Implementation Steps

1. Organize your curriculum by Themes: Identify themes by asking yourself what links the knowledge and skills that students are supposed to master.

2. Collect examples of performance tasks at different levels of challenge relating to each theme. Start with the green level – what all students must know and be able to do at the grade level you teach. Then, set your sights on finding the most challenging problems imaginable within the theme and problems at difficulty levels somewhere in between the foundational and super-advanced levels. The wider your spectrum of challenge, the more significant and authentic will be the choices you’re offering to students. You’ll be amazed at what your most advanced students are capable of doing.  Frequently, they’re only limited by the challenges teachers are able to devise for them.

3. Develop assessments that will represent the learning targets available for students on the instructional paths you lay out for them. Designing assessments ahead of time will allow you to tier practice assignments as you uncover the essential understandings all students need to learn.

4. Use practice assessments (quizzes) to give students the opportunity to preview what the level of difficulty will look and feel like. This will make students more comfortable when the time comes to select a color for their final summative assessment.

5. Strive to assign practice assignments that have been tiered for challenge. In this way, students are appropriately challenged throughout their learning, working towards their ultimate color choice destination as you move through the unit.

6. Sit back and watch your students rise to the occasion. Avoid pushing students into particular color choices. Maintain a long term perspective. Students will gradually fine-tune their decision making skills as they experience success or failure with the choices they select.

7. Allow students maximum flexibility to make choices and change their minds. For example, you may want to allow students to preview different challenge levels on the day of the final assessment prior to making their final choice. Without this freedom, students are more likely to opt for the conservative route. By remaining flexible, you’ll extend the window of time available for students to opt for the more challenging of the two options they’re considering.

8. After students take their summative assessments, encourage them to reflect on their performance with an eye towards improving their choices and/or work habits in the next unit.


4 responses

21 11 2010
Christopher Frost

I particularly like ‘Point 6’ above – what a simple effective way to empower students and promote critical thinking and reflection. Plus it’s less work to monitor that way! Is your school or other groups (EARCOS etc) offering PD about this for the international school community? Also is this idea currently limited to Middle and Senior schools or are there primary departments involved?

Thanks a lot

(PYP Coordinator Tokyo, International School)

21 11 2010
David Suarez

Chris, I just realized that I’ve taken PTC courses with a couple folks from your school – Des Hurst and Andrew Hancock. Small world. Say hello for me – I wonder if they’ll remember.

7 02 2012
Christopher Frost

Hi David
I will pass on your message! Sorry I’m so late at replying I just stumbled across this!

21 11 2010
David Suarez

Hi Chris,

I just read a great master’s degree thesis written by an American elementary school teacher who studied the use of choice in primary math classes. You might like it especially since the point about student choice resonated with you. Check out:

At JIS, this approach is limited to the middle school. I spent a few days at AISG (Guangzhou) last spring, and one of their 5th grade teachers was pretty motivated to give the approach a shot with her kids. Other schools have also asked about using this approach in primary classrooms. There’s no reason it can’t work; the main obstacle is the upfront prep work involved.


I’ve given workshops at a few different schools. In October, I’ll be offering 2.5 days of workshops at the AISA conference in Nairobi. I’ll also have more time to work with interested schools since this will be my last year at JIS. An EARCOS sponsored workshop would be great. I was actually discussing this approach with a middle school math teacher at ASIJ a few weeks ago. Maybe there would be enough interest in Japan to justify a workshop close to you. Definitely get in touch if you’re interested in discussing possibilities (

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