Using Choice Board With Preservice Teachers During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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Listen and learn : Research paper
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Research papers are a pairing of two 20 minute presentations followed by a 5 minute Q & A.
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Dr. Lucretia Fraga  
Dr. Deepti Kharod  

Hear about the findings from a research study conducted to determine if choice/menu boards improve students' agency, learning and engagement during online teaching and learning. Learn about the opportunities and limitations of using choice/menu boards for online teaching.

Audience: Professional developers, Teacher education/higher ed faculty
Attendee devices: Devices not needed
Topic: Innovation in higher education
Grade level: Community college/university
Subject area: Higher education
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Use technology to create, adapt and personalize learning experiences that foster independent learning and accommodate learner differences and needs.
For Students:
Knowledge Constructor
  • Students curate information from digital resources using a variety of tools and methods to create collections of artifacts that demonstrate meaningful connections or conclusions.
Additional detail: Preservice teacher presenter

Proposal summary


One approach that has received attention recently is the use of “choice boards” to differentiate instruction. Simply, choices boards are a graphical representation of activities that allows the student to choose how they will learn the content. The idea is to provide students with multiple ways to demonstrate their understanding of the content. The concept of choice boards can take on many forms, this includes playlists and menu boards.
Learning perspectives. Learning requires active participation on the part of the learner (Piaget, 1971). Also, socio-constructivist theories of learning invite students to be active participants in their own learning with the support of other students and the instructor (Vygotsky, 1978). Through careful reflection about their own thinking and actions--a reflection that leads to metacognitive awareness, students come to realize that they are in control of what they learn about the topic under study. This self-regulated learning is at the heart forefront of choice boards. Another theoretical lens for examining choice boards is Papert’s theory of constructionism.
In a constructionistic environment, the learner not only uses their mental capabilities but also tools to construct (physically) his or her own knowledge while in a social collaborative setting (Papert, 1980). Papert’s theory suggests feedback to learners through the use of technology can support the construction of knowledge in an online environment.
Play-based learning. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic in late-2019-2020, our university (like most others in the US) moved all teaching and learning online. The instructors in this study drew on play-based learning to help allay the high levels of stress among students (and instructors). Play is shown to reduce stress, increase resilience, and provide numerous benefits to learning throughout the lifespan (Brown, 2009; Brown & Eberle, 2020; Frost, Wortham, & Reifel, 2012). Recent play research from the fields of neuroscience (Koeners & Francis, 2020) and education (Bell, 2017) specifically highlights the benefits of play-based learning in higher education settings.
Teacher/student interaction. One critical variable that impacts learning in all classroom settings regardless of discipline or student age is the nature of teacher/student interaction. In fact, teacher/student interaction is an important predictor of not only classroom discipline but also the classroom climate in which learning can occur (Rosenthal, 1994). Furthermore, the quality of teacher/student interaction has a direct impact on student academic achievement as well as student attitudes about learning (Connor, Son, Hindman, & Morrison, 2005; den Brok, van Tartwijk, Wubbels, & Veldman, 2010). These interactions focus on student learning as an outcome that relies heavily on the teacher. As in the words of Pattison, Hale, and Gowens (2011), "Excellent professors do not teach subjects or classes; they teach students" (p. 39). Even at the college level, the rapport and interaction between teacher and students is critical to learning. The use of choice boards promotes more teacher/student interactions. This model allows teachers and instructors the opportunity to work more closely and more frequently with individual students building important rapport and interactions and providing essential feedback as students apply newly acquired understandings of content--all of which encourage learning.
Differentiated instruction. There is a considerable body of literature that substantiates the importance and effectiveness of differentiated instruction (e.g., Kryza, Duncan, Stevens, 2010; Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006). Studies that focus on differentiated instruction cross a variety of disciplines as well as age groups. For example, in their study of differentiated mathematics instruction with college students, Chamberlin and Powers (2010) found that those students who were given differentiated instruction demonstrated higher gains in mathematical understandings compared to a control group. In another study, researchers documented one special education teacher's growing understanding of differentiated instruction (Ernest, Heckaman, Thompson, Hull, & Carter, 2011). In still another study the effects of differentiated instruction on the reading achievement of elementary students was examined (Reis, McCoach, Little, Muller, & Burcu, 2011).
Current technology. From an interdisciplinary viewpoint, several theories of learning help to explain the use of technology for learning. For many university faculty, these theories serve as an underlying structure that drives how to approach teaching with technology. During the COVID-19 pandemic the use of technology has made a dramatic change in the way we live, access information, communicate and learn remotely and with mobile devices. Mobile technology and, more specifically, mobile devices have played a significant role in higher education in how we teach, and students learn. The use of mobile technologies has allowed society to access information and learn virtually anywhere. This kind of learning is commonly referred to as mobile learning (Alexander, 2004). Mobile learning is defined as learning that takes place “anytime, anywhere” (Wagner & Wilson, 2005).
Mobile learning lends itself to active learning where the individual is required to interact in an online environment. That also can occur when using mobile devices for learning. The necessity of these devices in the new normal we are living in today contributes to the need to understand how mobile devices can be used for learning. Unfortunately, higher education is lagging in the utilization of mobile devices for teaching and learning (Caballe, Xhafa, & Barolli, 2010). The use of choice boards enables teachers and students to take advantage of mobile technologies for learning in an online environment.
The use of mobile devices and the ability to access information from any location allows for ubiquitous learning (Herrington et al., 2009). Some researchers (Alexander, 2004; Kukulska-Hulme & Traxler, 2005) argue that the physical location for teaching and learning has been redefined using technology, more specifically mobile technology. This redefined location has been determined to provide a mobile means for learning (Wagner, 2005) and teaching. This mobile means of teaching supports the use of choice boards in allowing the instructor to provide differentiated instruction in an online environment and provide students with multiple ways to demonstrate their understanding of the content.
Choice boards. In these undergraduate courses, the instructors designed and used a pedagogical tool called a choice board, which are well-suited for online teaching and learning. The use of choice boards also provides the infrastructure needed to differentiate instruction to meet the needs of diverse learners found in classrooms today. Furthermore, in keeping with the learning theories that inform our teaching, choice boards provide the structure for students to construct knowledge in an online environment. The choice boards were intentionally designed to provide a more play-like approach that offered flexibility in terms of how students shared the outcomes of their learning. They provided opportunities for choice, divergent thinking, personal expression, and creativity -- all of which have been described as characteristics of play (Staley, 2019). Through choice boards, students were exposed to a variety of content driven activities to understand and apply the new content.


