Saturday, April 29, 2017

You gave students choice... and it bombed... what? It's time for a reflection.

My co-worker and I just finished our cross-curricular project, and boy has it been a unit! We were quite euphoric with how it turned out, and were glad that the project was more of a success than we anticipated. One thing is nagging at the back of my brain - how did giving students choice work? Was THAT successful?

To answer that question, I am going to jump into "story time" and travel back to last summer. Right before the school year began, I attended a GAFE (Google Apps for Education) conference here in Colorado Springs. I was pushed by many of the attendees and presenters (in a good way) to update and elevate my curriculum this current school year. The big "buzz word" was choice: giving students a choice in your classroom. And I believe it, and I believe in it, so I tried to provide my students with choice (to give them a voice). It was a complete and utter failure.

Sometimes I wonder why teachers and teacher bloggers don't talk more about their failures, and, when giving advice, don't always talk about what might go wrong. I feel like I had a preconceived and naive belief about how choice and flexibility would transform my classroom. I would liken this to all the feels that teachers get when watching Robin Williams' speech in A Dead Poet's Society.

That was going to be my classroom this year... I was wrong. What I failed to take into account, and what I was never pushed to question, was who the students were that I had coming into my classroom. My students had eight years of traditional schooling. Often times, in my own opinion, I did not see rigor and high expectations in their previous classes. Students, in the past, did not have the option to make their own choices and did not have the capacity and maturity to make wise decisions on their own. This led to a very rough beginning to the school year (no Robin Williams moments here!) and a lot of reflection about what best meets my students' needs.

So... I gave my students choice... and it bombed. What are the next steps?

Number one: don't give up! So it didn't work this time. Why didn't it work? Figure that out, then don't do that again. It is okay to fail, but do not punish your students if the failure is one you.

Number two: figure out what your students need. Many options or open flexibility can be overwhelming if it has never been an option before. I know that when I start my next school year, I need to survey the students about their previous schooling. This will then drive HOW I teach in my classroom. I can decide how much choice I offer from the start.

Number three: start small to large. Start by giving your students two or three possibilities (not unlimited), then expand from there. I run a more project-based class so I can start with open selection when it comes to a type of project (Slides, Explain Everything, iMovie), then over time, students can have a choice when it comes to topics and content. Ideally, by the end of the year, the students have complete discretion in the classroom to display their voice.

Number four: take your time. If you realize that students still don't have the maturity to have choice, then do not give them that option. Make sure they are ready to move to the next step. Do not set up your students to fail.

As I said at the beginning, now that I've done this big project at the end of the year, was giving choice beneficial?


It was due to my failures at the beginning of the year and reflecting upon WHY there was failure. It was also dependent on me slowly adding in more choice as the year went on. I also feel like we gave students good options when it came to historical figures and project presentation options for this unit. 

Was it perfectly successful? No, not quite. Both my colleague and I learned a lot doing this project for the first time and have discussed changes that we will make. We still saw students choose the easy options, and I still need to figure out why they didn't want to push themselves. 

But I can see how choice works in my classroom and am excited to see it work even better next year. Keep the faith! Thanks for reading. I'll see you next week :)

- Rachel
My Teacherspayteachers website