Monday, February 29, 2016

Give ‘em a Choice

A speaker that I heard, early in my teaching career, made an argument to give kids choices.  His idea was that if you frame the choices so that whatever the child chose, you’d be delighted.  Later, I heard the same advice from Love and Logic’s Jim Fay:  give a child two choices, either of which you’d be thrilled for them to choose.  I think that there’s immense power in that idea.

When I taught, reading was the homework assignment of choice… my choice.  Armed with my training in Accelerated Reader (A.R.), students had access to a seemingly endless source of books (5 or 6 bookshelves in my classroom) at their diagnosed reading levels.  In addition, I encouraged a little work in Accelerated Math (A. Math), but didn’t strictly hold students accountable for that as I did for the reading.  For the most part, my students made huge strides as readers in both the volume of reading done and the increasing reading levels they achieved over the school year.  I was proud of my homework assignment because it asked of every students something that they could do at their diagnosed ability level, something that could not be said for the day’s math lesson or the spelling workbook.

Something I read today made me rethink that a bit.  In Daniel Willingham’s Raising Kids Who Read, he makes the point that turning kids into readers requires, among several conditions, reading being a desirable choice to the child.  Children of all ages have many things that they may choose to do with their times, many of them electronic and easy.  Reading, even if it’s at a child’s diagnosed reading level can often require greater intellectual effort than playing on their X-Box.  

So what I’m thinking is that, in assigning homework, teachers might offer a choice of homework, say, using my old assignments, A. Math or A.R.  From the students’ perspectives, they might “feel” more like doing one or the other on any particular evening.  Either one would be skill-building but unlikely to need a great deal of external support to complete, with the bonus that supervision would be easy.  Although A.R and A. Math were tools of choice for me, there are an abundance of other online tools available which would be appropriate to assign and monitor.

What if a child loves to read and always chooses reading?  Is that so bad?  That child will likely use those language skills throughout life.  The same could be said for that child who prefers to do math in the evening.  Perhaps that child is a budding scientist or engineer?  In class, of course, the normal curriculum would move forward with all students being instructed in Language Arts and Math however the teacher determined.  Although it might be likely that a student would always or nearly-always choose one over the other, the important factor would be that the child is choosing to practice a skill that will benefit their development.  It may just be that having a choice might keep the child choosing to do homework instead of choosing to avoid it?

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