Choice: A Key Ingredient for Teaching and Learning

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.

Author: booksonthebackporch

I am a wife, mom to two girls, a reading specialist, and avid reader and writer! I am excited to share my experiences and insights with all things books and writing.

5 thoughts on “Choice: A Key Ingredient for Teaching and Learning”

  1. I love that you highlighted the necessity for-and power of-choice for freeing students to write and read more productively and joyfully. Bravo! It’s a great reminder for starting the new school year. I think when teachers see choice, not as anything goes, but as choice within a meaningful structure (that perhaps we even set up with students), more teachers are comfortable giving students choice. Thanks for this important post encouraging teachers to give students more choice.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with Regie, the way you presented the idea of providing choice, through a meaningful structure and not just willy nilly choice about everything is much less threatening to teachers. Sometimes I think when they hear the word “choice” they feel that they will somehow be losing control and the classroom will just be chaos. Just starting small within the parameters you’ve so nicely laid out is a step in the right direction, and you’ve done it in an encouraging, non-threatening way. Kudos! I also enjoyed your… “It was amazing to see the results.” when talking about the added engagement your students had when they had a choice over not only their writing, but also over the presentation of their writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You point out that small choices can be useful and I totally agree! There is a book – The Paradox of Choice – that states (I’m paraphrasing) too many choices can keep people from making a choice. I know I get overwhelmed when I have too many things to choose from, so I tend to limit my students’ choices in case they feel the same way.


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