Choice in the Classroom

Why give students choice?

If the job of a student is to learn, then a teacher’s job isn’t merely to spoon feed children bits of memorize-able information to be later regurgitated; it’s to teach them to LOVE learning. We all know the adage advising “teaching a needy man to fish;” in this case, learning is the fish and loving doing it keeps the man satisfied.

There is so much in a child’s life outside of his or her control. As parents, we decide our children’s wake-up time (unless you have children like mine who wake up at the crack of dawn ON A SATURDAY just because THEY WANT TO), what the rules and consequences are at home, what they will eat for breakfast, what they will wear to school, and how they should behave. Teachers and administrators are responsible for setting curriculum goals, keeping children on a daily schedule, and determining daily assignments. In some classrooms (not mine, thank you), children aren’t even allowed to decide when they should go to the bathroom – they are provided scheduled bathroom breaks en masse and have to hold it in between. Could you imagine if that was your job?

There are schools like that. Really.

CCA isn’t one of them. Praise. The. Lord.

Freedom of choice is called agency. It’s the ability to move about or make your own choices, to determine the parts that make up your day. Students need agency in their lives for many reasons. Choice is a good thing. Having the ability to choose is powerful; it makes you feel in-control. The act of choosing also builds confidence. When a choice is satisfying or leads to good consequences, people are empowered to choose well over and over again. When an unsatisfactory choice is made, logical consequences follow, helping people to make better future choices.

With young children, choice is incredibly powerful, and allows them to exercise a modicum of control over their otherwise controlled lives. It makes them feel good. It teaches them how to make choices well, and how to trust themselves. It also builds responsibility as students realize their choices have direct consequences.

In the Patience Fruit Stand, students have agency over many parts of their day. One of the ways firsties are allowed choice is during the morning work period.

When students come in to the first grade classroom, there are a few things they must do first. G.O. Books are filed into bookshelves, homework is turned in (on Fridays), lunch clips are moved, lunch money and notes for the teacher are placed in the Morning Box, snacks are shelved for later. Once those tasks are completed, students begin their morning work. This is where the first opportunity for choice arrives. Each table group has a basket containing a set of task cards. They cover a wide collection of math and literacy skills. Students choose any card they like, retrieve their morning notebook from their table’s basket, and get busy building skills! If they need materials from around the room to work, they may get what they need. If they want to use a book from the library to help them, they may choose one.

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A student works on his morning work – building skills in telling time – before labeling the pieces in his morning work notebook.

Once that first activity is completed, if there is still time left before Morning Meeting, students have another opportunity to make a choice. Once their morning work is done, students may choose to read a book from the classroom library, use a learning app on their kindle, work on a story from their writer’s workshop folder, or visit the Challenge Board. The Challenge Board is a spot on the wall near the writer’s station that houses many different grade-level challenges in reading, math, art, engineering, and writing. The activities vary throughout the year.

Here are a few examples of students making their own learning choices each morning:

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A student uses the IXL app on her Kindle to practice math skills.

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Another student listens to a story on her Kindle.

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This student uses his morning choice time to write a letter.

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This student gets cozy with a presidential biography in the classroom library.

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This firstie chooses a spot in the classroom to enjoy a good book.

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This firstie is working on a Kindle app that allows her to listen to and identify sight words.

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This student is illustrating a page of a collaborative book project he and another student have been writing together.

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Two great friends read aloud books by their favorite author – our author of the month, Mo Willems!

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This student has just finished publishing a story he had been writing in writer’s workshop.

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This firstie uses a Kindle app to solve word search puzzles.

I could assign a series of worksheets for students to do, turn in, and have graded. I could make everyone do the same thing at the same time, and therefore control this short period of time and force them to prove that they are working; however, when you believe that we learn best by doing; we learn best by creating; we learn best when we personalize our own learning; and we learn best by collaborating, returning to students their own agency and allowing them to choose what they need individually is the better thing.

Wouldn’t you choose what’s better?

2 thoughts on “Choice in the Classroom

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