Recently, I was having a lazy Saturday with my daughter. I was itching to get out of the house, but Ariana insisted that we stay home. Apparently, she and her buddy, Kyla, came up with the idea to have something called a “New New Parade” in a local park. She couldn’t leave the house because she had to get ready for it. ‘Getting ready’ consisted of a few steps. First, she made the above poster (See above, New New Festival) to explain the parade to others. Then, she created tickets to hand out to family and friends. She then composed an advertisement that would convince others who might not want to attend to see why they should. Finally, she addressed an envelope and put the entire writing project in the mail and sent it to Kyla. I couldn’t help but compare this Saturday writing project to one of her recent school assignments (See above, If I lived in a Snow Globe).
Anyone who has given student choice in writing has seen that most kids enjoy it and often produce ‘cute’ results as it did for my daughter, but a choice in writing is so much more than ‘cute’. In today’s blog, I want to talk about the ways in which choice benefits both students and teachers. I write this blog with the greatest admiration for teachers and the hard work they do. I am in no way trying to bash teachers, but I am suggesting that school districts need to devote time to professional development that not only helps teachers understand the power of student choice but also gives a plan for (or help teachers to plan for) a year of teaching writing.
- Students are more engaged: When students are deeply engaged in their writing, they are more attentive and open to our instruction. Because Ariana chose her own topic and genre, she was deeply involved in the work and welcomed my feedback. When Ariana doesn’t choose her topic and genre, she does the bare minimum and is not particularly interested in any feedback. She just wants to get it completed. We’ve all been in a position when we are ‘teaching’ a child who has no interest in being taught. A choice is not only helpful for the learner but ultimately it makes teachers’ lives much, much easier.
- Students work harder and are intrinsically motivated: Schools often resort to extrinsic motivation (motivating kids by giving prizes or rewards) They resort to this because they are asking the student to do something that might not be naturally interesting or satisfying. It’s so much more successful in the long run if kids are intrinsically motivated–that is the activity itself is naturally satisfying. Because Ariana was engaged in her writing, she worked harder, not because she was going to get a prize or a ‘Dojo Point’, (extrinsic motivation) but because she found the act of writing naturally satisfying (intrinsic motivation). As you can see in the home project, Ariana took great care in her handwriting and left plenty of spaces between her words because she wanted people to learn about the “New New Parade”. She made sure her sentences were clear and would make sense to a reader. Her school piece is much harder to read. Her sentences are a little confusing and it does not appear that she put the same kind of effort into it (even with the prospect of a ‘Dojo Point.’ ) I think that the choice of paper in her home project helped as well, but that’s a whole different blog post.
- Teachers have more teaching time: Because Ariana came up with her own topic, I didn’t have to spend time explaining an assignment to her; I was able to dig in and teach. Ariana wanted to make an advertisement that convinced people to come to the parade so I was able to teach her that one way to convince others was to give reasons. Because her writing was for a larger audience, she was very interested in editing it. We took a look at words that have the ‘oi’ vowel pattern and she edited the word, ‘join’. She was also able to edit the word, ‘might’ by using what she knew about ‘night’. Finally, she reread and added some punctuation. Ariana’s school writing was corrected (the teacher put the correct spelling underneath some of the words). Just because a teacher corrects something does not mean that a student will learn it. More than likely, the teacher put most of her attention in explaining The Snow Globe Assignment’ rather than giving feedback to individuals about next steps.
I would love to hear from my readers. What do you think gets in the way of giving students choice during writing instruction? Let me know in the comments below.