Friday, February 7, 2014

The Power of Choice

Those of you who are familiar with my teaching and writing know that I am a huge proponent of student voice. However, there are still skeptics out there that argue that if given a choice, students will choose to do nothing, or at least nothing relevant to learning. In the interest of being totally transparent, I admit that I too was fearful of letting go of that "control" over what my students were learning. I erroneously believed that every student needs to complete the same exact learning activities with a strictly prescribed rubric that I created. After all, aren't I the teacher?

However, as I began truly evaluating my teaching practice, I realized that was missing the boat. Yes, my students were having fun and they were having academic success, but I realized that this is their learning journey, not mine. They needed the opportunity to make choice about what they would learn, how they would learn, and how they would demonstrate that learning. As the educator in the room, my role would be one of facilitator. I know where each student is on the learning continuum. My role becomes one of guiding them in the correct direction.

This year, I have a student intern. This has given me the opportunity to see my practice through fresh, new eyes. Yes, giving students choice does cause there to be "more spinning plates." However, each one of these plates is excited to learn. They are highly motivated. They dig deeper and reach farther than would ever had been possible because they had a choice.

A perfect example of this happened this week. My students are currently engaged in Genius Hour Projects (see Igniting the Learning Fire). One of my students, we'll call him Joel, had created a strong beginning idea for his project. He is a strong reader and writer; he truly loves fantasy and science fiction. His first idea was to discover the process that it takes to create and publish a fantasy chapter book. As he began to dig into the project, I left some feedback in his Google Drive document, and he left this response:

What I love about his response is that he took the time to reflect upon his initial idea and evaluate whether it would not only strengthen him as a writer, but also provide something of value to his readers. From speaking with his peers, he discovered that many of them wanted to write and publish a book, but they were struggling to formalize an idea. Joel realized that although he would be doing tremendously more writing be creating a multitude of open-ended, prologues in many different genres, he would also be laying the groundwork for his peers as well as the audience who will purchase his digital book. 

Without giving Joel time to think and create, the freedom to change his ideas, he would never have reached this level of thinking, not only for himself but for the others he will impact through his project.

As we enter out classrooms, it is important for us to provide these qualities to our students. We want them to become independent thinkers. We want for them to connect their content knowledge in meaningful, problem-solving, life-applicable experiences. The only way that can happen is we give them the power of choice.

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