The power of choice

I have been reluctantly chugging away at report-writing this week. The deadline is fast-approaching! I feel totally disengaged with this style of writing! I feel like I need a 10-minute break between every minute of writing. Right now, I am the typical definition of a reluctant writer. To make matters worse, I just want to blog! Ironically, I desperately want to write… Just not reports! Thus, I’m not a reluctant writer. I just haven’t had a choice of topic. This raised the question: how often do our students feel like this?

I have been thinking a lot recently about student choice and the power that it has on engagement and, ultimately, learning. We can make a conscious effort to consider choice when planning our learning engagements. Here are a few possible choices:

A choice to work collaboratively (or a choice not to):

Since reading around the topic of introverts and publishing my own post (inspired by Susan Cain), I have started to show more consideration towards each student’s zone of stimulation (the ideal conditions for the student to thrive). Students need opportunities to work collaboratively and they also need to learn to work on their own, but sometimes it’s ok to offer the choice. A classroom culture also needs to be established to ensure that working alone is not seen as a ‘loner’ thing to do.

“The key to maximizing talents is to put yourself into the zone of stimulation that’s right for you.”

Susan Cain, 2012

A choice of environment:

Also relating to Susan Cain and the zone of stimulation, consider whether or not you can offer students a choice of learning environments. Working amongst the buzz of the classroom might not be ideal for some students. Some prefer to focus on their work in a more peaceful area. Consider other parts of the classroom or even other parts of school where they might be more comfortable. This Friday, I will use Circle Time to discuss this with our students. I’m not sure how we can utilise our space to accommodate a variety of preferences, but we will try and I want the students’ ideas.

A choice of tools:

Consider whether or not the learning objectives can be achieved in different ways, and offer choice if so. I’m not just talking about technology, but I’m so glad that I developed my IT confidence this year. One of my students is a particularly ‘reluctant’ writer. He struggles to apply himself using paper and pen. For whatever reason, it just doesn’t work for him and teachers could easily make the mistake of thinking that he is lazy or low-ability. However, put an iPad in his hand and he suddenly becomes focused and engaged. He needs to learn how to develop his pen skills, but regular access to technology is usually the difference between him feeling like a failure and achieving highly.

A choice of subject matter:

I have been teaching about biographies in English over the last couple of weeks. In my opinion, writing biographies can be quite dull (any ideas would be much appreciated). Ideally, my students would have written about a key historical figure such as Mandela. However, my learning intentions are not historical or political – the students just need to know about the features of this writing purpose. Instead, I’ll be finding out a lot more about Harry Styles, Christiano Ronaldo, Taylor Swift, and so on!

“There is nothing quite so engaging as having the opportunity to explore something in which you are personally invested.”

Kath Murdoch, 2016

I want to continue to develop a student-centred classroom . Students making their own choices is a part of that. By allowing choice, we send the powerful message that we value what the children value.

What else could be offered as choice? When is it inappropriate to offer choice? What successes have you had? As always, I’d love to hear about your experiences.


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