If you’re anything like me, then you love to eat. And you really like to eat out. My family loves to find new restaurants around town and try them out; “chain” restaurant is kind of a bad word in my house. So, if you’ve ever eaten out, then you know the idea behind a menu–you are offered a variety of choices of yummy things to eat. Most times you will choose a main course, side dishes and dessert. Maybe if you’re really hungry, or if something looks really interesting, you might add an appetizer to your meal.
Ok, so what? This is a blog about school, about education. Why all the restaurant talk? Well, if you’ve spent any time in our classroom lately, or if you’ve seen a 5th grade homework sheet this year at school, then you’re familiar with the idea of a menu. But why, you ask, would you use a menu in school?
Let me tell you. 🙂
The big idea that makes a restaurant menu work, that makes it desirable, is the idea of choice. When you sit down to eat, no one tells you “Eat this. Chew it 25 times. Swallow it.” You’re not forced to eat things you don’t want to (well, unless maybe you’re a kid!), and there are many ways to achieve your goal of filling your empty stomach.
That’s what we’re trying to do with menus in school. We have a goal–based on subject and unit–and then students are given a choice of ways to show their knowledge and learning related to that subject. The idea is not new, really; I’ve been doing a variation of it for years. Long ago we called them “invitations” or had a list of “must-dos and can-dos”, but the idea behind it is the same: children are going to have more ownership over their work and probably ‘dig in’ and little deeper when they have choice in what they do and what the final product looks like.
Here are some examples of menus we’ve used this year so far:
I must add, though, that besides giving students a say in what their work looks like, menus are an important tool in differentiation. The categories are tiered, so that every learner can be engaged wherever they are in their understanding of the concept; the main course is something that everyone can do (still at their own level with their own creativity), side dishes are a little deeper, and then desserts are activities and projects that allow and enable students to stretch themselves and think in a deeper way. Everyone in my classroom has their needs met regardless of what they are, and everyone has activities that are appropriate for them.
So, are you hungry for learning? Menus are for you. 🙂