Differentiating with self-selected content means the content is chosen by the student. It may be complex and abstract or simple and concrete. Most high ability students will be ready for complex and abstract but less confident or inexperienced decision-makers may need simple and concrete in their first few attempts. A topic may be generated by the student or selected from options provided by the teacher.
Almost 90% of the high ability students in a study of learning preferences were eager to learn about topics they chose. More than 60% enjoyed learning centers where they could choose activities.
When students are given the freedom to choose the topic, their interest and excitement increase; however, not all gifted students are independent decision-makers or learners. Some may need assistance identifying their preferences or following through on their choices. All student choices are subject to teacher approval.
Teacher-selected: Teacher assigns each student an organ in the digestive system to be the focus of the end-of-unit report.
Student-selected: Students are invited to choose an organ or activity of the digestive system to be the focus of their end-of-unit project. If they need a context for this choice they may find the ‘digestive’ parts of the book Blood and Guts helpful.
Learning Centers are another method of allowing students to choose the content of their learning. Options may or may not be related to the content of core curriculum.
Students may need to learn to make choices initially regardless of age. Although some highly able students are very aware of their interests and are capable of proposing a topic suitable for study in a particular time frame, many are not. Students who need opportunities to pursue interests and learn to make choices among their interests, the following is an effective scaffolding process:
- The teacher selects 2 – 5 options from which students can learn to make an appropriate selection.
- When a student is able to make a choice from up to 4 options, add a fifth, “None of the above”. Students who choose “None of the above” negotiate content that is not mentioned in the other options.
- Students who are expert choice-makers can be offered some or all of an infinite number of options or they can be invited to generate an idea of their own.
Click here for a list of potential topics from which students can choose. Select a smaller set of teacher supported alternatives for student choice. The complete list (and survey) should be available for students who are adept and autonomous in making choices. Those topics also appear in the “Possibilities for Learning“, a survey of student learning preferences. If the full survey is made available to them, they will have the opportunity to determine the process, product, learning environment and content. This will ensure differentiation of student learning.