“There are two primary choices in life: to accept conditions as they exist or to accept the responsibility for changing them.” -Denis Waitley
The first challenge of differentiated Readiness Groups, based on your students’ level of understanding of skills and concepts, is realizing that all students deserve the opportunity to move further ahead in their depth of understanding. This is Phase Three of the Tabor Rotation Framework and typically occurs on Days 4 and 5 of a week of Tabor Rotation.
The second challenge, for most teachers, is figuring out meaningful, respectful, and qualitatively challenging ways of engaging the remainder of the students while the teacher is guiding the math readiness groups. Choice Boards are an excellent option.
What is a choice board? Essentially, a Choice Board is an outline of instructional options that are targeted toward important learning goals and are based on the state standards for the students’ grade level/subject. The teacher directs the process, but they are called “Choice” Boards because students are given some type of control or choice over their selections. This choice includes the items that most appeal to them and the order of completion.
Choice Boards typically have nine cells or spaces. This Choice Board Template is differentiated or tiered based upon the student’s level of understanding. I worked with a group of high school and junior high students to develop the names for the levels: Novice, Pro, Master. They felt these were descriptive but not demeaning.
This example of a Choice Board or Choice Menu was developed by a secondary level teacher. It includes options that must be completed by all students (a Check for Understanding and turned in for a grade), requires completion of the Passport to the Tabor Rotation Stations, and then selection of at least 5 assignments. The teacher also asked that the students select one choice from each column and that their choices equal at least 12 points.
This high school teacher, who strongly believed in small-group instruction at all levels, said her Algebra II Honor students loved this type of Choice Board and felt greatly empowered when they began to work independently. The Choice Menu also gave their teacher time to work with her Algebra II Honors students to move each level (approaching, at, above) ahead in the curriculum.
Tabor Teachers have also found the “Menu” Selection to be an exciting way to provide choices for their students. Chris Tienken, in a presentation to Keansburg, New Jersey Schools, shared some excellent examples. I like that students all have to do the “Main Dish” activities, select two of the “Side Dish” activities, and then may choose optional “Desserts” if they finish their other choices. Take a look at Chris’ slide show presentation to learn more about “Menus” and differentiated instruction in general.
What if you want to hold Guided Math Readiness Groups and are ready for Phase Three of Tabor Rotation, but creating a 9-Cell Choice Board is simply too much to think about right now. I like the adaptations suggested by Carol Ann Tomlinson in her book, Fulfilling the Promise of the Differentiated Classroom. I’ve also added a few of my own adaptations that have worked well with my larger, more diverse classes.
- Allow students to complete any 3 tasks in the order they choose.
- Assign students a few specific tasks based on readiness and tasks everyone completes.
- Base the Choice Board on students’ learning styles or learning preferences. This example with column headings was developed by a primary school based on varying modalities.
- For those students who are less independent, allow them to work with a partner and teach them how to scaffold support for one another without “doing the work” for each other.
- Assign the more complicated choices to a student who becomes the “Master of the Task.” Explain how to complete the assignment to that one student and write their name next to the task. If a student doesn’t know how to do it, they go to the “Master of the Task,” not you, for assistance.
- Provide answer keys so students can check their own work. I typically asked students to check their partner’s work, not their own.
- Create a Choice Board that will last for 2-3 weeks or an entire unit of study instead of just one week.
If you’re looking for more ideas for creating Choice Boards, key search words are Choice Menu, Learning Menus, Tic-Tac-Toes, Tic-Tac-Toe Menus, Custom Boards, Tiered Activities, and Extension Organizers. When you and your team are in the planning process for a unit or quarter of instruction, you will be able to find a plethora of examples. Some will be accurate and some will not, so be sure to read and to complete the choices (Yes, someone on your team needs to complete each of the activities before giving them to your students.)
Below are just a few of the websites that will help you in your journey to create meaningful and engaging independent activities. You will find many more websites or pins linked to all of these websites. Your dilemma may not be how to find a Choice Board, but which ones are best for your class’ needs.
“You can’t make positive choices for the rest of your life without an environment that makes those choices easy, natural, and enjoyable.” -Deepak Chopra
Final quote for those of you who are concerned about your first efforts in using Choice Boards with your class,
“As a child, my family’s menu consisted of two choices: take it or leave it.” -Buddy Hackett