10 Ways Choice and Differentiation Create An Engaged Learning Experience for Every Student

Quote from A.J. Juliani in Learning By Choice

First, I just want to say thank you to all of my blog readers for helping make my new book, Learning By Choice, hit #1 in Amazon in Education over the weekend. It is a humbling experience to release a book out into the world, but I’m so excited to be a part of the conversations already happening about choice in our schools!

Why I wrote this book…

Before I ever did the 20% Project with my students, and before I gave my students choice in their learning path, I stressed and worried about the same thing many of us struggle with: our students’ engagement.

I wondered (out loud sometimes) why half my class seemed bought into the lesson, and the other half seemed bored. I worried whether the project we were doing mattered to my students. I struggled to create relevant and meaningful learning experiences for my students.

I blamed it on curriculum, lack of technology, and a host of other reasons.

Then I had a chance to re-write our curriculum. And we went 1-to-1 with student laptops in my class. And all my excuses went out the window!

The problem of student engagement is not new. It’s not easily solved. And it sure isn’t something where you can add a quick-fix and all of a sudden everything is perfect. But I made the mistake early in my career by trying to get my students engaged through what I did as a teacher. It was still all about ME as the teacher, and not enough about THEM as the students.

A Solution From My Students

The solution was something simple that snuck up on me, because it came from my students. It didn’t matter how “fun” I was as a teacher, or how awesome the activities were that I planned. Sure, some of that mattered, but it didn’t necessarily correlate to a chance in engagement.

Then I worked with my students to create a project about human rights violations around the world. We created the project together, and I was blown away by how committed and attentive they were to the learning process and final product. Engagement had never been higher in my classroom.

This only multiplied when I gave my students choice in their 20% Projects. Again, I was floored by their level of commitment towards their learning.

What I realized is how choice naturally differentiates the learning for every student. It differentiates it through their level of interest and learning preferences. 

Since then I’ve been actively blogging, writing, and speaking about the role of inquiry and choice in our student’s learning. But I’ve heard from many teachers who said they have a tough time trying to find an hour a week for Genius Hour or spending 20% of their class time on a inquiry-based project.

This book goes over 10 ways you can bring choice into the classroom without having to overhaul the curriculum necessarily, or do anything fancy. It gives step-by-step instructions on how to bring choice into many different areas of learning.

The 10 Ways Choice and Differentiation Create An Engaged Learning Experience

1. Choice in What We Learn

The first chapter goes into detail on ways we can offer choice in the content our students consume, and what they are learning in (and out of) the classroom. It covers ways for students to get the same skills through various forms of content.

2. Choice in How We Learn

The second chapter is the flip side of the first chapter. Here we look at ways students can have various types of learning experiences when they have to go through the same content. Choice in how we learn focuses on the instructional side of learning.

3. Choice in Assessment

Whether you are giving a summative or formative assessment, choice allows students to showcase what they know, understand, and can do better than most other types of assessments. This chapter shows how portfolios and various types of choice can lead to better assessments.

4. Choice in Differentiation

Differentiation is hard to do for many teachers. This chapter breaks it down step-by-step and showcases ways to include choice as the driving factor in how we can differentiate.

5. Choice in Communication (and Relationships)

This chapter begins by explaining the importance of the human and social side of learning, then goes into a few ways choice can liberate student communication with each other and with the teacher.

6. Choice in Pace and Order

This chapter covers how we typically craft a learning path for our students and tell them how long they are allowed to work on something before moving forward. Here, we give examples of how choice in the pace and order of learning open students up to a new depth of understanding they did not have before.

7. Choice in Technology

With the ever-changing landscape of technology, how does a teacher know which tools to use and which tools are no longer relevant. The answer is simple: give your students choice! This chapter covers what choice in technology looks like in the classroom.

8. Choice in Story and Presentation

The power of story for learning purposes is a well-documented reality. Yet, we often don’t give students in what story they tell through presentations and opportunities to share. This chapter breaks down how choice in story plays an important role in the learning process.

9. Choice in Purpose

Students are most engaged when they have an intrinsic purpose to learn and create. This chapter offers ways to bring choice into the purpose for learning in any classroom.

10. What To Do When Students Struggle With Choice

All of these strategies are great, but what about the student that is used to playing the game of school and struggles when given choice. This chapter gives some ways to help those students regain confidence and purpose through choice.

If you are interested in learning more about choice, check out my book on Amazon, it will still be only $2.99 for a limited time!

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Join the discussion 6 Comments

  • The 20 time project really is an eye opener. It’s a great example of valuing process as much as if not more than results. I teach high school social studies. I’m in the middle of my 3rd iteration of a 20 time project and I finally feel like I’ve figured it out. Like any new concept, there is an amount of scaffolding that is necessary. The students need some structure to guide their creativity and push their work to a higher level but not so much that they are stifled or limited. That’s a really difficult balance to strike. It’s also very easy to see struggles and think the project itself is what is failing when in fact it all just needs more adjusting and sometimes it just needs another try.

    All of these decisions are difficult judgement calls and demonstrate why teaching is often as much art as it is science.

    Thanks for the post! I’ll be very interested to check out your new book!

    Alec Chambers

    • AJ Juliani says:

      Thanks for sharing Alec. Teaching is definitely still an art…and I hope it stays that way! Your blog is a great resource, and I’ll be sure to pass it along!

  • Kendra Grant says:

    Great post. I just bought your book. This ties in nicely with UDL. I am more involved in teacher professional learning (where choice is often missing too). I look forward to reading your book. Congratulations!

  • […] have the choice to allow for failure and provide support…or do it for them and make it easier on both of […]

  • […] book named Learning by Choice by AJ Juliani gives 10 ways choice and differentiation create an engaged learning experience for every […]

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