Student Choice

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about student choice and giving students even more responsibility. I thought I did a pretty good job. We inquire, and students often choose their inquiries and how they show their understanding. But is this enough?

Recently, I spent some time in a 1st grade classroom, run by a great teacher, Zoe. It was afternoon, and students were having a class meeting. They were sharing things they had done and different ideas, and their wonderings took off from a storybook a few students had created to a discussion about copyright. Now that’s inquiry!

But what struck me was that students had made up their schedule for the day. They chose what they wanted to do and when. There were definitely topics/concepts they were covering, but the 1st grade students decided when and maybe even for how long. All the students were completely engaged and even still calm at the late hour of 1 p.m. I thought about my own students.

First of all, my students are often wound up by 1 p.m. Afternoons have been a bit hard for my bunch, especially when they aren’t off to single-subject teachers. What was going on? And, thinking about it, how much choice did my students really have in their day?

So, I thought I would try having students create their schedule. We had a great opportunity the next day because several single-subject teachers were absent, and so I had the students all day.

We started by looking at the time we had together. Without single-subject teachers, it was about 5 hours. Wow. Students worked out time elapsed between arrival and break time and break time and lunch. Calculating time was an exercise in itself.

Then, we talked about the schedule. Their first response was “We could play minecraft all day!” “Free time!” When I told then that there were things we wanted to learn throughout the day, then they worked with how to fit them into a schedule.

Majority rules, but most students wanted to read in the morning. In the afternoon, they wanted relaxation so chose the Bill Nye movie for our unit, read aloud and some time on their DIY. Math and science inquiries were best in the morning, they realized.

It took a while to work everything out, but results:

The students were pretty focused all day. If there were any problems, it came back to them…they decided. They had ownership.

Now…can we do it all the time? I’m working on that one. Has anyone else tried it?

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