Research Questions
In what ways can choice boards be implemented to improve students’ agency (participation, voice & choice). learning (achievement, self-direction, curiosity), and engagement (connectedness, routines) by using choice boards as part of an integrated teaching/learning experience?
In what ways do choice boards enable and constrain student agency, learning and engagement?
What are the perspectives of faculty regarding opportunities and limitations in using choice boards for online teaching?
Research Participants
 The participants will be up to sixty undergraduate students and their two faculty that participated in the creation and use of choice boards for online teaching and learning.
Methodology of the Research
 This qualitative action research examines the experiences of students and faculty related to the design and use of choice boards in two sections of an undergraduate course. The choice board was created by the faculty specifically for online learning and teaching in response to the sudden need to shift from eight weeks of face to face meetings in the Spring 2020 semester.
Qualitative Design. In keeping with the principles of qualitative research, the goal of this study is to gain deeper understandings about learning and teaching experiences of a specific population in a particular context. The population, or participants, are preservice teachers in two sections of a course about learning theories. One section includes future elementary teachers and the other has students who intend to teach at the secondary or all-levels of K-12.
Action Research. Participants also include the co-researchers, who are the faculty teaching these sections, and therefore are interested in understanding the impact of this pedagogical tool for their students’ learning and their own teaching experiences. Hence, the decision was made to employ an action research method for this investigation. “Action research is arguably the most valid, powerful, and important tool that professionals in PreK–16 settings have at their disposal to make meaningful, ongoing, and sustained positive changes to their practice” (Woodland, 2018). The recursive model for action research expects that the teacher-researchers will engage in an ongoing and recursive process of data gathering and refining their practice, including the following goals:
a) to generate improvement
b) to take action to generate knowledge
c) to use that knowledge to generate improvement (point a) and inform ongoing instructional design
Data Set 1. The first set of data, gathered from students, will include normal classroom questions and responses generated throughout the process, from introduction of the choice board to its use to complete five assignments by the end of the semester. This data will include the students’ own experiences or feelings. All student data will be deidentified.
Data Set 2. After course grades are submitted, all students will be invited to participate in semi-structured interviews reflecting on their experiences with the choice boards. At this time, informed consent will be sought, and details of the study explained. The decision to seek consent and participation after submitting grades was made to ensure that students do not feel obligated to participate in the study because of the power imbalance inherent to classrooms. Also, student participation or lack thereof should not affect their grades, nor should the process give the appearance that student choice could affect their course grades. All student data will be deidentified.
Data Set 3. The third set of data will be the faculty notes and conversations that guided the creation, use, and evaluation of the choice board and its resulting assignments.

Analysis Plan
 As per the demands of action research, the faculty researchers will engage in recursive and ongoing analysis. A thematic inductive analysis allowed the researcher to discover themes from the data, instead of pursuing predefined themes (Marshall & Rossman, 2006). For this study, open and axial coding will be used in conjunction with NVIVO qualitative research software. In one version of the NVIVO software, opening coding is referred to as free nodes and axial coding is referred to as tree nodes.
All qualitative data collected from the interviews, observation notes, and documents (schedules, lesson plans, and syllabi) for this study will be coded using an open coding approach within the NVIVO software. These data will be categorized by themes that arise from the initial examination of the data.
Justification of Sample Size
 The purpose of qualitative research is to probe deeply to unearth the complexities of a particular experience in a specific context. Such deep observation and analysis require that the pool of participants remain of a manageable size for the action research to move forward in a timely way. Therefore, the researchers thought it advisable to focus on the responses of the approximately 60 students and the data generated from their own reflective practice.


