Stetzel 1 Connar Stetzel Professor Elliott ENGL 4700 7 October 2019 Valuing Student Choice in the Classroom Students are diverse. Not only in terms of the more obvious things, such as culture and socioeconomic status, but also regarding the way that they learn and the passions that they have. The job of an educator is to notice these passions and give students the opportunity to explore them deeper through various and diverse models of learning. Because students are diverse, teachers must value this diversity in the classroom by providing students with choice and power over their own education. Without this choice, students are likely to become apathetic, and feel that their passions and goals are not in line with the course material. This means doing things such as breaking the traditional “fill in the bubble” method of assessment and making an effort to embrace each student’s capacity for creativity. It is the teacher’s mission to create lessons and goals that are flexible enough to address the educational needs of each student in their classroom, as well as challenge them as independent learners. Incorporating “student choice” in the classroom, be it through simple opportunities within class time, or giving students choice in terms of the literature that they interact with and the assignments that they complete, will deeply benefit the classroom environment. Offering small opportunities for “student choice” within the context of a lesson will benefit the classroom. When a teacher first decides to incorporate “student choice” in the classroom they should, “[O]ffer simple choices at first, help students practice making good choices, provide feedback about the choices students make, use team choices for younger or less- Stetzel 2 experienced students, and provide information that clarifies the choice” (Schraw 216). If too much choice is introduced without warning in the classroom, then students are likely to become confused and not make decisions that will not be beneficial to them. The teacher must ensure that their students are capable of handling important choices in the classroom by preparing them beforehand for choices that are to come. For example, if students are assigned to choose a story to write on for a research assignment coming up in the future, but they have never been given that kind of control before, then the assignment will likely be ineffective. In order to prevent choice in an assignment like this from ending poorly, “[O]ne teacher stated that she lets her students choose from a menu of five or six stories that she knows are interesting and suitable to her students” (Schraw). This teacher, instead of giving students complete choice over the stories for their assignment, allows students to choose from several pieces of literature that she has already picked out. The teacher knows that these stories will be effective for the assignment, so there is little risk in her students being unable to find a story for themselves. This teacher is also able to ensure that the readings that she has given her students to choose from are at their reading level. By starting with small incorporations of choice into lesson plans and assignments, this teacher was able to make her students feel like they have some kind of control over what they are learning. As a teacher incorporates more and more choice into the classroom curriculum, students are able to make good choices for their education. This has a positive influence on students’ self-efficacy and their ability to self-motivate. It has been established that it is important for teachers to allow “student choice” in the classroom, but another important job for the teacher is to demonstrate to students how to make good choices. Some teachers “attempt to model their own thoughts about their criteria for making a good choice (e.g., a story is easy to read and covers a familiar topic). Criteria usually Stetzel 3 included whether the student could accomplish the task successfully, whether the task was engaging, and whether the student could learn from the task” (Schraw 216). When the teacher demonstrates their idea of how to apply “making good choices” in the classroom, then students have a model to follow. The strategy that these teachers use of showing their students how they use choice to determine assignments for their students is important. Letting students in on how teachers deduce whether or not an assignment will be effective for their students is a great model for students developing their own ability to make decisions in and out of the classroom. Teachers have noted that, “Students frequently speak of ‘ownership’ when they are asked to make choices about what and how to study” (Schraw). Allowing students control over their learning is vital to their classroom experience. Students need to feel that they are valued as individual learners, and it is the teacher’s job to ensure that each student is capable of harnessing this kind of power over their own education. This is why incorporating “student choice” in the classroom on a small scale is a great place to start for those new to this concept. Small scale introduction to choice is essential to ensure that students are capable of taking some control over their education. When it comes to classroom literature, it is difficult to get all students in the classroom to be interested in one single text. That being said, there is no rule that says all students should read the same exact book. Teachers in Westville, Missouri noticed, “When [they] assigned the same book to every student to read, [they] turned reading … into a chore—and that’s if the students were actually doing the reading” (Skeeters). Students are not motivated to read texts that are not about things that they are interested in. If teachers want their students to engage in reading in and out of the classroom, then they have to be willing to give the students at least some control over the texts that they read. This could be as simple as offering students a list of books, poems, or articles to choose from, depending on which type of work fits the lesson. Choice could also be Stetzel 4 allowing students to choose whatever book that they would like to create a book report on. The bottom line is, a lot of students are constantly “dominated” by teachers throughout the school day. They are given little to no choice in every aspect of their day, so if a teacher allows them the opportunity to have some control over the content that they are interacting with in the classroom, then it is more likely the student will enjoy reading and not see it as a “chore” (Skeeters). Not only does allowing “student choice” in literature combat a lack of enthusiasm and willingness to read in general, but also one teacher notes that: Book choices tell us a lot about our students. We learn about their dreams for the future, interests we have in common, and why they act the way they do in class. As we provide more opportunities for choice, we discover realities, such as high school boys enjoy reading nonfiction. They … want truthfulness and honesty; they want something real. Knowing this changes the way we see them and react to their participation in class (Skeeters). Allowing students to choose what literature they want to interact with is a teacher’s way of seeing into their world. By allowing students control, teachers can understand a student’s passions