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March 31, 2017

Let It Go: Increasing Student Choice in the Classroom

By Julie Ballew
Grades 1–2, 3–5, 6–8, 9–12

    At the beginning of this school year, I was again reminded of how much I like to be in control. Surely I can’t be alone in this. Teachers are supposed to like control, right? We must be in charge because we have so much to share. We have such an immense responsibility to support the learning of the students entrusted to us each year, and we can’t risk the effects of losing control.

    Classrooms are changing every year, and students are coming to us increasingly aware of their own learning goals and learning styles. I still believe that in order to manage a classroom effectively, we must set up clear expectations and procedures, but students are very capable of making good choices for their own learning if we let them. This year, I committed to a journey of purposefully letting go.

    This began months ago with my classroom setup, as I fully embraced flexible seating. My Type-A personality clung tightly to beautifully organized tables and desks, even as my heart told me that students might learn better if they had different options. I removed almost all of the chairs in my classroom and added yoga balls, camping chairs, one-legged balance stools, and standing tables. I also took the legs off several desks so that students could curl up on the floor and still have a place to call their own. My students choose their seats every day, and as I watched them over the months and learned more about their individual styles, I have added rolling chairs, balance boards, and stretchy bands to the legs of standing tables to keep their feet busy. I also have wide counters in my room, and I allow students to sit there if they choose. (As a side note, this is great incentive to keep the counters from collecting junk!) My classroom evolved more in the first five weeks than it typically would in an entire school year. This was because I was listening more than ever and altering the classroom environment to meet my students’ needs. Inside I told myself, They are in control, and I am letting go.

    Some students choose the same spot in which to sit every day, and some choose a different style depending on their mood. Now that this is our norm, I can’t imagine making this choice for them. I told them from the beginning that I reserved the right to move them if they weren’t doing their best work. Much to my surprise, I haven’t had to invoke this right once. They know what they need from the classroom environment, and they choose accordingly.

    I have found that any time I increase choice, engagement increases as well. This means that when engagement is low, I need to first look at who is in control. Any chance I have to turn control over to my students, that’s exactly what I do. I may choose the reading skill they need to practice, but they can choose the book. I may choose the topic of study, but they can choose how they show mastery. My kids are happier and more successful when they get to take charge of their learning. My number one goal is to prepare them to be upstanding citizens in a fast-paced world. Letting them make authentic choices in a safe environment is one way to get them there.

    Stay tuned for tips about increasing student choice in your literacy instruction!

     

    At the beginning of this school year, I was again reminded of how much I like to be in control. Surely I can’t be alone in this. Teachers are supposed to like control, right? We must be in charge because we have so much to share. We have such an immense responsibility to support the learning of the students entrusted to us each year, and we can’t risk the effects of losing control.

    Classrooms are changing every year, and students are coming to us increasingly aware of their own learning goals and learning styles. I still believe that in order to manage a classroom effectively, we must set up clear expectations and procedures, but students are very capable of making good choices for their own learning if we let them. This year, I committed to a journey of purposefully letting go.

    This began months ago with my classroom setup, as I fully embraced flexible seating. My Type-A personality clung tightly to beautifully organized tables and desks, even as my heart told me that students might learn better if they had different options. I removed almost all of the chairs in my classroom and added yoga balls, camping chairs, one-legged balance stools, and standing tables. I also took the legs off several desks so that students could curl up on the floor and still have a place to call their own. My students choose their seats every day, and as I watched them over the months and learned more about their individual styles, I have added rolling chairs, balance boards, and stretchy bands to the legs of standing tables to keep their feet busy. I also have wide counters in my room, and I allow students to sit there if they choose. (As a side note, this is great incentive to keep the counters from collecting junk!) My classroom evolved more in the first five weeks than it typically would in an entire school year. This was because I was listening more than ever and altering the classroom environment to meet my students’ needs. Inside I told myself, They are in control, and I am letting go.

    Some students choose the same spot in which to sit every day, and some choose a different style depending on their mood. Now that this is our norm, I can’t imagine making this choice for them. I told them from the beginning that I reserved the right to move them if they weren’t doing their best work. Much to my surprise, I haven’t had to invoke this right once. They know what they need from the classroom environment, and they choose accordingly.

    I have found that any time I increase choice, engagement increases as well. This means that when engagement is low, I need to first look at who is in control. Any chance I have to turn control over to my students, that’s exactly what I do. I may choose the reading skill they need to practice, but they can choose the book. I may choose the topic of study, but they can choose how they show mastery. My kids are happier and more successful when they get to take charge of their learning. My number one goal is to prepare them to be upstanding citizens in a fast-paced world. Letting them make authentic choices in a safe environment is one way to get them there.

    Stay tuned for tips about increasing student choice in your literacy instruction!

     

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