Preliminary findings suggest that the use of the choice/menu boards support student's agency, achievement, and engagement in an online environment. In this study, one student states this model of instruction during the unpredictable COVID semester provided the flexibility and opportunity to continue their studies while meeting the needs of their family. Further disaggregation of data is still needed for complete results of this study.


There are many studies regarding using choice/menu boards in K-2. However, there is a dearth of research in this model of instruction in higher education and specifically in relation to preservice teacher preparation. This study focuses on the student and faculty perspectives of this model of instruction as well as the academic achievement for students.


Bell, M. J. (2017). A place for play in the Liberal Arts: Developing an undergraduate course on play to meet general education requirements. In M. R. Moore & C. Sabo-Risley, Eds., Play in American life: Essays in honor of Joe. L. Frost (Vol. 1, pp. 15-26). Archway Publishing.
Brown, S. Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul. (2009). Avery.
Brown, S. & Eberle, M. (2020). Creating a play friendly world: An essay from the National Institute for Play. In M. R. Moore & C. Sabo-Risley, Eds., Play in American life: Essays in honor of Joe. L. Frost (Vol. 2, pp. 25-45). Cibolo Creek Press.
Chamberlain, M., & Powers, R. (2010). The promise of differentiated instruction for enhancing mathematical understandings of college students. Teaching Mathematics and Its Applications, 29, 113-139.
Connor, C., Son, S. H., Hindman, A. H., & Morrison, F. J. (2005). Teacher qualifications, classroom practices, family characteristics, and preschool experience: complex effects on first graders’ vocabulary and early learning outcomes. Journal of School Psychology, 43, 343-375.
den Brok, P., van Tartwijk, J.,Wubbels, T., & Veldman, I. (2010). The differential effect of the teacher-student interpersonal relationship on student outcomes for students with different ethnic backgrounds. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 80(2), 199e221.
Ernest, J.M., K.A. Heckaman, S.E. Thompson, K.M. Hull, & S.W. Carter (2011). Increasing the teaching efficacy of a beginning special education teacher using differentiated instruction: A case study. International journal of special education, 26(1), 191-201.
Frost, J. L., Wortham, S. C., & Reifel, R. S. (2012). Play and Child Development. (4th ed.) Pearson.
Jonassen, D., & Rohrer-Murphy, L. (1999). Activity theory as a framework for designing constructivist learning environments. Educational Technology Research and Development, 47(1), 61-79.
Koeners, M. P. & Francis, J. (2020). The physiology of play: Potential relevance for higher education. International Journal of Play, 9(1), 143-159.
Kryza, K., Duncan, A., & Stephens, S.J. (2010). Differentiation for real classrooms: Making it simple, making it work. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
Kuh, G. D. (2008). High-impact educational practices: What they are, who has access to them, and why they matter. Washington, DC: Association of American Colleges and Universities.
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Pattison, P., J.R. Hale, & P. Gowens (2011). Mind and soul: Connecting with students. Journal of Legal Studies Education, 28(1), 39-66.
Piaget, J. (1971). Genetic epistemology. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc.
Reis, S.M., D.B. McCoach, C.A. Little, L. Muller, & R. Burcu (2010). The effects of differentiated instruction and enrichment pedagogy on reading achievement in five elementary schools. American Education Research Journal, (48)2, 462-501.
Rosenthal, R. (1994). Interpersonal expectations: A 30-year perspective. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 3, 176-179.
Staley, D. J. (2019). Alternative universities: Speculative design for innovation in higher education. Johns Hopkins University Press.
Tomlinson, C.A., & J. McTighe (2006). Integrating differentiated instruction and understanding by design: Connecting content and kids. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind and society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Woodland, R. H. (2018). Action research. In B. B. Frey (Ed.) The Sage encyclopedia of educational research, measurement, and evaluation. Sage.

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Dr. Lucretia Fraga, The University of the Incarnate Word

Dr. Lucretia M. Fraga earned her Ph.D. in Interdisciplinary Learning and Teaching with an emphasis in Instructional Technology from The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA). Dr. Fraga brings experience in pedagogy, instructional technology and design, teacher education, and professional development of higher education faculty. Her research interest involves theoretical foundations for mobile and ubiquitous learning, emerging tools and technologies for learning, integration of technology by faculty and pre-service teachers, pedagogical practices for learning and professional development of faculty.

Dr. Deepti Kharod, University of the Incarnate Word

Deepti Kharod is an Assistant Professor at the Dreeben School of Education. Her research explores young children’s connections with nature and the benefits of play for learners of all ages. Her work is grounded in care theory and compassion. Dr. Kharod also serves as co-editor of Early Years, and on the editorial review board for the International Journal of Early Childhood Environmental Education.

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