through the text that they choose. This is a valuable tool in the classroom. The ability to see your students on a deeper level through their text also builds a confident relationship between reader and teacher. When a student can see that their teacher cares about their passions, then they are more likely to respect the teacher as a facilitator of learning. Students are oftentimes “limited” in their education by teachers who do not care about them as individual learners, and they simply try teaching to the majority. Allowing students choice in literature is a way for the teacher to let their students know that they care about them as independent, diverse learners. Stetzel 5 As well as literature, methods of assessment in the classroom need to be flexible and allow students choice in how and what they are evaluated on. In an article by Brooks and Young, the claim is made that “[S]ome of the more traditional classroom approaches whereby the teacher controls students’ movements and work are ‘antagonistic,’ potentially ‘zapping’ students of their motivational tendencies” (51). In other words, if a student is being completely controlled in the classroom and has no say over their educational experience, then they will become apathetic to learning in general. An Algebra teacher applied flexible methods of assessment by giving students choice in the assignments that they have to complete in her class: Once a week, Ms. R gave students in her Algebra I class a choice of activities to work on. On these “workdays,” as students called them, Ms. R offered a set of three to four activities. Each student could select the activity that featured the skill that they thought they needed to work on the most (Parker). Ms. R realized that some of her students need challenged in different ways than others, so she gives them choice involving what skills they want to work on. This allows students to identify their strengths and become more self-aware of their learning style and the areas that they need extra work in. After applying this method of allowing students choice over their assignments, Ms. R noticed, “[S]students spent more time on-task and asked for her help less often. As a result, Ms. R. was able to spend more time checking on students’ progress and helping those who genuinely needed her assistance” (Parker). This teacher, because of her willingness to adhere to the idea of giving students choice in their education, is able to monitor her students more effectively and identify where her students need the most help. By providing students time and assignments that address various areas and giving them control over what they choose to work on, she is able to better facilitate learning in her classroom. Due to the fact that all of her students Stetzel 6 are now being challenged, she is able to “loosen the reigns” in terms of discipline in her classroom and be more present for the students who genuinely need her help and guidance. Another teacher allowed students control over their assignment in a simpler, but also effective way: Every day, Ms. H prepared two warm-up problems, each with the same mathematical content but situated in different contexts — for example, one problem might have to do with hiking and the other with flying. The two contexts were always on the board, and during the first minute of class, students were allowed to vote for the one that interested them. In order to make sure that they could vote, some students began to arrive to class early, and overall, the number of students who were late went down. The motivation to select a context carried over into actually doing the warm-up problem. According to Ms. H, all students began to actively engage in doing the warm-up, which had not occurred before she began offering students the choice of contexts (Parker). Choice in the classroom does not have to be so intricate that it is overwhelming for the teacher. This teacher allows students to choose the simple “context” of a story problem, and that is enough to get students engaged and excited about her lesson. When it comes to offering choice in the classroom, specifically in terms of assignments and methods of assessment, even small choices like this one allow students to feel like they have control over the content that they are engaging with. Unlike Ms. R’s incorporation of “student choice” through allowing students to choose which assignment they would like to complete; Ms. H’s method requires little thought on the teacher’s part. Ms. H allows the students to vote at the beginning of class, and that slight allowance of choice in the classroom makes students arrive on time so that they get the chance to Stetzel 7 put in their own vote. Allowing students to have choice over something as simple as the “context” of a word problem has positive consequences to the learning environment. Opportunities for “student choice” is an important part of valuing each student as an independent learner. There is not a “one size fits all” method to teaching a diverse group of student learners. With this knowledge in mind, effective teachers have the challenge of creating various opportunities for students to have a voice in their learning experience. After conducting an experiment regarding the incorporation of “student choice” and its effect on the classroom experience, Gregory Schraw observed that teachers who incorporated student choice in their classrooms noted, “[I]ncreased student choice leads to increased interest, engagement, and learning. One important theme… was that choice gives students a greater sense of responsibility which increases their motivation to learn” (Schraw 216). When students are given the opportunity to choose the best way for them to learn in the classroom, they are unlikely to become apathetic. Similarly, in an article by Brooks and Young the claim is made that, “[O]ffering students choices in a classroom may enhance their feelings of self-determination and intrinsic motivation to participate in class activities” (51). When a teacher incorporates options and choices for students in the classroom, then it motivates students to engage with their material. Students are consistently controlled throughout their school day, and they need to feel that they have some kind of voice in their education. By incorporating choice in the classroom through seemingly insignificant methods, students feel that they have a voice. This opportunity for choice and control negates student apathy, as well as encourages students to grow as capable, independent learners. Stetzel 8 Works Cited Brooks, Catherine, and Young, Stacy. “Are Choice-Making Opportunities Needed in the Classroom? Using Self-Determination Theory to Consider Student Motivation and Learner Empowerment.” International Journal of Teaching and LEarning in Higher Education, vol. 23, 2011, pp. 48-59, EBSCOhost. Parker, Frieda, et al. “To Engage Students, Give Them Meaningful Choices in the Classroom.” Kappanonline.org, 21 Nov. 2018, https://www.kappanonline.org/engage-students-give-meaningful-choices-classroom/. Schraw, Gregory, et al. “Increasing Situational Interest in the Classroom.” Educational Psychology Review, vol. 13, no. 3, Sept. 2001, pp. 211–224. EBSCOhost. Skeeters, Keri, et al. 01.09.17 Reading, admin. “Five Reasons Teachers Love Student Choice.” NCTE, 13 June 2018, https://www2.ncte.org/blog/2017/01/5-reasons-for-student-choice/.