You can look at all kids who are currently in grades K–12 as Generation Z. These students are even more enveloped in technology than the Millennials who came before them, and many educators now worry about how best to teach Generation Z basics—such as how to read—while competing for attention with digital devices. Parents and teachers are concerned how immediate gratification and a shortened attention span encouraged by regular device use might affect young student’s ability to learn and read.

But can the students really be blamed? In today’s modern classroom, technology is no longer just a past-time distraction; it’s an interwoven part of the daily education process. Everything students do now, from testing online and getting their score almost instantly to reading their textbooks and assignments on tablets, is all done digitally.

So how can educators find the perfect balance between traditional and digital approaches to better focus their student’s attention? How can they gain back control in a classroom full of devices? It’s easy: by sharing control with their students through student choice.

Building Student and Teacher Engagement

The most difficult part of such a transition falls in the hands of the teachers. Adults have to let this happen first, and handing over even a percentage of their control isn’t always easy. The solution then is to go slowly, make the changes gradually, and test parts of the transition out.

My education staff at Manor ISD are currently testing these methods to see how we can offer this choice and what that will look like. Personally, I’ve relied heavily on teacher and student stakeholder groups throughout the process, to brainstorm ideas and learn what each side needs and wants to achieve with their digital curriculum.

Choice is very important, but voice from the field is very important as well.

The student choice method works wonderfully well with reading. By giving students more freedom to pick the books and subject matter they’re interested in, school staff can feel more assured in their students’ engagement in the task at hand.

But the method works with other curriculum, too. Take project based learning (PBL), for example. At Manor ISD, I want our kids to feel that they can learn with PBL or not. From the start of the school year, they are given a choice of where they want to land from the curriculum perspective and then how they plan to work to get there. This allows kids to navigate through that constructional framework, finding confidence and engagement with their lessons along the way.

(Next page: Tools and support for student choice)