Whenever possible, I provide my students with choices in their learning. It often gives them a sense of freedom and autonomy. Not only does giving choices engage them, but it is also a great strategy for differentiating instruction. Here are two ways that I incorporate choice into my instruction:
1. I offer a variety of topics on writing assignments. For instance, students select from a list of 20 – 30 issues for research and then use their research to write a formal argument essay. With this many topics, my students usually find a subject that is interesting and relevant to them. However, by also providing some limits on the choices, it saves me from reading 50 cliché essays on the legalization of marijuana or school uniforms.
Lately I’ve been selecting the topics from an excellent feature in The New York Times Learning Network called “Room for Debate.” The newspaper invites columnists to provide commentary on current news events. For instance, recent topics include the following:
• corporations that pay female employees to delay motherhood by freezing their eggs,
• the United States’ desire for the Turkish government to help fight the terrorist group ISIS,
• right to die standards and physician assisted suicide (once again in the news because of 29-year-old Brittany Maynard’s decision to end her life as a result of her brain cancer)
There are hundreds of issues for teachers and students to choose from as the feature began in January of 2009.
2. Of course I am required by my school district to assign a certain number of essays and prepare my students for their upcoming PARCC assessments, but I can usually find one or two assignments in which students choose from a Menu of assessment projects. For example, after my students read excerpts from Henry David Thoreau’s Walden Pond, they can choose from nine assignments. Because I link the reading to learning about The Tiny House Movement, some of the selections extend their learning about it. Here are a few choices:
• Take a walk outside (woods, beach, park, etc.) and jot down your observations. Afterwards, write a short reflective essay incorporating your ideas about nature and life. How are they connected? How are you affected by nature? Do you find comfort in it? Do you reflect the moods of nature? Explain.
• Create a three-dimensional model for a “Tiny House” that you would want to live in. Be sure to include furniture and other possessions that you would need. Write a short reflection explaining how you think living in this house would change your life.
• Find a song with lyrics that echo some of the ideas in the Walden excerpts. Write an explication of the song and compare it to the ideas from the text. Use specific examples from both the song and the excerpts.
Furthermore, by giving students the Menu, I am able to provide them with opportunities to demonstrate other intelligences and talents. It’s a great way for me to discover more about them, also!
Kim, the OCBeach Teacher, is a National Board Certified English teacher who is currently teaching American Literature and AP English Literature and Composition. She shares classroom ideas and tips on her OCBeachTeacher Facebook Page.