Some Thoughts about Voice and Choice in High School Readers Workshop

I remember when my school district was all about the Love and Logic model. It was the autumn of 1999, and it was my very first year of teaching.

We teachers were encouraged to offer “natural consequences” and to allow students an opinion when it came to disciplinary measures and classroom management. We were taught to offer choices to students, but choices that we adults could live with.

Love and Logic helped me get through my first year of teaching, no question about it.

I can’t help but connect the ideas behind the behavioral issues to those with readers workshop.

I offer choices to my students every day. I am transparent about it. For instance, I recently gave an assignment regarding their Week Without Walls travel. They were assigned, about six weeks or so before their travels, to read one text about where they were headed. The idea was that they would learn something new and have a more enriched experience while they were in a new country.

I explained to each of my classes that because I value choice so much, it didn’t matter to me what they read. Cookbooks, novels, travel blogs, poems, folk tales, memoirs, and most anything else were all on the table.

Because my students are expected to read at least two hours a week, these choices were absolutely okay with me. I knew that even if they weren’t reading something related to their travels, they would be reading.

Students ended up reading a variety of texts, genres, and forms, and we were all fairly satisfied with how it went.

The thing is, the choices I offered were choices I could live with, but more importantly, choices my students could live with.

I would have preferred that my students read longer texts like a memoir or novel about their destinations, but I had to be realistic about their individual reading lives.

Some students were entrenched in series and didn’t want to take the time to read a longer text between their preferred books.

Some students had healthy next read lists and didn’t want to prioritize something new over what they were looking forward to reading next.

Many students had valid reasons for not wanting to read a longer text, but were more than willing to read something shorter. This still allowed students to learn something new, and to create background knowledge about where they were traveling to, which was the point of the assignment.

policy preferenceSo as I reflected on it, I realized that my preference should not automatically turn into classroom policy. I should not only allow voice and choice when it comes to what they read, but in many other aspects of my courses.

Students can and should be able to choose what length and types of texts they read, knowing that the ultimate goal is having a healthy reading life.

They should also be offered agency to choose some due dates and deadlines, to help decide on core texts, and to give input about when major assessments will happen.

If I, as the person of authority in my classroom, forget or choose not to offer the choice, but instead decree certain due dates or assignments, my students should also have the autonomy and skill to disagree with me, and to articulate their preferences.

The person in authority will almost always have an opinion, but it shouldn’t be treated with absolute reverence. Students should be able to push back on teacher preferences which have morphed into policy, especially when the policies don’t make sense.

That’s the thing about choice. If I am the only one who gets to decide when they have choices, it feels less authentic, and less like the students are in charge of their own learning.

 

My preferences cannot automatically be considered classroom policy. With dissenting voices comes better decisions. I know that’s true in my adult world, but I need to remember it in my classroom world as well.

So I will remember the Love and Logic strategies I learned as a brand new teacher, and continue to offer voice and choice to my students.

But I will also do my best to empower my students to remind me that they deserve voice and choice even when it’s not offered to them. That sometimes, it’s theirs to take, and with the right skills and strategies, they can shape a teacher’s preferences and policies, take charge of their own learning, and maybe teach the teacher a thing or two.

 

Follow Julie on twitter @SwinehartJulie

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Author: adventuresinhighschoolworkshop

Raised rollerskating on suburban sidewalks, I now reside in Amman, where the sidewalks aren't for skating, and donkeys and luxury cars share the road. I'm a teacher. I teach high school readers and writers, specifically focusing on Readers Workshop this year. SqlxI'm new at this, but I'm finding tractionkoszksg with it, and I think it's worth sharing. I wish everyone success. It's totally possible.oeowsw

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