December is by far my favorite month to be teaching. It is the one time of year when I can abandon my traditional curriculum for holiday-themed instruction that the students really enjoy. As winter sweeps through western New York, and snow covers streets and buildings, I find that my cozy classroom is the perfect spot to celebrate the season. My next few posts are dedicated to the students in my district and around the globe, as I strive to illustrate that it truly is a small world after all.
Innovative and personalized holiday lesson plans begin by providing students choices about their learning. Choice menus or boards outline instructional options that are aligned with specific learning goals. Although teachers direct the process by creating the assignments, students control their own learning because they decide what tasks to complete and in what order. In addition, menus may be personalized to fit the learning style of all students, and assignments may be tiered to varying degrees of difficulty.
The holiday menu I created focuses on the specific areas my students struggle with. Since students are given a high degree of independence with this activity, motivation and enthusiasm is never is short supply. I love the smiles that flash across their faces once they see all of the different projects to choose from. Moreover, few realize that each section of the choice board gets progressively more challenging. This type of assignment also provides an enormous amount of insight into a student’s mind. I’m always eager to see which task is chosen first, and am often surprised by the options that end up being interesting to a particular student. I make a mental note of student preferences, and use this data as a guide for future choice boards. Most students are very grateful to have so many options to choose from and love opportunities to shine in various areas.
The first step in creating a choice board is to compile a list of individual learning goals. At this point in the year, it can become quite evident which skills are in need of remediation and which ones have been conquered. The next step is to incorporate a theme. Since the holidays are in full swing, you should have an abundance of topics for your choice boards. I chose to go the whimsical route, because although I teach to the “tough” middle school crowd, the heart of a child still exists in each one of them. For instance, the site Elf Yourself appeals to their age level and the finished products are priceless.
I truly delight in seeing both the boys and the girls dive right into this project. It particularly surprised me that so many students chose to look up a holiday recipe, and many even asked if we could prepare them in class. I also received many amazing handmade ornaments, all impressively created without a template.
However, it was the letters to Santa that had me rolling on the floor with laughter; so many students were willing to go back to their childhood innocence.
Regardless of which content area you focus upon, choice boards are a wonderful way to enhance student creativity and foster their willingness to take risks in the classroom. Please join me next week when I focus on the middle school miracles of the holiday season.