As a new teacher, I was nervous about giving too much choice to students. I had way too many mentors and more experienced teachers tell me to be the dictator of my class, allow no choice, and demand their compliance.
I didn’t believe in that methodology, but the idea of giving classroom power to students at any level was a challenging thought for me. Nonetheless, I began easing my way into it.
I started slowly with the things you commonly hear about: Allowing students to make the classroom rules together, giving them choice in some of the ancillary materials we used, and giving them options between reading certain stories or others…
It grew into much bigger shifts, like letting students choose where they sit, what they work on, and when they turn assignments in.
Why the shift?
It all happened in my second year, when I was teaching 7th grade ELA. I was struggling with classroom management and I needed a win. I felt like the class was failing and it was all my fault.
So I made a decision.
I gave a standard. Not an assignment or a story. A standard. Students would learn elements of figurative language.
Then, I told them that they were in charge of their learning. They needed to write me a short proposal of what they were going to do to explore aspects of figurative language and how they would show that learning to me AND the class, so that we could benefit from the collective knowledge.
I told them to develop the rubric that I will grade them on. From start to finish, this project is yours. I reminded them that I was there as a facilitator and would be happy to help, but would not police their projects or grade them by any standard other than their own.
Nervous, I gave them some time to work through these projects and I remained hands off. Some days it felt like they were just goofing off and nothing was getting done. However, I continued to give them time and space.
It came time to turn in their projects. This moment would show me why student choice was vital in a classroom.
By the end of my first period, I had seen:
- Beautifully made posters
- 3D art projects using paper mache
- Animated and voiced over powerpoints and prezi presentations
- A collaborative skit
- Several children’s books complete with illustrations
- And my personal favorite: 2 song performances with lyrics written by the singers
Not only did the variety wow and amaze me, but each project was also on point and a powerful demonstration of the figurative language standard. They had learned the material and tested better on it than on any previous standard I taught.
I learned from it that student choice allows the opportunity for each student to tap into their strengths, potential, and passion. Of course they will learn better under circumstances that are favorable to them!
Student choice started as an experiment for me, in the face of all the experienced teachers who told me no. It continued as a foundational aspect and main priority of my classroom as a result.
What could more student choice do for you?