What happens when you give your students a choice

A range of evidence shows the powerful impact on education outcomes when you give your students a real choice and control of their learning. Karen Sullivan looks at how.

An increasing wealth of research suggests that providing students with choices enhances their intrinsic motivation for undertaking tasks, overall performance on the task, and willingness to accept challenging tasks. Allowing students to make choices in the classroom equips them to make more discoveries about their own interests and, importantly, their personal process of making decisions.

This isn’t entirely new, of course. As far back as 1918, Kilpatrick introduced the child-centred learning project method, and suggested that when students are given control of their learning, learning becomes more purposeful. His research found that purposeful learning motivates a student to become more engaged.

In 1972, Piaget wrote: “Children should be able to do their own experimenting and their own research. Teachers, of course, can guide them by providing appropriate materials, but the essential thing is that in order for a child to understand something, he must construct it for himself; he must reinvent it. Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from re-interesting it for himself. That which we allow him to discover by himself will remain with him visible for the rest of his life.”

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