I often overhear adults asking children ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’.
I have asked many students that over the past few years myself and am usually provided with one of three absolutely legitimate answers.
- 1) I want to be *insert exciting career occupation*
- 2) I’m not sure but I do have some ideas
- 3) I have no idea….
Many children (and adults) are overwhelmed by the monumental choice of ‘what am I going to do with my life?’
Perhaps some are waiting for Hagrid to come in and say ‘You’re a wizard Harry’, for Obi Wan Kenobi to take them on an adventure or to go to Mount Olympus and pray to Zeus and find out you’re actually the child of a God.
Life is full of choices. While our choices are limited by our education, circumstance, governments, parents or even our own self, you can’t deny that life is full of decisions that student will need to make.
In my opinion, schools are currently struggling to encourage independence and autonomous learning. From the standardised curriculum to the way we learn, grouping by age to uniforms, most schools continue to be bastions of conformity. Ironically, schools are often lead by some of the most progressive individuals in their communities. Yes there are some options and ‘student choice’ is becoming more present but it doesn’t go far enough.
We are still struggling to provide kids with a diverse platform where they can have some choice over what they want to learn in a structured environment. This would need to build their capacity and give them responsibility.
I see that this is changing though and I am glad to be apart of it. I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no expert but I absolutely want to give the students in my classes more choices at school.
As a new educator this year, I want to see student choice in my class and not just in silent reading. In week 2 I decided to trial ‘student choice lessons’ in my more settled Year 7 classes.
My Year 7s are studying ‘The Ancient World’, full of exciting possibilities for students to decide what they learn. Fortunately at my school there are a range of different textbooks for this topic full of accessible information and activities.
While I didn’t to begin with, I have since explained to the students that this is intentionally designed to get them accustomed to making decisions and realise that they are able to learn for themselves.
Once a week, after silent reading time and a short history discussion, students have the option to learn about a topic they are interested in. They are given a textbook each and have a few minutes to pick a subject from the contents along with an associated activity they feel comfortable with. If they cant choose I have two options written on the whiteboard for them to start.
After this, I quickly check with each student what society and topic they have chosen to learn and the activity. Students then read for a few minutes and begin to complete the activities.
During this time I have the opportunity to give additional support to students individually or in pairs or checking in with individual students. I then quickly check their work before they leave for lunch. It seems to inspire a greater love of learning than my other lessons do currently and students leave with smiles.
Each lesson I also aim to explain how gaining a love of ‘learning’ is one of the keys to success in life and that they should follow the curiosity their passions inspire, when they find them. I hope that by providing students with the opportunity to choose what they learn and allowing them the space to start thinking about choice, I will inspire them to start investigating topics they are interested in.
While some need additional support and structure to engage with ‘student choice lessons’, it has proved to be quite popular with most students who say they appreciate the choice. Some have since asked to do additional tasks on subjects they will cover in Year 8, 9 or 10.
An idea I am now adding is asking students to write down 5 interesting facts they discovered at the back of their book during these lessons. This is so they can look back at the end of the year and see what they have achieved. The idea was suggested by one of my Teach for Australia mentors.
Hopefully this will give students more experience at making choices for themselves and might even help them to discover their passion! While it is only the beginning, this trial has been an interesting experiment and I have already started looking at other ‘student choice’ ideas for assessment pieces, lesson tasks and homework.
If you have any ideas, blogs or resources I should check out, please post below! I really appreciate all the feedback I have been getting.