Student Choice can set a Tone of Invitation
Everyone loves to receive an invitation, but it is rare that our students feel invited to learn. In fact, more often than not, the opposite is true. Students feel forced, cornered, or trapped into learning. In my experience of focusing on, creating, and encouraging student choice in my classroom, I have found that providing student choice changes the tone of instruction. It changes the tone of the learning environment from a forced requirement to that of an invitation.
Perhaps we can all relate to the experience of an obligatory family party that we feel forced to attend; we don't feel as though we really have a choice in the matter, and we reluctantly go through the motions of arriving with a gift, making small talk, and creating an excuse to escape before the end of the event.
Compare this to receiving an invitation to a coveted event; the tone changes. We anticipate, we plan, we prepare. We make an effort to arrive on time, dressed to the nines, and we eagerly enjoy the event. On the drive home, we reflect about the conversation, gossip, and events.
The same is true of student choice. When orchestrated effectively, student choice sets a tone of invitation. Students take on autonomy in their learning, and become engaged in their own achievement. The invitation of choice helps to establish a feeling of anticipation, planning, and preparation in our students; they make an effort to arrive on time, prepared and "dressed" with eagerness. Finally, they self reflect-a keystone of autonomous engagement.
Recently, I introduced a research assignment that required students to research a particular element of Elizabethan Culture or Shakespeare's biography and present their learning to the class. Students were invited to choose their topic from a list, invited to choose to work alone or with a partner, and invited to choose how they would demonstrate their learning in a product. Some of the product choices were to create a newspaper, brochure, presentation, screencast, game, map, children's book, and many others. I have the blessing of being in a 1:1 Chromebook setting, and I took advantage of technology based tools with which I am familiar.
What did I hear from my students as I introduced this assignment? I expected the usual groans and moans that might accompany a research project, but (and I believe it's because of the tone of invitation that was established with student choice) instead my students exclaimed, "I think this will be fun." A few mentioned that they were excited to find out about a topic that interested them. The music kids learned about music, the fashion minded kids investigated fashion, and so on.
The basic assignment is linked below if you're interested.
I would encourage you to send out the invitation to learn to your students by enhancing student choice. Let me know how it goes!
Much Ado About Research Teaching Stations Elizabethan/Shakespeare Assignment