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.

Building Trust

As I began reading Literacy Essentials by Regie Routman, I felt as though she were sitting in the room with me. Beginning the book with an entire chapter discussing trust and building relationships, I wondered how she knew what I needed to read at that moment. For me, this school year has been unlike any other. I began my eighteenth year of teaching as a reading specialist who couldn’t wait to begin co-teaching writing in first and fourth grade. And the students did not disappoint! Those two chunks of time in my day were by far my favorite parts.

Fast forward to the middle of December…I had my second hip surgery of the year in December and just like that, my job as a reading specialist and my excitement about writing was diminished. I began the long road to recovery and put my job on hold for almost five months! I returned to work in May and found just how much I had taken trusting relationships for granted. I walked back into a building that had not stopped while I was gone. Instead, things changed, people changed, and I had changed. It has not been an easy road to begin rebuilding relationships with staff and students.

I think that something I have learned through my experiences this year is that while trust can be destroyed in the blink of an eye, it takes much, much longer to build a trusting relationship. Regie states, “When we feel personally and professionally valued, we are apt to be happier, more productive, and more likely to take risks as teachers and learners” (p. 10). How true! Coming back into a culture where I had not been for so long made it feel like I was invisible to the staff for a while.

I love that Regie give some simple suggestions on ways to build relationships with all involved in the school community. And one of the biggest suggestions that stood out to me was kindness. Seem simple, right? I find myself saying, “Be kind!” in all aspects of my life but sometimes I think it is hard to take our own advice. Reading this first chapter made me rethink how I approached each day, and I truly tried to focus on the kindness that I could spread to others. From the simple hellos when seeing someone to asking about his or her day to giving a hug when it was needed!

I think one of my favorite ideas from this chapter has to do with passion. Find your passion and run with it. Help students find their passions and use that passion to guide them on the road to learning. One final thought…as I walked down the hall taking two students to my classroom, a third student chased me down the hall to ask if she could come with me today. Umm…of course! She actually wanted to come spend time reading and writing with me. What a wonderful reminder of the trusting relationship I have created with this student.

This post is part of a book study around Literacy Essentials: Engagement, Excellence, and Equity for All Learners by Regie Routman (Stenhouse, 2018). Check out more resources associated with the text at this website (https://sites.stenhouse.com/literacyessentials/), including a free curriculum for teaching an undergraduate course using Literacy Essentials.