Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Choice, Voice, and At-Risk Students

 "How do you think the world would change if we let kids read books they enjoyed in high school? Do you think they wouldn't get into college? No! They would become adults who read for enjoyment and learning."     Donalyn Miller


     Choice in what students read? Heretical to some teachers. Others embrace the idea of choice and squeeze hard, giving their students the rein to go in whatever direction they will. I believe in student voice and choice and try to operate in that realm consistently. Especially in reading books. All I have to do to convince myself is think back to my English class in high school where I was forced to read Silas Marner. I swore, if I ever became a teacher, I would never make my students read such archaic works that were as boring as all get out. For anyone who made it through that book without nodding off, you're a better person than I.
     When I give students a choice and a voice, I'm doing a lot more than letting them pick out a book. I'm letting them know they matter. I'm letting them know I trust them to make  a solid choice. And I'm letting them know they have a say in their education. What do I get in return? More engaged students whom I have to tear away from reading rather than nag into compliance. Give me the former any time!
     My students thrive in this choice-rich environment. They feel as though they are taken seriously and that their opinions matter. Even if they initially don't want to read a book, most of the time they get into the book and get excited about it. I overheard a student yesterday tell a student new to my class that reading the book wasn't so bad because students got to choose what to read. And if it stunk, I'd let him pick another. The student went on to tell the newbie that even if he didn't like to read, he'd like this.Trust him.
     The voice of peers matters. I feel pretty good about engaging kids in reading as long as I give them a voice. What have I learned through all of this? Be versatile in your teaching. Be flexible. Be willing to take a chance on your kids and the choices they make. It could make all the difference.

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