Monday, May 12, 2014

The Power of One Word, Choice

As this year's IRA conference is coming to a close, there is one word that has emerged as a central theme across general sessions, social media feeds, presentations, and informal gatherings...the power of choice. This message was one that organically became the talking point at the heart of all other messages. If you want students to become readers, writers, and ultimately lifelong learners, choice is the key ingredient. Choice, the ingredient that is missing from prescriptive programs, most pacing guides, directives and mandates coming from the "higher ups." Too often we are pressured to focus solely on numbers while slowly losing our focus on what really matters...our students.

I have written many times about the impact that choice has upon student learning (see below), but after joining the conversations this week, I have come to the conclusion that it goes much deeper than their learning. I think that giving students a voice is empowering them with the ability to take ownership and control over their lives. We are giving them a sense of self-efficacy in both their academic and personal lives. We are showing them that what they say matters; their needs are our priority; they have value in this world.

Does this impact their lives in the classroom? Without a doubt! We have all seen students read books that were "higher than their reading level" because they WANTED to read it. We've seen students become prolific writers because they had a choice in the topic, genre, and means of publishing for an authentic audience. In our classroom, it is very common for students to choose to write or read over other "more popular activities" because they want to...and these are students that enter a classroom at the beginning of the year claiming to hate reading and/or writing.

As teachers, we understand the importance of a strong education to set students on a successful lifelong adventure. But I couldn't help but wonder, if we take away their choice in controlling their own future, are we truly preparing them for life outside our classroom walls? Are they gaining the life skills of decision making, problem solving, conflict resolution, time management, choices-consequences relationship, collaboration, and communication when we are continuing to make those choices for them? Are they being given the opportunity to fail, learn from their mistakes, and grow as individuals? Yes, there is no doubt of the power of an education, but isn't it our job to prepare the whole child, not just the one that appears on a page as a test number?

So as the learning at the IRA conference draws to a close, I am more committed than ever to provide my students with a choice in all aspects of life in our classroom. Our support should only be in place until the edifice is in place...after all, this is their life, not ours.

A few of the pieces I've written on choice and student voice:

photo credit: The Rocketeer via photopin cc

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