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3 Strategies to Give Students Voice and Choice in the Classroom

project based learning Jul 22, 2021

I will never forget the faculty meeting that completely changed the way I would teach forever. My admin would like for that statement to mean they provided such terrific professional development value that I was inspired to change the world all because of their stellar leadership. That’s not what happened.

Our state had just adopted new ELA standards and this particular faculty meeting was supposed to teach me how to use them. I arrived at 8:30, large coffee, notebook, planbook, and multi-color felt-tip pens in hand, ready to tackle some new standards!  We had already been informed that the standards were hefty, but not too terribly different from what we were already using.  The hardest part was supposed to be their new structure, and we’d have to learn how to navigate them.

This is one of those meme worthy, expectation vs. reality moments.  My expectation=learning how to navigate the new structure, then collaboration with my colleagues on how to implement them in my classroom.  Reality=8-hour scavenger hunt that I quit after hour 2.  Yes, you read that correctly.  We spent 8 hours with sticky-notes going through a 4-inch binder on a scavenger hunt that taught us the structure in about 20 minutes.  I was so frustrated, I really wanted to cry.  When asked why I was no longer participating, I shared with them my frustration.  I truly felt like it was a total waste of time (after 20 minutes of course) when I could be learning from my fellow Language Arts teachers how they were actually going to use the framework in their classrooms.  They responded that they “thought it would be fun”.  I realized then, student voice and choice in how they want to learn is critical.

Why is student voice and choice so critical?

Students need to feel like they have a say-so in what they learn and how they show you.  They then take greater responsibility for what they learn and are far more engaged than if they are just being told what to do.  When they provide the what and the how, they take ownership over their learning.  It’s kind of like reverse psychology...make them think they designed it all and it was all their idea, when in reality, they’re just falling into your well-orchestrated learning trap!  I won’t tell them if you won’t!

So, what are the most important student voice and choice strategies to implement in your project-based learning environment?


  1. Give options for research topics and ways to present that research, but leave the options open.  Allow them to tell you what they want to research and how they want to present it.  Help them shape their ideas into something that is appropriate for the classroom and the unit.
  2. Don’t give specifics on everything they question and research.  Some assignments obviously have the objective that needs specificity, but not all do.  If they are answering questions at the beginning of a unit, don’t require certain elements to be met.  Let their questioning and research lead to what is presented.
  3. Provide feedback and direction all along the way.  Talk about their ideas for questions, research, and presentation when they are brainstorming, while they’re in the midst of the assignment, and as they finish.  Set and assess goals with them as they go along.

How can you take action on this right away?  Try this on your first unit of the year.  Let them decide what they want to learn to build their background knowledge.  Let them decide how to show you.  Then, check in on them along the way!

You can also:

  1. Download this guide for more information on each of the project-based learning principles. 
  2. Finally, come back for the rest of this blog series where I will share with you a more in-depth look at how to implement each of these keys.
    1. Introduction
    2. Key 1
    3. Key 2 and 4
    4. Key 5

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