Posted by: Kathy Cassidy | April 16, 2011

It’s Your Choice…You Choose

 I have been thinking a lot about the importance of choice lately.  Recently, I ran into the parent of a child I previously taught, and it reminded me of a moment when I gave an answer to her child that I now regret.

Last spring, at the end of a unit of study about plants, I asked my students, as a culminating project,  to make an artifact of some kind to show their learning.  We wanted to put this artifact on our blog, so we talked about several tools that they could use to show their learning. I no longer remember all of the options, but I know they included writing an article for their blog, drawing a picture to post on their blog, making a book using Storybird and making a video using Sketchcast.  I wanted them to have a choice of what was best for them to use.

One boy came up to me to ask if he could use Vocaroo, the voice recording tool we were using that year.  To my shame, I said “no”.  I think my reasoning was that I wanted him to have the opportunity to practice using text, and all of the other options could have included written words.

What you need to know about this child is that although he is verbally bright, he has a severe text disability, so severe that he could recognize only about 20 words by the end of grade one.  Obviously, anything involving text brings him great frustration.

Fortunately, it did not take long for me to come to my senses and assure this child that using a voice recording of his learning was indeed an option for him, but my shame in my moment of realization made a deep impact on me.

I will never forget our short conversation because of my emotional response and because it made me stop and re-evaluate what I was doing as a teacher who says she values choice.  All of us have strengths and weaknesses, and while it is important for us (and our students) to work on those things that we are not good at, it is also important for us to have a chance to show our learning using a medium that can help us to best capture that knowledge.

If the choices don’t include all students in a way that is relevant to them, is it really choice?


Responses

  1. Kathy, this is an amazing blog post, and I think that you make an incredibly valuable point here. You’ve made me think a lot about my teaching too. This is the first year that I’ve really given so much “student choice,” and this is the first year that I’ve really been open to students suggesting their own different tools too. Your post makes me think about what I may have said in the past to a student with a similar request. I think what is so important here though is that you did re-think what you said, you did give this child the “choice” that he needed to make, and you did reflect on how you have offered choices too. Your students are so incredibly lucky to have you as their teacher!

    Aviva

    • Thanks, Aviva. It was an important lesson for me.

  2. Kathy,
    You are so right. Often times we need to step back and question if we really allow choice. The way I see the classroom today is students are more like our learning partners. Yes, we guide them but we also value their input.
    Thanks for sharing your story.
    JoAnn

    • Thanks for the comment, JoAnn. I like your idea about learning partners. The balance between guiding the students and allowing that input that you mention is the tricky part, isn’t it?

  3. Hi Kathy,

    I agree about the importance of choice. I was interested to hear your ‘real’ experience – but we all make mistakes! The good news was that you rectified the situation. Children take responsibility for many choices in our Yr 1 class including where they sit, what they write in journals, which reading books they take for home reading (although I monitor) and sometimes, which activities they do whilst I hear reading. Choices help children become more independent.

    Coral

  4. I don’t think you need to feel any shame. I think what you did was to openly demonstrate to your student that the teacher not only can “make a mistake” but also “change her mind” based on reevaluation of the present situation. In a classroom where there is only one choice, you would have to do this infrequently, if at all.

  5. I agree with Patricia that you should not feel any shame but simply do what you did and realise that you needed to reevaluate your way of assessment. Sometimes we give students choices that we want to see them do but don’t stop to realise that by doing this we are still limiting them. Sometimes it is because we are not totally prepared for the choices that they might suggest. At least, you realised your error and was open. You made me realise that I could adopt your way of thinking more often, and give my students ‘real’ choices.

    • Thanks, Patricia and Jo-Ann. I appreciate your thoughts. It is those “real” choices that are sometimes hard to give, isn’t it? Where do we draw the line between helping the students to push themselves to work at something that is difficult for them, and allowing them to choose and work to their strengths?

  6. Your particular student that you write about reminds of this image I just posted… and how we [too] often set the bar (or have it set by someone who has never stepped into our classrooms) and expect all children to reach the bar, often all in the same way.

    The Achievement Bar

    I have to admit, many times I have given choices… that better suit ME rather than my students. Good reminder for us all to think about.

    • Great image! The standard line I have been given is that everyone CAN reach it, they just need time…I don’t always agree with that. We do need to focus more on student strengths rather than deficiencies.

  7. […] via It’s Your Choice…You Choose « Primary Preoccupation. […]

  8. I often wonder how many times I have reacted like that and not realized. My belief in choice is not always easy to follow. Reflection is the only way I ensure I’m doing my best to offer students choice and to keep myself on track following them.

    Reading your reflection reminds me of my goal. Thanks.

  9. Hi, Ms. Cassidy. I understand your initial response to this student being a “no” because you were hoping to help him improve with the use of text. However, I do not think you should feel ashamed. You learned from the situation and that is what matters. If a student decided to, initially, do the wrong option but corrected themselves by making it right, would you shame them? Of course not, as long as they are learning in the long run. It is important for teachers to remember that we are also “students” and we are forever learning, as well as our students!

    I agree with your closing statement, “If the choices don’t include all students in a way that is relevant to them, is it really choice?” It isn’t!

    I would like to thank you for impacting my educational journey in becoming an educator. I admire enthusiasm and excitement that you put into your classroom. I will be posting a summary of my time spent on your blog in the next few days. I welcome you to visit, read, and comment if you would like. Again, thank you so much.

    Kelsey Robinson

  10. Great post, Kathy. I wonder what you would say to a parent or outsider who says you now did that kid a disservice by enabling him rather than helping him learn to function in what is still a text-heavy world…

    • Here I go, up on my soapbox. This would be my reply.
      First of all, the goal was not to practice writing, it was to showcase his learning in another subject area. He did have lots of chances to practice his writing skills at other times. Secondly, I’m not convinced that by the time he gets out of school in 11 more years that the world will still be text-heavy. Certainly oral and particularly visual skills are becoming more necessary all the time. And lastly, his parents (his mom is a teacher) were very happy with the choice of tool.

  11. Kathy – Great (and thought-provoking) post! I often look back on my teaching – especially the first year – and it’s hard to not look at all the things I did wrong…instead of all the things I did right. Each year, I try to do better work in my classroom; and, inevitably, I make a mistake. The important part, of course, is to learn from that mistake. One of the reasons I became a teacher is because I loved that I could learn and grow and change every year…teaching can be so dynamic if we open ourselves up (regardless of how scary it may be) to exactly what you have discussed: change. I look forward to reading more from you!


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