Empowering students through choice and voice in learning

Student choice and voice in learning are essential. We need to explore new ideas and tools that will help our students develop a variety of essential skills in ways that meet their individual interests and needs. Students not only need to develop content area knowledge and skills, but they also need to develop the essential social-emotional learning (SEL) skills that will best prepare them for their future.

In deciding on methods and tools, we have to think about how our choices will impact students and enable us to better understand where students are on their learning journey and how we can help them to make progress. Having a clear focus on the purpose of our methods and the tools we use will enable us to provide authentic, meaningful, and relevant learning experiences for students.


As I consider the lessons that I plan and my assessments, a few things that I ask myself are:

What is the purpose of this assessment?

How can this method or tool enhance the learning experience?

Do students understand how they are being assessed?

What can I implement that will enhance my understanding of student progress?

How often do I assess and what comes next?


Just as we need to be clear on why it is equally important that students understand the value of assessments. Encouraging students to ask themselves some questions for reflection will not only promote self-awareness in learning but will also encourage them to connect that learning with real-world applications.


Students should be able to answer some questions such as:

What have I learned?

How do I know that I have learned?

How did I learn it?

How does what I learned apply to the real world?


When we look at these questions, we notice that guiding students with these prompts, will help them to develop the SEL skills of self-awareness and self-management. Thinking through each of these questions will encourage metacognition, an essential skill for student success. Metacognition is how students develop the skills to connect with, evaluate and think about their learning process.


Choosing assessments

There are many possibilities such as projects, quizzes, and tests, and many use technology. I believe that it is important that students understand why we choose a certain teaching method or digital tool. Also, take time to consider and even discuss with students, how technology enables us to enhance the learning experience and how it empowers them to drive their own learning.


A few ideas for your classroom that build content knowledge but also offer many other benefits including building SEL skills and promoting digital literacy.


  1. Brainstorm: Use a collaborative space to have students share ideas and questions that they have. Create a Google Jamboard or make a Padlet where students could also add audio or video responses.

  2. Blogging or journaling: Encourage students to share their ideas, learning experiences, or reflect on a lesson. Depending on the content, encourage higher level thinking by asking students to compare or contrast, explain something that they have learned or create a representation of it based on what interests them. Blogging creates a space for students to build their writing skills and promotes the development of digital citizenship skills. For a great option, check out Spaces, which promotes collaboration and communication in real-time and facilitates more interactions in the digital space.

  3. Creation: Have students design something visual to share what they have learned. There are many possibilities including the use of digital storytelling or making a video. Some tools such as Book Creator, Buncee, Storybird, and Story Jumper, offer many options for students to create a presentation. To represent data and information, students can create an infographic using tools like Piktochart or Canva.

  4. Quick check-ins: Encourage practice and be able to provide feedback by using some of the game-based learning digital tools available such as Blooket, Gimkit, Quizizz, and Quizlet Live! Each of these offers a variety of modes of play that will provide real-time data to help plan the next steps in the lesson and build student self-awareness.

We have many choices when it comes to digital tools, but we can also try different methods such as choice boards, HyperDocs, or playlists. Each of these options is easy to get started with and provides more personalized learning for students as they empower students to learn at their own pace, path, and place. We can also better differentiate instruction while promoting student choice and voice in learning.


Choose one or two tools or select one of the methods to try with your students. Make time to ask for their input and facilitate ongoing conversations. Students will feel valued as they engage in meaningful learning fueled by the power of choice and voice.


About the Author


Rachelle Dené is a Spanish and STEAM: What’s nExT in Emerging Technology Teacher at Riverview High School in Oakmont, PA. Rachelle is also an attorney with a Juris Doctor degree from Duquesne University School of Law and a Master’s in Instructional Technology. Rachelle is an ISTE Certified Educator and serves as the past president of the ISTE Teacher Education Network. She was recently named one of 30 K-12 IT Influencers to follow in 2021.

She is the author of seven books including n Other Words: Quotes That Push Our Thinking, Unconventional Ways to Thrive in EDU, The Future is Now: Looking Back to Move Ahead, Chart A New Course: A Guide to Teaching Essential Skills for Tomorrow’s World, True Story: Lessons That One Kid Taught Us, Your World Language Classroom: Strategies for In-Person and Digital Instruction and her newest book Things I WIsh [....] Knew is now available.

Follow Rachelle on Twitter @Rdene915 and on Instagram @Rdene915. Rachelle has a podcast, ThriveinEDU available at https://anchor.fm/rdene915

Rachelle is the host of the PBL Podcast through Defined Learning on BAM Radio Network.


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