How to Use Choice Boards in the Music Classroom

This is a guest post by one of our blog writers, Katherine Miller. 

Choice boards are not a new idea but they have become very popular as music teachers worldwide are trying to figure out how to best provide a music education in the virtual world. 

A choice board is a graphic organizer that allows students to choose how they would like to learn about a particular subject or concept. Most commonly, choice boards look like squares where each square is one task. Students can choose the tasks they want to do in order to achieve mastery of the concept. 

Top Benefits of Using Choice Boards

Besides allowing students some choice pertaining to their own learning preferences, choice boards have a few other benefits too! They are self paced and provide an easy opportunity for teachers to differentiate activities. 

Teachers can provide tasks that require different levels of difficulty or tap into different intelligences as introduced to us by Howard Gardner. Choice boards can also help to increase student engagement and motivation as their voice matters. They can choose, organize and prioritize how they want to learn. 

Lastly, in our move to all online education, choice boards can allow for us to continue to meet students where they are at and continue to provide an appropriate and engaging music education regardless of the tools or resources that our students might have at home. 

We know music is important and can happen anywhere. Choice boards allow for students to find a way to make music and find a way to believe that too!

You can see why choice boards have become so popular in the recent weeks! 

How to Set Up a Choice Board

Each square, or task, can be set up one of two ways. The first way is for students to choose at random. This means they could pick from any task they wanted with no regard to any requirements including order. It is completely their choice as to which tasks they would like to do. 

Another option is to have one task lead to another so the choice board, and the tasks students are choosing, are more organized. Imagine a menu when you go out to eat. Food items are separated into appetizers, entrees, and, my favorite, dessert. In terms of choice boards, if activities are more organized, students would have to choose one appetizer and one entree before they get to pick a dessert. 

You can do this a few different ways including making a menu of music choices for students or adding point values to each task. If each square has a point value, students would have to complete enough squares to achieve the total points specified by the teacher. Some squares are worth more than others.

Here are a few things you might want to think about before setting up a choice board for your elementary music students:

1. What are the most important things that students should know by the end of the month? By the end of the year? 

Keeping the standard/standards or objective in mind will help you to decide what tasks are appropriate and will help students obtain mastery of the concept that you determine is the most important.

2. How will you incorporate different learning styles? 

Choice boards should include a lot of different ways to get to the same goal. Think about how you can create tasks that give all learners a way to show what they know using different intelligences. You may also want to consider tasks that would be fitting for learners who need low risk activities to find success when making music at home.

3. What tools do students have with them at home? Do your activities need paper, writing utensils, or a device? 

It is important to keep the tools students have at home in mind when picking out the tasks in order for students to be able to actually do them!

4. What do you want the end product to be? How will you know students are learning? Or do you need to know? 

As you pick out tasks, think about the evidence you will have from your students after they have completed the task. Student tasks can show engagement (like completing a “bingo”, or 5 tasks in a row) or understanding (like turning in their work via writing, picture or video for you to assess). Keeping the end in mind is important in order to follow the expectations in your own teaching situation.

If student mastery of the concept is important, how will students turn their products into you? Will they use paper, pictures, or video? Make sure you think through the workflow. And then, clearly communicate to students what tasks should be turned in for assessment and how they will do that.

5. And in my opinion the most important, how can you continue to connect with kids? 

We are all in this confusing and difficult time together. Students and families are craving the connections that we are so good at creating within the “normal” school setting. 

  • How can you help to incorporate this into the tasks you are asking students to do at home? 
  • Will you participate in the tasks along with students? 
  • Will you check in families personally? 
  • Will you acknowledge students who are continuing to stay engaged from home? 
  • Will you “meet” with students to see how things are going? 

I encourage you to consider how to stay connected and making music with your students, even from afar.

Choice boards are a great choice to help as we are all getting used to the new normal. They provide lots of opportunities for students to continue to be the makers of music at home while providing some flexibility and understanding that not all students’ homes look the same. 

Have you used choice boards in your classroom? Or are you planning on using them? We would love to hear from you!

Choice Board Example:

The 2020 Musical Olympics!

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About the writer

Katherine Miller

Katherine (Katie) Miller holds a Bachelor of Music in Education degree from Otterbein University (Westerville, OH) and a Masters of Educational Leadership from Antioch McGregor Midwest (Yellow Springs, OH). She has 15 years of professional musical experience as a music educator and performer.

She is currently employed by the School District of Waukesha in Waukesha, WI, where she teaches K-5 General Music and serves as a district model tech classroom. She was recognized in 2018 as a WPT Education Innovator by Wisconsin Public Television Education team.

Twitter: K8TMiller

Looking for More Resources for Music Teachers?

Hello! I’m Katie Wardrobe – an Australian music technology trainer and consultant with a passion for helping music teachers through my business Midnight Music.

I’m a qualified teacher but no, I don’t currently teach in a school. I help teachers through my online professional development space – the Midnight Music Community – where there are tutorial videos, courses, links and downloadable resources.

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I like to focus on easy ways to incorporate technology into what you are already doing in your music curriculum through a range of creative projects. I also run live workshops and have presented at countless conferences and other music education events.

If you want simple, effective ideas for using technology in music education, I would LOVE to help you inside the Midnight Music Community.

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