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Choice and Competence in the Classroom: A Guide for Teachers

The importance of meaningful choices in our life cannot be overemphasized. Exercising our choice helps us to develop the power of discrimination. The element of choice can greatly enhance the learning competence of students in the modern-day classroom. It can enable them to explore independent, co-operative as well collaborative learning styles for their holistic development. Building learner competence is the primary objective of all teaching-learning practices and giving students greater freedom of choice can help increase their participation in the classroom, thereby democratizing the sphere of education as students take control of their learning.

Predominantly traditional methodologies have largely been the norm in most of the learning scenarios, even as concerted efforts are being made to reform the situation. There is a need for awareness and guidance among the teachers to adopt teaching-learning strategies that enable and empower students to make meaningful choices. Let us look at some ways in which a student-centric learning environment aimed at enhancing the learning competence of the students can be developed by offering them greater freedom of choice.

  1. Rethinking the roles of teachers and students in the classroom: Empowering students with more agency and choice in the classroom involves reimagining students’ roles as co-partners in curriculum design, content delivery, and the entire learning process in general. A shift in envisaging the role of teachers from absolute authority figures or experts to fellow learners and learning facilitators is vital in creating a student-centered and student-driven classroom.
  2. Acknowledging students’ curiosity as being instrumental in the creation of new knowledge: An inquiry-based learning process that prioritizes students’ questions about pre-conceived realities can help build their requisite skills and competence for facing the complexities of the modern world. They should be encouraged to question the existing answers as often as they are told to answer questions and their contribution in the creation and transaction of new knowledge should be acknowledged.
  3. Clarity about the skills and concepts that the teacher wants to develop among the students: Choices that target the learning objectives and help achieve the necessary learning outcomes in terms of competence building and better analytical and problem-solving skills among students should be preferred. This is possible only when there is a clear understanding of the skills and abilities that the teacher wants to develop among the students through the activity.
  4. Guiding students whenever they feel baffled by the range of available options to choose from: Even as students make choices about the topics, content, modes of learning, etc., a nuanced and balanced manner of guidance can make all the difference to take students from being confused to being confident about their choices.
  5. Careful planning and designing of choices: The choices to be given to the students should be planned and designed in a manner commensurate with the learning levels and needs of the young minds to assimilate and absorb the new learning discoveries at their own pace. Structuring choices appropriately helps to build learner competence as without a proper guiding structure in place, picking an alternative can seem to be too daunting or overwhelming a task for the students. It is essential to ensure that the idea of choice does not mean that students choose the easiest alternative that adds nothing to the development of their skill repertoire. Choices should be of the appropriate difficulty level to present an element of challenge and intrinsic motivation to excel among the students.
  6. Fostering a creative, problem-solving attitude by encouraging divergent thinking: Teachers should push students to explore the limits of their thinking by allowing them to try out unconventional learning strategies, like creating and performing a rap song to give a presentation on a course-related topic or giving open-ended questions to evoke creative responses in an exam. This can include doing away with strict disciplinary boundaries to include interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary learning activities in the core curriculum.
  7. Appreciating the diversity of students’ responses to the same question: Enabling students to exercise creative freedom in presenting their work in their unique manner can build life-long learning competence among them. Being cognizant of and acknowledging the value that students’ individualized work brings to the classroom empowers students to be intrinsically motivated to become knowledge seekers from being passive recipients of knowledge.
  8. Inculcating a sense of relatedness and a feeling that students’ inputs and choices are valued: Several activities based on methods like project-based, experiential learning, inquiry-based case studies, and problem-solving situations mimicking real-life social issues give students the necessary exposure and help connect learning to the real world.
  9. Promoting self-direction instead of teacher-led instruction: As they are guided to take charge of their learning, students begin to understand their learning gaps and areas of struggle with greater clarity. This new knowledge and self-feedback strengthen students’ confidence in their abilities as being constantly evolving.
  10. Shift from learning for grades to learning for the sake of learning: The democratized, collaborative classroom welcomes student choice and agency as building blocks for enhancing students’ competence. The development and performance of learning capabilities take precedence over time-bound, grade-based learning practices as students get motivated to excel and engage in deeper learning.

As students are granted greater autonomy to direct their learning through pedagogical activities that value their choices and inputs, the teachers too get to know their students better as the students’ strengths and weaknesses, talents, and needs get reflected in the choices they make. A greater degree of student interest and attention is also made possible when students feel that they have chosen the content or material or resources for learning and hence they are self-accountable and responsible for their learning. Students’ competence is enhanced as they develop leadership qualities and better analytical skills. The transaction of knowledge becomes a dynamic one with the introduction of a multiverse of choices, enabling students to think about the multifaceted problems of the modern world.

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