Provide Student Choice In Assessment: One Outstanding Strategy

picture of student writing with the banner that says "an outstanding way to provide student choice in assessment"

Student choice is critical in motivating your high school students. Without it students will be far less likely to find the content of your class meaningful. Since high school students are required to attend your class, there can be a natural disposition to passivity. In their article The Importance of Student Choice Across All Grade Levels,” authors Stephen Miller and Sarah Gonser write “In any environment that requires attendance, there’s a significant risk of disengagement. Remove choice and you breed passivity or, worse, defiance.” 

Ways To Allow For Student Choice

Since high school students are required to attend your class (most likely), their teacher must find ways to design the class in order for them to buy in to what is happening there. There are a variety of ways to do this from creating norms together as a class, allowing students to vote for what novels you read and allowing students how they will showcase their learning. 

A pull out quote that says "remove choice and you breed passivity, or worse, defiance."

If you haven’t started using class norms with your students, I highly encourage you to do these at the beginning of the school year (or anytime in the school year). You can read more about how to to that here: “After 12 Years Of Teaching, I’ve Found Class Norms are Better Than Rules.” 

Today let’s look at how you can allow your students to have choice in how they showcase their learning.  

Student Choice in A Short Story Unit Assessment

Traditionally teachers have given all of their students a single assessment to show what they’ve learned on a specific subject. If the whole class read the novel Just Mercy, a teacher might assign an essay, a test, or a project. All the students would complete the same assignment. 

However, this doesn’t have to be the case.  In our short story unit, we allow students to choose how they’d like to showcase their learning of the elements of short stories. Here are the options they can choose:

  • Option 1: traditional test. Students take a traditional test which includes multiple choice questions, short answers, and a writing prompt. 
  • Option 2: analyze a short story. Students analyze a short story and complete a graphic organizer that shows they understand how the elements of short stories are revealed in the story.
  • Option 3: write an original story. Students write an original short story with specific literary elements.

By giving students these options, they can play to their strengths.

Some students are creative and would prefer not to take test, but they understand the elements of story like exposition, rising action, climax and resolution well enough to represent them in an original piece. You could have students complete this in class with no access to computers so that you are sure they write their own story (or give them access to a computer with no internet). 

picuture of a handout for a short story assessment

Other students struggle with writing a creative work, but they feel comfortable taking tests, and would far prefer to show their learning through a traditional test. 

Finally, some students don’t like the pressure of multiple choice questions, but they do feel comfortable showing their learning through more open-ended questions. This group of students may choose to analyze a story and fill out the graphic organizer on it. 

Don’t These Assignments Assess Different Skills?

Your immediate response might be “but don’t these assessments show different levels of learning?” 

In a way, yes. This is why it’s important that you are clear on your objectives at the beginning of the unit.

Our objectives for this unit were that students would understand 8 literary elements of short stories as well as how these elements work together to form a compelling story.  For these two main objectives, all three of these summatives assess understanding. 

Even the traditional test, which is arguably the least challenging of the three options requires that students know the terms covered in the unit and can determine how these elements are used in a passage.

Further, the short written responses assess students’ knowledge of how these literary elements work together to create a compelling story. 

Certainly analyzing a short story and writing an original short story test students’ understanding of the elements of story because they must show understanding through analysis or their own creative writing. 


When we offer students choice for students to showcase their learning, we are able to offer “opportunities for students to practice decision-making, explore their academic identity, and connect their learning to interests and passions.” (Miller and Gonser), which is why it’s crucial to allow for student choice in every single aspect of the secondary classroom. 

Allow students to choose the way they’d like to be assessed and students can play to their strengths without sacrificing learning. 

Your Free Downloads 

 Check out our free downloads from our short story unit. When you join the ETV, you can access the whole short story unit in its editable form!  

  • Plot Diagram Lesson (available to English Teacher Vault members)
  • Setting Lesson (free download)
  • Point Of View Lesson (available to English Teacher Vault members)
  • Conflict Lesson (available to English Teacher Vault members)
  • Theme Slideshow (free download)
  • Short Story Review Activity (available to English Teacher Vault members)
  • Short Story Assessment (available to English Teacher Vault members)
    • Option 1: Traditional Test (available to ETV members)
    • Option 2: Analyze A Short Story
    • Option 3: Short Story Writing Assignment (available to ETV members)

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