Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Choices in the Classroom

Is it really summertime already?  What a great time to sit on my deck, read books, reflect on the past school year, and start planning for next year!  (Yeah, like teachers have the whole summer off!)

During one of my recent reflection times, I simply sat and thought about all the things that Ruth and I do that make our students enjoy school.  It is important to me that kids experience some enjoyment at school since they have to be there 185 days of the year!  Just think if you never had any enjoyment at work.  Wouldn't you appreciate a "boss" who would at least attempt to make things enjoyable?
Anyway!  One of the things that our students respond very well to is their opportunity to make choices throughout the day.  Making choices helps them feel that they have some control and ownership over things that happen to them at school.  After all, the whole reason we are all at school is for them!!  Doesn't it seem right to give them some say in what goes on?

There are different ways we offer choice to our students throughout the year.  Here are some of those ways!
  • The students help us choose what the different expectations and procedures should look like:
    •  Students have helped us decide the appropriate behavior in the classroom, cafeteria, and playground; how to walk down the hall; how to behave at the bathroom; what independent reading time should look and sound like; etc. 
  • They help us decide on the consequences for different situations:
    • For example, we have nightly reading homework, so at the beginning of the year, we have the students help us determine what the consequences should be for when students don't do their homework!  (Trust me, they are often way harder than we would ever be!)
    • If there are ever any "big" issues in the room, the students can help decide appropriate consequences, especially if the issues affected them in some way
      • Once we had two boys steal Sharpies and Highlighters from our classroom stash and sell them on the bus for $.25 each...they taped them on the inside of their sweatshirts and would open up their sweatshirts to show the goods, like some guy on the street selling stolen Rolexes!!
  •   On our Learning Contracts, the students typically get to decide which activity they want to work on that day
  • They choose how they would like to work:  independently, with a partner, or in a small group:
    • *We will take that choice away if they do not select wisely!
  • They choose with whom they would like to work with:
    • *Again, *We will take that choice away if they do not select wisely!
  • They help us develop sub plans:
    • Yep!  That's right!  Whenever we have a sub (planned of course), we sit down with the kids and ask them what activities they would like to do that will help them be the most successful with a sub in the room.  Since starting this, our days out at meetings haven't been nearly as stressful.  
    • We of course tell the students the activities have to be academic and not just free time!  So, for example, they may say, "Can we do a coordinate graphing activity?" or "Can the sub read a book aloud and we create a comic strip to show the main events in the story?"
    • Sometimes the students will give us a skill, and we'll pick the activity.  Other times, the students request specific activities 
    • Again, since doing this, the students get more work done, and we have had far fewer discipline issues when we are out of the room
  • Idea Box:
    • Students submit ideas they have in our Idea Box, so at our weekly Community Meeting, we discuss those ideas.  Some of these ideas are about things the students think we may need to change, suggestions for things we could do, or problems we need to solve.  The topics at our Community Meeting are their topics!  We are certainly allowed to add our own ideas if we have any, as well
  • They often help us pick what our Read Aloud book will be:
    • Because we are intentional about what topic we want our read aloud to be on or what skill we want to teach through the read aloud, we typically give the students specific books to choose between, versus leaving it wide open
  • The students usually choose their research topics:
    • When we have to teach those research/writing skills, we do not usually say, "Okay, everybody is going to do an animal project!"  Nope!  Instead we let the students demonstrate their research skills through researching a topic that is of interest to them.  
    • We've had students select topics such as poverty, cancer, drug abuse, or animal abuse!  These topics are much more real to many students and actually help them start thinking about how they can impact our world!  A little more powerful than researching whales... (Not that animals aren't topics that some kids choose or are bad things to research.  Students can even find social justice issues within researching about animals!  Just give students the choice to move beyond animals if they want.)
  • They choose the three books that go in their book bags during Independent Reading
Honestly, this list could go on and on!  I truly do feel that offering the students choice at school does increase their engagement, gives them a sense of control, and allows them to take more ownership of their work and decisions that are made!

So, as you think about your next school year, you have a choice to think about how incorporating student choice throughout your day may make school more enjoyable for both you and your students!  :-) 

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