Learning to Choose
It’s important to provide students with choices, right? Students like school more and their learning improves when they experience elements of freedom and choice in how they are managed and in how they attack their assignments, yet teachers often struggle to provide such choices. They decry its inefficiency or share examples of how students can’t handle choices. Teachers simply want their students to choose to learn, but the thing is, have teachers helped students learn to choose?
The new ASCD book selection, Learning to Choose, Choosing to Learn (2016), by Mike Anderson, explains not only why learning to choose is important, but also introduces strategies for teachers to begin sharing learning choices with students.
Key points from the book include –
+ Students Self-Differentiate
All human beings are motivated to learn – when the learning is relevant and when it isn’t too easy or too hard. Because of this, when given appropriate options for reading, researching, or completing assignments, students can be helped to self-differentiate. Students can learn to know the level at which they function best and strive for the same learning objectives as the rest of the class.
+ Student-Centered Choice Can Exist with Academic Standards
Standards provide a content learning target, which is very helpful, but this doesn’t mean that students cannot have choice when it comes to how they will reach for or hit the target.
+ Students Will, at Times, Choose Poorly, but Poor Choices Are as Much about Learning to Choose as Are Good Choices
It may be hard to give students the option of making a poor choice, but they can learn a lot as they correct its effects. Rather than standing by and hoping for the best when students stumble, teachers can coach and mentor students at a time when the student is especially open to a better way of doing things.
+ Purposeful, Positive Relationships Contribute to a “Learning to Choose” Environment
Real choices often present an element of risk – do I stay in my comfort zone and focus on what I already know or do I become willing to grapple with new learning, maybe even to the detriment of my grade? Such choices within a classroom are public choices. Students know when classmates are “going for it” on a project or assignment. Such risk is possible when teacher-student relationships, and student-student relationships are warm and supportive.
+ Guide Student Thinking, Not Their Choices
The goal is to help students make decisions for themselves. This is another way of affirming the choice theory belief that teachers need to help students effectively self-evaluate, whether that self-evaluation has to do with a completed assignment or with a decision about whether or not to go to college. The language an adult uses to guide student thinking is subtle, yet important. For instance –
Instead of . . . “This choice is easier and this one is harder.”
Try . . . Choice A involves two-digit numbers and Choice B involves three and four-digit numbers.
Instead of . . . “If you really want a challenge, this one is for you.”
Try . . . “Think about the level of challenge that is the best fit for you.”
Instead of . . . “I think this is the best choice if you are interested in animals.”
Try . . . “This choice involves animals.”
Instead of . . . “If you like to move while you work, this is the choice you should pick.”
Try . . . “If you like to move while you work, you might consider a choice that involves movement.”
Instead of . . . “Meagan, you should pick X.”
Try . . . “Meagan, which one seems like a good fit for you?”
This “Instead of / Try” list is one of many such boxes and tables found in the Learning to Choose book. The author wants the book to provide practical help for any teacher wanting to more frequently speak the language of choice. The book certainly reminded me about the importance of choice in the classroom, and it taught me ideas and strategies that I can put to use right away.
While important in its implications for the classroom, the book also reminded me that learning to choose is not a skill we automatically attain upon reaching adulthood. There are too many examples of adults “stuck in a rut,’ too many examples of dreams not reached, goals not completed or even started, too many damaged relationships and dysfunctional families, and too many occurrences involving hate and violence to be able to claim that the masses have learned to choose well. Learning to choose is a classroom skill, but more importantly it is a life skill. Every child that comes into a better understanding of how to choose becomes a better adult in the future – a better spouse and parent, a better employee or boss, a better neighbor and citizen. This importance cannot be overstated!
A short video about Student Voice and Choice
Get the Glasser biography – Champion of Choice – from Amazon quickly and at a good price. Let me know if you would like a signed copy.