The Efficacy of Student Choice

Students as Readers

I was afraid to pick up my coffee mug and flip the lid open for fear of shattering the calm concentration in the silent room.  Silent–yet teeming with mental activity.

Invariably, students requested the book I read to them–some even arguing over it, a heated round of rock paper scissors cropping up at one table to see who would get the book.

“I can’t wait to go home and read more–it really has me hooked.”

“I have other work to do at home, but this book keeps calling to me.  I feel like I’m discovering the joy of reading again.”

Above are some of the responses to the “students as readers” initiative taking place on Fridays in my ELA classroom this year. I read to students from a new text each week, one in which they may or may not show interest.  After this, students pick up their current independent reading choices, read for 30 minutes or so, and finally respond to what they have read in a journal entry. Granted, the adventure has not been without obstacles for some students, especially those with repeated absences or limited interests.  One student has already been back to the library three times in an attempt to find the right “fit.” This has made it difficult for some students to complete required journal entries, and it may prove challenging for these students to produce blog post book reviews at the end of the quarter if they have read very little of their books.  However, I still feel that I must emphasize the importance of persistence in searching for an ideal fit for each student, even if this absorbs time.  If I simply insist that each student makes a decision to meet a deadline, I fall into the same trap I wish to escape by shutting down the opportunity for student choice I am attempting to create.

Choices, Choices, Choices

Friday’s choice reading, journaling, and eventual blog post make up one component of the choice-driven, student-centered classroom I am trying to foster this year.  In addition, I am attempting to build choice into each assessment and vary my approaches to standard curriculum texts based on student input and formative assessment from the previous and current school year.

The Role of Technology

In what ways is technology integrated throughout this process?  Google Classroom has proven instrumental in both monitoring student engagement and simply keeping track of the many choices offered. One method of gauging student engagement and preferences involves poll questions through Google Classroom which are easy to post, answer, and the results of which are quickly and clearly reported. In addition, students may be unaccustomed to having so many choices, leading the choices to become overwhelming as opposed to liberating. By posting choices, resources, links, instructions, and multiple assignments and due dates for different components of the class, I can provide students with a single reference point to which they may return.  The Google Classroom application works well on most students’ phones as well; this can be a resource for students at any hour and was helpful in the classroom on a day when building copiers and the classroom LCD projector failed to function.

Moving forward

As I continue to move forward, I will evaluate the efficacy of providing students with ample choices and attempt to use both technology and face to face interactions with students to pinpoint the line between providing effective and excessive choices for students.

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