As I teacher, I have often worried about the curriculum I am required to teach and how I am going to fit it all in on any given day. It always feels like too much and I constantly feel as though I am telling my students what to write about and how to write it. But I have often wondered what it would be like if my students had choice in what they wrote and how they wrote it.
When I was teaching third grade and determining my dissertation topic, I decided to explore the topic of choice in writing with my students and how that affected their attitudes towards writing and themselves as writers. That year, yes, I taught the required writing curriculum. But, I also made sure to give my students time to write on their topics of choice as well as choice in how they presented their writing. It was amazing to see the results. Students who strongly disliked writing learned to enjoy writing because they were given that choice to follow their passions. Sure, I had to read numerous stories about video games I knew nothing about, but my students were enjoying writing. Choice made a difference.
In her book, Literacy Essentials, Regie Routman states, “we get far greater results–not to mention better engagement, enjoyment, and higher quality of work–when students have some choice in what they do” (p. 90). How true this is. There are so many benefits to choice, as Routman mentions, yet we so often feel restrained by curriculum and standards that we are afraid to offer choice. I love the simple suggestions that Routman suggests for offering choice, not just in writing, but in reading as well: offer choice within a required genre, offer choice in how to complete an activity, offer choices for real-world writing and reading. Could this really be accomplished within any given curriculum? I say yes, with some thoughtful planning.
I challenge you in the upcoming school year to look at your curriculum and standards, searching for where you could offer students just a little choice in their reading and writing. Maybe it is choice in which novel they will be reading or which book their group is reading during guided reading. Maybe it is how to present their research findings in a way other than just a research project. Whatever it may be, don’t be afraid to give it a try. You just might be amazed by the results that offering choice can have for your students and for you as a teacher.
Check out all of the posts from this book study by going to the Literacy Essentials webpage. There, you can select different articles to read and respond to and continue the conversation in the comments. In addition, consider joining our new Google+ Community to extend these discussions and connect with other literacy leaders.