacher does this e.g. gives a choice of three books for guided reading. This supports classroom management and maximises time on task.
Children also need to know how to narrow or generate the choices themselves. This is relevant when choosing a book from the library or choosing a topic to talk or write about, particularly when there are no constraints on the choice e.g. free-writing. The following task cards explore these aspects of choice and provide practical ideas to support children.
Effective questioning also supports children to choose. Prior to making choices, effective questioning can be employed to help children consider their interests and learning goals.
Once a choice has been made, questioning should support the child in explaining and justifying said choice. Having completed an activity, questioning will allow children to reflect in order to make better choices in future.
‘What’s your favourite type of poem and why?’
To answer this question, children need to understand and use poetry specific vocabulary (haiku, sonnet, rhyme, verse). They also need the language of explanation, justification and reflection:
I chose... because…
I agree with... because...
Next time, I might consider…
Children require explicit teaching and ample opportunities to use and practise this language. Oral Language/Teanga ó Bhéal Learning Outcomes 11 and 12 support this.
Má iarrtar ar pháistí roghanna a phlé i dteangacha eile, ní mór an dá chinéal teanga thuasluaite a iniúchadh agus a chleachtadh.
Children’s experiences of making choices in their daily lives can provide a stimulus for discussion. The SPHE curriculum offers plenty of opportunity to explore choice and decision making. Social stories™ can also be useful to this end.
Books or stories can be used to explore the theme of choice in a safe, child-friendly way. Through books, children can examine the process of choice as well as its challenges and consequences.
Take the story of Humpty Dumpty for example: Why did Humpty choose to sit on the wall in the first place? Do you think this was a good choice? How do you think it impacted his life?
Equally, historical fiction or current affairs articles could provide a stimulus for similar discussions. Through the book ‘Tom Crean: Ice Man’, by Michael Smith, senior classes could explore the life or death choices the men were faced with on their expeditions in Antarctica.
Creating choices in the classroom can seem daunting initially. Teachers who may be reluctant offering choice could start small and develop it incrementally. One of the main considerations is the purpose for offering choice. Is it to differentiate? Is it to motivate? Do I think the choices will have the desired impact?
There are many different types of choice we can offer. Some may seem simple and have little consequence (will I decorate my poster with markers or paints?) Others can be more complex and have greater consequence (where will I source information for my project?)
Choices which have been tailored to the learners can support them in self-differentiating and is inherently inclusive. The following task card explores types of choice which may suit different interests and abilities.
In the early years, children usually make choices based on personal interest. Over time and with support, they can be encouraged to take other factors into consideration (purpose, audience, strengths and learning goals).
It is important to note that for some children, having choice can create anxiety and what may be perceived as low consequence to some may feel overwhelming for others.
Inevitably, children will not always make appropriate choices. This shouldn’t deter us - it is part of the learning process. Through effective questioning and reflection, children become more aware of themselves as learners and more adept at making appropriate choices.
There are some other considerations that may also have an impact on the success of choice in the classroom:
Time: Is there sufficient time to decide? Will all choices take a similar amount of time to complete?
Resources: Are the necessary resources at hand?
Space: Is there sufficient space required to engage with the activities?
Number of choices: Try to ensure children are not overwhelmed by the number of choices on offer. Two or three choices might be sufficient.
Inclusion: Is there at least one choice that suits every learner?
Experience/Prior Knowledge: Do they understand and have experience of what the choice requires? E.g. using a dictionary.
Understanding: Are the choices presented/ explained in a way that everyone can understand?
Choice boards are a resource which communicate the choices on offer. They are generally printed on a page, though a digital platform (Symbaloo or Padlet) could also be used. As all options are presented in one place, they are useful for offering choice during the school day or for homework.
Choice boards can be used and created in many different ways and this is explored in the following task card.
Other e-Bulletins include useful examples of choice boards:
e-Bulletin 2: Task Card 4a - Writing at Home
e-Bulletin 3: Response Choice Board
e-Bulletin 4: Must do, May do editable choice boards
e-Bulletin 5: Word Study Choice Board for Fluency (Béarla agus Gaeilge)
e-Bulletin 7: Task Card 3a - Vocabulary Choice Board/Roghachláir foclóra
A Culture of Choice
Critical Thinking and Book Talk (CT&BT) provides a wonderful platform for children to share ideas and voice opinions in a safe, democratic space. The child’s unique voice shines through during these sessions and facilitates a culture of acceptance that celebrates individuality. CT&BT allows children the space needed to practise meaningful reflection, which is also a key component in making choices.
High-quality picturebooks are used during these sessions in order to stimulate discussion. The selection shown on the left feature choice or decision making as a central theme and could facilitate deeper discussion in this area.
This video shows a Critical Thinking and Book Talk session in action:
The following video shows a classroom with a firmly established culture of choice, which took time and practice to develop.
In this clip, we see evidence of choice being offered to the children through 'bounded choice'. The children are learning to write in the persuasive genre. They have freedom to choose their topic and have previously been taught how to do this. It is interesting how one of the children perceives this as ‘no one tells you what to do’.
Created with images by kvrkchowdari - "choose the right direction career direction direction" • Aaron Burden - "Crayons beside child coloring" • Vladislav Babienko - "Man at the Crossroads" • Caroline Hernandez - "The smiling sisters" • qimono - "child crossroad kid" • Javier Allegue Barros - "life is a succession of choices, what is yours?" • Devanath - "chess chessboard strategy" • Luis Aguila - "untitled image" • 14995841 - "teacher learning school" • Peggy_Marco - "cows curious cattle"