Tuesday, 25 March 2014

A matter of choice!

To be able to choose is a wonderful thing. As a kid growing up in the UK, the choice of 'jelly or ice-cream?' at a friend's birthday party was just so tantalising (and a really tough decision, even though it's just a 50/50!)

I have endeavoured to take this idea of choice into the classroom and wherever possible let the students have a variety of options or a say in things.

In class, for example, I often write up a list of the activities that I am planning to cover in the lesson (e.g. discussion, vocabulary, reading, sentence completion) and then let the students decide which order they would like to cover them in. Of course, this is often not possible as lessons are built around a theme or involve a task and so the stages are rigid. However, when the opportunity arises, I let the students decide (they usually prefer to get what they consider the bad activities to be out of the way first!). It doesn't matter to me the order in which we approach these activities, but the students, I believe, are more motivated during the class because they know they have had a say in how it is run.

Another example is when we are going through the answers to, for example, a gap-fill exercise. I clearly remember at school being confident about all of the answers except for, say, number 5. The teacher would then proceed to ask me the answer to number 5 - I believe it's called sod's law! 
In an effort to avoid this I ask the students to answer any question they want. 'It doesn't have to be number 1, it can be number 5 or number 8, choose whichever you want!' Interestingly, the confident students always choose number one while less confident members of the class will pick numbers much lower down the order!

When giving homework I often ask the students to do, say, 8 of the 10 questions. Any 8, and I'll do the 2 they leave for them. The difference between answering 8 or 10 questions is minimal with regard to the learning process, but it empowers the students and helps to take some of the pressure off them.

Another idea is to have too many (!). What I mean is, rather than handing a student a newspaper article to read or a portrait to write about, the teacher has a surplus and the students are free to choose which one appeals to them. The difficulty here can be finding enough material but the internet is usually a great help.

I think that these small classroom differences motivate the students in a big way. The picture your student chooses becomes personal to them and therefore special. A student is far more likely to take pride and care over something that they feel positive about.

As a final example, I have asked my students to look through the series of pictures at The Guardian's Eyewitness photograph  series. Looking today, there are 1568 different images to choose from, so hopefully!! every student will find a picture that they like. I then ask them for a piece of writing based on the picture. It can be as many or as few words as they like (nobody has ever written less than around 60) and their writing can be in any form they want (on the board we brainstorm different types of writing e.g. letter, dialogue, diary entry, poem, news story etc.). The students never fail to complete the task and some of the work they have done has been exceptional.

Do you have other ways of letting your students choose?

p.s. My answer to jelly or ice-cream was always 'a little bit of both, please'. ;-)

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