Choice is not a Reward
Choice is one of the cornerstones of Universal Design for Learning (UDL). Not only is it part of the guidelines (see optimize individual choice and autonomy under the Guideline of Recruiting Interest), it is embedded throughout the Guidelines. Every guideline begins with the phrase “provide options for…” That phrase spurs us to identify and build on the ideas proposed within the checkpoints. For example, “Provide options for Recruiting Interest” tells us that recruiting interest is important and we should read about the checkpoints listed below that guideline and build some of those options into our lessons. We know, though, that there is another step to take. That step is to establish those options as opportunities for choice.
During my interview with Susanne Geise, she shares the different ways she provided her students with choice. Students helped design the lesson, they chose what product they wanted to create, and they chose how they wanted to present that product. It was a really exciting lesson, but it got me thinking about how we position choice and for which students.
First, the positioning. What kind of choice truly benefits learners? Katz and Assor (2007) shared that the perception of choice is crucial. When students recognize and associate feelings of autonomy, competence, and relatedness with choice, outcomes like engagement are stronger. Breaking that down, you not only offer them the choice in how they will complete an assignment or an assessment, the amount of choice and how the act of choice is structured aligns with the students’ levels of competence, and the choices provided are relevant to them.
Next, to whom do we offer this level of choice? It turns out that not all learners are given access to this kind of choice. Students with emotional and behavioral disorders (Swoszowski , Evanovich, Ennis & Jolivette, 2017), students with disabilities who are Black and Latinx (Waitoller, 2020), as well as students who are low-achieving (Crumpton & Gregory, 2011). But these students need just as much opportunity to experience choice as their peers. How do we move forward?
Let’s use the 5 W’s plus the H to do some introspective work. (Note: if you want examples, listen to episodes with Kate Stanley, Laura Christie, Megan Gross & Lisa Yamasaki, Monica Watson-Bedard, Rachel Chappell, Carrie Preston, Kim Babeu, or Shelbi Fortner). Honestly answer these questions:
- Who have you asked to help you add choice into your lesson (e.g., which students)?
- What types of choice to you provide (e.g., does the choice lead to learning and reflection or just preference?)
- When do you feel challenged to offer choice?
- Where can you add in choice?
- Why aren’t some students included in the choice discussion (i.e., choice can be an accessible topic for all learners. See below for next step)
- How can you shift things to include all learners?
By answering these questions, you begin the road toward a more inclusive and equitable design because you’re prompted to gather the voices of all learners. And more, you are truly helping all learners continue their own journey toward becoming expert learners.
Crumpton, H. E., & Gregory, A. (2011). “I’m not learning”: The role of academic relevancy for low-achieving students. The Journal of Educational Research, 104(1), 42-53.
Katz, I., & Assor, A. (2007). When choice motivates and when it does not. Educational Psychology Review, 19(4), 429.
Swoszowski, N. C., Evanovich, L. L., Ennis, R. P., & Jolivette, K. (2017). Evaluating implementation of check in/check out in alternative educational settings: Stakeholder perspectives. Residential Treatment for Children & Youth, 34(2), 107-121.
Waitoller, F. R. (2020). Excluded by Choice: Urban Students with Disabilities in the Education Marketplace. Disability, Culture, and Equity.